Odebrecht, a Brazilian family group specialising in construction, engineering and petrochemicals, was the recipient of the top prize at the annual IMD-Lombard Odier Global Family Business Award.
The judges said Odebrecht was chosen because of the common approach that guides all of the group's activities and the cultural and ethical values on which such activities are based.
Lombard Odier said in a statement: "Odebrecht holds a stake in a large number of firms, whose managers, known as trusted partners, impart the key principles that govern the company."
The judges were also impressed with the growth of the company. Odebrecht's revenue has risen to $23.3 billion in 2009, compared with $4.2 billion in 2000.
The award is in its 15th year and has been won by a host of top family businesses, including LEGO, Bonnier Group and last year's winner, Merck Group.
"Fifteen years of studies have shown us that family businesses are more solid and more successful over time than their competitors thanks not only to their long-term vision, human values and unparalleled spirit of innovation, but also to their capacity to take risks," said Professor Dominique Turpin, president of the Swiss business school IMD.
"The Odebrecht Group is a perfect example of this."
The award highlighted the importance of the family business model in emerging markets. In Europe and the US, 60% of companies are managed by family structures, whereas this figure is as high as 90% in South America, the Middle East and Asia.
"As a representative of the sixth generation of our firm of private bankers, I am convinced that family businesses are and will continue to be one of the most powerful engines of our economy, driving growth and progress for generations to come," said Thierry Lombard, managing partner of Lombard Odier and chairman of the Family Business Network International.
The annual award, which is viewed by most in the sector as the top global award for family businesses, uses three criteria to evaluate the performance of family businesses – family values such as the shared vision across generations; business values such as excellence in performance standards; and transfer such as excellence in governance.
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