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Family business roundup: Lacoste family bows out, Hearst, Lactalis and Maple Leaf expand operations

It’s a busy time for sales and acquisitions in the family business world, with companies in France, Vietnam and the US buying controlling stakes, while the Lacoste family has sold off its shares in the eponymous clothing brand.

It’s a busy time for sales and acquisitions in the family business world, with companies in France, Vietnam and the US buying controlling stakes, while the Lacoste family has sold off its shares in the eponymous clothing brand.

On 7 November, family member and chairwoman Sophie Lacoste Dournel said she and family members had decided to sell their remaining 28% shareholding to Maus Freres “with great sadness”.

The announcement came just days after fellow family business Maus Freres, run by the Maus and Nordmann families, said it was to buy an additional 30.3% in Lacoste – a deal that would have seen Maus Freres’ stake rise to 65%.

The sale comes amid rumours of a feud within the Lacoste family. According to reports, former chairman and chief executive Michel Lacoste, the son of founder Rene Lacoste, and Lacoste Dournel did not agree on the future of the firm – with the younger Lacoste wanting to keep the group under family control.

Meanwhile, publishing giant Hearst Corporation, controlled by the eponymous family, is to acquire Milliman Care Guidelines, a healthcare company. The terms of the acquisition, expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of Hearst’s fiscal 2012, were not disclosed by the groups. Hearst’s operations span more than 300 magazines including Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan.

Canadian food company Maple Leaf, chaired by the family of Michael McCain, is buying hog producer Puratone Corporation for Can$42 million (€33 million), in a deal that is expected to close within a month.

Across the Atlantic, drinks firm Remy Cointreau has entered into talks to acquire a majority shareholding in Larsen, a family-owned producer of cognac. France’s Remy Cointreau, whose chairwoman and family member Dominique Heriard Dubreuil is to step down at the end of this year, said the agreement is subject to regulatory approval.

Fellow French firm Lactalis Group, the largest dairy products business in the world, agreed to acquire 50.3% of Slovenian rival Ljubljanske Mlekarne on 29 October. The move by Lactalis, best known for its Président brand of cheese, is currently under scrutiny by the Slovenian anti-trust authorities.

Elsewhere in Europe, Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear group, which is controlled by the Del Vecchio family, has continued to boost its position in the luxury sector by signing an agreement to buy French rival Alain Mikli.

“This proposed operation perfectly reflects our long-term growth strategy,” said Andrea Guerr, chief executive of Luxottica, in a statement on 2 November.

In contrast, Spanish infrastructure company Ferrovial, controlled by the Del Pino family, has been offloading assets. It sold a 5.72% stake in Heathrow airport to China Investment Corporation on 1 November. The deal worth £257.4 million (€322 million) leaves the Madrid-based firm – which once owned 55% of Heathrow – with a 34% stake in the airport. In a statement, non-family chief executive Inigo Meiras said: "This sale of a stake in Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd is a further part of Ferrovial's investment diversification strategy.”

In Asia, the family behind Vietnam’s Sai Gon Thuong Tin Commercial Joint Stock Bank has reportedly sold 21.45 million shares in the business. The sale, which has left the Dang family with a 9.9% stake in the group, comes in the wake of the resignation of family member and chairman Dang Van Thanh. The company, whose shares fell by 3.11% following the announcement, did not give a reason for his exit.

Finally, India’s third-largest software exporter, family-controlled Wipro, is to separate its lighting divisions and consumer care business into a new company named Wipro Enterprises. Billionaire chairman of Wipro Azim Premji, whose family owns 80% of the business and who is to become non-executive chairman of Wipro Enterprises, said he was confident that the demerger would “provide fresh momentum for growth”.
 

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