10 family investment groups... and what they invest in

Bill Gates is Berkshire Hathaway's second biggest investor. Image: WEF. 

Bill Gates is Berkshire Hathaway's second biggest investor. Image: WEF. 

There are a lot of family-controlled investment groups. Family Capital calculates there are probably anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 single-family offices in the world. Most of them are highly secretive, but here are 10 less secretive investment offices very much run by families, some of which are well known, others less so. 

In no particular order:

Loews Corporation

Nearly everyone has heard of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, but few know about one of America’s other great value investors, the Tisch family and their investment group Loews Corporation. Based in New York, Loews Corporation has majority shareholding in three companies - the insurance and commercial property group CNA Financial Corporation, the oil-rig company Diamond Offshore, and the gas pipeline business Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. The family also owns outright the US-based Loews Hotels. Established more than 50 years ago, the investment group is now managed by the second generation of James, Andrew and Jonathan Tisch. Loews and the brothers who run it are known for its ultra-conservative investment strategy - Bloomberg wrote a story a few years ago about Loews CEO James Tisch being a dealmaker who won’t make a deal. But who cares when the value of Loews stock has risen at compound annual growth rate of 17% in the last 50 years?

Wendel Group

The Paris investment group evolved out of a family-controlled steel business and today is one of the most respected investment offices in France. But, it wasn’t the sale of the core business that saw the creation of Wendel, but rather the nationalization of the steel industry that saw the family business morph into the investment firm Wendel. As family member Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, the person responsible for much of Wendel’s success, once said, Wendel came out of a liquidity event that resulted in no liquidity. Seilliere retired some years ago and Wendel is now under stewardship of family member François de Wendel and non-family CEO Frédéric Lemoine. Wendel’s investment strategy is very much direct purchases of stakes in business. One of its early success stories was buying a stake in French management consultancy Capgemini.

Harald Quandt Holdings

A holding group that manages a sizeable chunk of one part of the Quandt family, Germany’s wealthiest dynasty. The fortune derives from stakes in numerous engineering and automakers including Daimler-Benz and BMW. One part of the holding company, which likes direct and indirect investing, is HQ Trust, a multi-family office. Other subsidiaries include Equita Management, which invests in mid-sized German businesses, a private equity business and a real estate investor. The Quandts were early investors into alternatives and made sizeable returns on them during their golden period between the late 1980s and up until 2008.

Hartwall Capital

A little known Finnish investment house that came out of the sale of a beverage business to the UK brewer Scottish & Newcastle, which itself was bought by Heineken and Carlsberg in 2008. Hartwall Capital likes direct investments and is focused on a wide variety of sectors in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, as well as investments in a number of Eastern European countries. Big holdings include Konecranes,  wood-floor manufacturer Kährs Holding, and the food and beverage group Royal Unibrew.

Safra Group

Safra is one of the great names in global banking. The Safra family has been associated with the Republic Bank of New York, bought by HSBC in 1999, Banco Safra, one of Brazil’s biggest banks, and Bank J Safra Sarasin, one of Switzerland’s biggest private banks. Through the Safra Group, the family have been big investors in property, recently buying one of London’s most recognizable office blocks, the Norman Foster designed Gherkin, for an alleged sum of £700 million. The family also recently bought a big stake in the banana producer and distributor Chiquita Brands International.

Cofra Holding

The holding company and investment vehicle of the Dutch Brenninkmeijer family, through which they own the cloth retailer C&A, property groups and private equity group Bregal Investments. Based in Switzerland, through their private equity arm the family and other investors have built up a fund worth €7 billion across a host of business sectors worldwide. Cofra likes to see itself as a long-term committed investor, designed to secure for future generations.

Exor

The great Italy-based investment group controlled by Italy’s best-known industrial families, the Agnellis. Exor owns the family’s stake in Fiat and also has big investments in groups as diverse as Juventus football club and The Economist Group in London. Fifth-generation John Elkann, is CEO and chairman of the group. Exor has been in the news a lot recently for Elkann’s bold move to acquire the Bermuda-based reinsurer PartnerRe and the sale of one of its big investments, real estate company Cushman & Wakefield. A recent article in the Financial Times suggested the move on PartnerRe is Elkann’s desire to emulate arguably the world’s greatest investor Warren Buffett, who is known for his strategy of using cash-generative insurance companies to make other investments.

Caledonia Investments

Owned by the Cayzer family, who made their fortune in shipping, Caledonia Investments is one of the great UK investment trusts. Caledonia likes to see itself as a value investor that hold onto investments for the long term. It has a considerable chunk of its investments in private companies, including the UK audio equipment group Bowers & Wilkins and care home providers the Choice Care Group. Listed companies are also popular and investments include the family-controlled soft drinks group AG Barr and the financial group Close Brothers.

Cascade Investment

Bill Gates is known as the founder of Microsoft and then went on to set up the philanthropic Gates Foundation. Less well known is his sizeable investments in a host of big companies through his family office Cascade Investment. Cascade is effectively the second biggest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway, owning around 5% of class B shares in the investment group. He also owns more than 40% of the Four Seasons Hotels group, has stakes in Canadian National Railway, the huge McDonald’s franchise group Arcos Dorados Holdings, and of course Microsoft.

Verlinvest

Controlled by the Spoelberch and de Mévius families, the Belgian-based investment group is building a profile as a savvy investment group. The families are linked to the world’s biggest brewery group InBev and through their family office Verlinvest have made big investments in a host of food and beverage companies including Rémy Cointreau. It also likes consumer groups and digital media businesses. The strategy is value investing in these sectors with an emphasis on long-term returns.