Family heads call for a European Mittelstand

A panel of top family business heads speaking at a conference in Berlin have called for reform of Europe’s economy and business culture if the region’s economy is to prosper.

Simone Bagel Trah, chairwoman of the supervisory board of Henkel, Philippe D’Ornano, president of Sisley, and Francisco Riberas, chairman and CEO of Gestamp, all said European policy makers and businesses need to do more to generate economic growth and create jobs.

They were speaking on a panel at the first European Family Business Summit held in Berlin this week.

“Innovation needs to improve,” said Bagel Trah. “I’m not seeing a lot of innovation in Germany. More needs to be done.”

Bagel Trah is part of the fifth generation of the Henkel family that controls the eponymous business. Henkel is one of the biggest manufactures of consumer and industrial chemicals in the world. In 2013 the Düsseldorf company had revenues of more than €16bn.

The other panellists agreed that Europe needs to do more to encourage innovation.

D’Ornano said that the rest of Europe should try to emulate the German Mittelstand. “What is needed is a European-wide Mittelstand sector. This will help to generate growth and employment.”

Bagel Trah added that European policy makers need to create more stability so family businesses can flourish.

But Riberas was more sceptical about how governments can help. He said: “We [Gestamp] don't wait for governments, we go ahead anyway.”

Riberas’ father, also called Francisco, founded Gestamp in 1958. Today, the steel manufacturer for the auto industry has revenues of more than €5bn. D’Ornano is the son of Hubert d’Ornano, who founded the French cosmetics group Sisley in 1976.