The rise of the blended family business

Petrovalves' products are used on oil rigs. Photo by Tomasz Wyszołmirski/iStock / Getty Images

Petrovalves' products are used on oil rigs. Photo by Tomasz Wyszołmirski/iStock / Getty Images

First, the bad news. The Candiani family have sold their stake in Petrolvalves, their oil and gas industry valve-making firm. That was no surprise - the daughters of Mario Candiani, who founded the firm in 1956, had been looking for a buyer since 2012, when their father died. Last week they offloaded 60% of the company for about €1 billion, which included the 12% they had sold to a private equity firm.

Next, the good news. Petrovalves has not entirely left family ownership because the Lualdi family, whose patriarch Giorgio co-founded the business, still own the not inconsiderable stake of 40%.

And the even better news is that the buyer of the 60% stake is TBG Holdings, an investment vehicle of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family, which founded the famous Thyssen steel company. In a roundabout way, then, Petrovalves is still a family firm that might be expected to have a long-termist outlook and all the other benefits of family ownership.

Part of this story is familiar - the family is forced to sell because there is no heir who wants to carry on the business. And there is nothing new about families investing together - Italian investment vehicle Camfin includes a number of families including the Pirellis, Morattis, Acutis and Malacalzas (as well as banks).

What is new is single-family investment vehicles, which have the long-termist outlook of their founding families, getting involved with family businesses. As single family offices become more widespread, there are sure to be more deals like the Petrovalves one.

The question is: are such businesses really family businesses? It’s true that they don’t fit the classic (and idealised) model of a founder-owned family business with one product line. You might call that a nuclear family business, just as the mythical married couple with 2.4 children was a nuclear family. But these days we talk more and more about blended families. Maybe we need to start talking about blended family businesses too.