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Family Business Roundup: Volkswagen, Heineken and Brown-Forman

Winterkorn aware of Volkswagen emission cheating software back in 2014; Heineken announces $2bn spending spree in Mexico; and Brown-Forman shifts focus to US

Winterkorn aware of Volkswagen emission cheating software back in 2014

Volkswagen shares suffered a slight dip, before recovering lost ground, after the carmaker admitted that former CEO Martin Winterkorn was aware of emission cheating software as early as May 2014.

Last year, Volkswagen admitted to installing emission falsifying software in 11 million diesel engines worldwide to deceive US environmental authorities, resulting in vehicles that produced emissions over 40 times the legal limits. The US Justice Department has sued Volkswagen for up to $48 billion for allegedly violating environmental laws.

Europe’s largest car producers by sales said that Winterkorn was sent a memo on 23 May 2014 about the software when he was chairman of the management board. He received further memos on 14 November 2014 detailing the software, and other defect issues, and was also present at a meeting on 27 July 2015 when the issue was discussed again. It is unclear how early the Piech and Porsche families were aware of the emissions scandal.

The third-generation family business is controlled by the Piech and Porsche families. It reported 2015 first-half revenues of €109 billion ($120 billion).

Winterkorn resigned in September 2015, although he is still receiving a substantial salary, according to German media reports.

Heineken announces $2bn spending spree in Mexico

Netherlands-based brewery Heineken has announced it is doubling its investment in Mexico, spending up to $2 billion between now and 2019.

The investment represents 15% of what Heineken plans to invest at the global level. It will allocate more than $500 million to Mexico in 2016 alone.

Mexico is the world’s sixth largest beer market even though its annual per-capital consumption is only half that of Germany.

Heineken is controlled by the eponymous family, and owns more than 250 beverage brands including Fosters, Amstel, and Sol.

Fourth generation Heineken had revenues of €19.3 billion ($21.3 conversion) in 2014.

Brown-Forman shifts focus to US

US family alcohol business Brown-Forman warned this week that struggles in emerging markets would hurt future results.

The maker of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey said it would try to offset that by shifting advertising and promotional support from areas like Asia and Russia to more stable markets like the US and Europe.

Chief executive Paul Varga said the fifth-generation company remains committed to emerging markets in the long term but plans to intensify efforts to increase American whiskey sales in more stable economies.

Net sales so far for 2016 have decreased by 2% compared to the same period the previous year. It posted an operating income increase of 2% to $278 million.

Campbell Brown, the fifth-generation president of Old Forester – the original division of Brown-Forman – is due to speak at the ninth Americas Families in Business Conference in Miami next week.

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