Central European family businesses cry out for knowledge

Prague at dawn. Photo by Frantisek Chmura/iStock/Getty Images

Prague at dawn. Photo by Frantisek Chmura/iStock/Getty Images

A new association established to help Czech and Slovakian family businesses has highlighted the thirst for knowledge about the sector from Central European businesses.

The Czech & Slovak Family Businesses group has been set up by Lenka Beinhoff, a Zurich-based consultant who was born in the former Czechoslovakia, who represented the Beinhoff family and four other families. “The business community in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia is lacking the expertise in areas like succession and involving the next generation.”

Beinhoff said that most companies in these two countries have previously been too busy trying to get their business to work to consider issues around family governance, but now that many of them are running well there is a big desire to learn from western businesses about the issue. 

“The communist era destroyed the tradition of family businesses and today families need to again learn about family business models, which are even today viewed as a foreign concept,” says Beinhoff. “But one of the world’s most famous family businesses has its origins in the former Czechoslovakia, the shoe company Bata.”

Tomas Bata set up the eponymous shoe business in the Czech city of Zlin in 1894. Now controlled by the third generation, Bata is based in Switzerland.

Beinhoff said that one of the biggest issues family businesses have in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is bringing in the next generation. “Many business owners say that they are too afraid to send their son or daughter abroad because they may never come back. They want to know how to encourage the next generation to take over the business and how to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit in their families.”

So far the association has 10 members, but Beinhoff says the goal is to increase that to 50 families by the end of 2015. Members signed up so far include a packaging business, a law firm and a golf company.

Beinhoff says that the future goal of the association is to connect Czech and Slovak family businesses with international networks.  

Former communist bloc countries are well represented at the Swiss based Family Business Network, with chapters from Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine signed up to the group.