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Long-term European fortunes mostly family controlled

By Nicholas Moody

European family businesses have been some of the most successful enterprises at preserving family fortunes over the past 25 years, new research suggests.

The Societe Generale Private Banking sponsored Forbes Insight study looked at the ‘survival rates’ of individual fortunes, defined as wealth of $1 billion and above, by counting the wealthy who appeared on both Forbes’ first billionaires list in 1989 and those that remain there today.

The research found the United States had the highest individual fortune survival rate (73%), but when family wealth was factored in, 78% of European family fortunes had been preserved.

These longest-surviving European fortunes were mostly private (67%) and family-controlled or owned, with the majority (52%) being managed or owned by third and fourth generations.

A third of European family fortunes were in the fifth generation or older.

The Forbes study highlighted European family businesses such as Fiat, Aldi, Otto Group and BMW as examples of families that had successfully preserved their fortunes.

“The idea [among European business families] is that you want to preserve what you created and parcel it, and maintain family control of a company,” said Tatiana Serafin, a Forbes wealth analyst.

“Families try to keep the businesses from going into public hands, in order to keep control,” she added.

Forbes Insights editorial director Kasia Moreno also noted the impact an idea such as the Giving Pledge was having on the survival rate of fortunes, and why wealth succession rates are high in Europe.

The Giving Pledge, which has so far been signed by 112 mostly American multimillionaires and billionaires, commits the signatories to giving away the majority of their fortune to charity.

The report noted this concept of giving away large amounts of wealth was still not popular among European families, where the tradition of holding on to, passing and multiplying fortunes through generations mostly lives on.