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Celebrating 20 years of the FBN

Last week saw the Family Business Network hold its 20th annual conference in Amsterdam. Despite the many talking points from conferences over the last 20 years, the focus of this summit was very much the future. 

This year saw a marked increase in the number of first and second-generation family businesses from Eastern Europe attending the summit. For them, the last 20 years have been the first since the fall of communism, which allowed the growth of entrepreneurialism. These businesses have expanded rapidly and seen members of the second generation join the business. The summit was attended by family businesses from Hungry, Ukraine, Russia, Slovenia and Bulgaria who hope to continue to grow as well in the next 20 years.

Conflict within the family business is always a popular topic at the summit as much can be learnt from the example of others. This year the McNeely family spoke about their experiences, which is one of the more extreme examples of how a family relationship can disintegrate when succession is not handled correctly. (To read our interview with the McNeely family click here

However, they managed to bring the business back from the point of destruction to continue as a successful family company. The dedication of Harry Jr, a member of the second generation, to rebuild family ties, enforce proper governance structures and instil stewardship values in his children revived the business that had been split by a bitter courtroom battle.

Keeping with the theme of the future, Ton Stuifzand, the first non-family CEO of Kuijpers Instillations, talked about his experiences and developing trust between the family and a non-family CEO. He focused on the idea that although a business has a non-family head, it can retain family character. Mr and Mrs Kuypers then thanked him for looking after their business and helping develop the next generation members working within the business.

There were more than 200 next generation members present at the summit, one in three delegates was a next gen member, which is a huge increase on the numbers who were attending 10 years ago. The FBN-I Next Generation Committee launched a new award this year to recognise entrepreneurialism in the next generation, which was jointly won by Roberto Sirotsky from Brazil and Edouard Thijssen and Edouard Janssen of Belgium.

Thijssen, 23, and Janssen, 31, created a family business-orientated social networking platform called Trusted Family. From this they founded a company called Younited; Trusted Family is currently being used by the Solvay family, of which Janssen is a sixth-generation member. (Click here to read the full story of their success)

Roberto Sirotsky is a third generation member of the family behind Grupo RBS, a Brazil-based multimedia and communications company. Entrepreneurialism is encouraged within the Sirotsky family, which may be one of the contribution factors to Roberto's success.

At 22 he is the operations director of the internet consultancy business he started in 2008, 3YZ Digital Performance. His family business is now a client he is helping prepare for the new digital age. "I think I can help my family business in the future because it is a broadcast based media company and at the moment everything is about the internet. The internet is the future," he exclusively told www.campdenfb.com. A full interview with Roberto and his brother Mauricio will appear in the Next Generation section of the next issue of Campden FB (Click here to subscribe).

The Young Entrepreneur of the Year was not the only award given at the summit, the 14th annual IMD-Lombard Odier Global Family Business Award was announced on Saturday. This year it went to the Merck Group, a German pharmaceutical and chemical company now in its 12th generation of family ownership. The award was given in recognition of the business' pioneering spirit and encouragement of the next generation.

Jon Baumhauer, chairman of the family board and 11th-generation family member, said: "Business comes first – the Merck family members, totalling today 217 members representing the 10th, 11th and 12th generations, see their role as that of trustee with a clear objective to pass the group onto the next generation enriched and enlarged."

The Merck family are pictured accepting their award at the ceremony. 

With the future in mind the FBN-I is already organising next year's summit, which will be in Chicago in September 2010. For more information visit www.FBN-I.org

To vote for your family business leader of the year click here

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