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FB Roundup special: Family businesses versus the coronavirus

By James Beech

Global family businesses are stepping up to the challenge of the deadly coronavirus pandemic by safeguarding staff, adapting production lines and pledging millions of dollars to the medical relief effort.

Lord Bamford (pictured), the second-generation chairman of JCB, said his $5 billion manufacturing family business had been approached by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to see if it can help with the production of ventilators. The machines help the breathing of patients whose lungs have been damaged by COVID-19.

“We have research and engineering teams actively looking at the request at the moment,” Bamford said.

“It’s unclear as yet if we can assist, but as a British company, we will do whatever we can to help during the unprecedented times our country is facing.”

Lord Anthony BamfordGeorgia-Pacific is a US paper-products giant owned by Koch Industries, the $110 billion conglomerate owned by second-generation family business titan Charles Koch, himself worth $40.6 billion. Georgia-Pacific said demand for its toilet roll and paper towel products had doubled as consumers panic-bought rolls and increased their handwashing habits. The company said it was doing its best to meet consumer demand through use of its existing inventory, increasing production and managing distribution.

In Italy, the country hardest hit by the coronavirus in Europe, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced the temporary closure of its plants across the country. Led by John Elkann, fifth-generation heir to the Agnelli clan, the $108 billion automaker facilitated remote working, suspended non-essential travel, minimised interpersonal contacts and screened visitors to facilities. FCA also sanitised all its work and rest areas, spaced employees at their workstations and in canteens and lowered daily production rates.

Francois-Henri PinaultThe French luxury group Kering, owner of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, is led by second-generation principal Francois-Henri Pinault (pictured). The $15.1 billion group gave $1.08 million to the Red Cross Foundation in China’s Hubei province, where COVID-19 was first detected.

“Our thoughts are with the many impacted by the novel coronavirus outbreak, and therefore we have decided to donate the funds as an immediate contribution to assist,” Pinault told WWD.

LVMH, led by Bernard Arnault (pictured) and family, which counts Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Christian Dior and Tiffany and Co in its $53.7 billion portfolio, pledged $2.3 million to the Chinese Red Cross Foundation. Arnault ordered LVMH’s perfume factories to switch to producing hand sanitiser to give to hospitals for as long as required.

L’Oreal, the $30 billion French cosmetics group controlled by the Bettencourt Meyers family, contributed $720,000 while Swarovski, the $3.9 billion jewellers run by fifth generation Austrian family members, donated $430,000 to the foundation.

Bernard ArnaultHowever, family business founder Richard Branson was criticised on social media following reports the Virgin Atlantic airline he controls will call for a UK taxpayer-funded bailout to the tune of $9.2 billion. The bailout would prevent the collapse of the aviation industry in the wake of the coronavirus’ severe impact on air travel. Branson’s $3.8 million space tourism company Virgin Galactic has scheduled its first commercial flights into orbit later this year.

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