Pinault proves the value of loyalty


When Francois Pinault, the head of the Kering group of luxury brands, appointed Patricia Barbizet as the new head of Christie’s, he raised eyebrows in the art world.

But those in the family business world were less surprised. Barbizet has worked for the Pinaults since 1989, since 1992 heading up the family’s investment vehicle, Artemis. (This maybe says something about the way Pinault approaches art, which he collects, but that is another discussion.) The only other firm that Barbizet has worked for is Renault – another family-controlled business.

She is not alone in having a CV consisting only of family businesses. Patrick Thomas, former CEO of luxury brand Hermes, worked his entire career at family-run firms such as German cosmetics brand Lancaster and British drinks business William Grant & Son.

Some managers seems to have an aptitude for working with families. Paul Dreschler, CEO of British building firm Wates until last year has since become a non-executive at Bibby, a family-owned shipping-to-financial services group from Liverpool. Patrick Thomas now advises Renault.

So what make some managers them a good fit with families? There is  no easy answer. Until quite recently bringing in non-family management – and especially a CEO – was viewed as “professionalising” the business, meaning that it became more short-termist, clinical and efficient.

As a recent paper by Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm, says, this was predicated on the idea that being a family firm was a drawback – what they call the view of “constrictive familiness”.

But things have changed, and these days families are more likely to embrace their “distinctive familiness” – they see their unique family relationships and history as a benefit, not a drawback. It is not necessarily bad, for example, that they make decisions “like a family” rather than like a business.

What families need in external managers depends on many factors, like whether the business is failing as was the case with Lego just before it appointed the 36-year-old Jørgen Vig Knudstorp in 2004.

Whatever the business’s position, though, if you want to know whether someone will make a good non-family manager you need to look at their personality. Randel Carlock, a family business professor at INSEAD business school, says that there are broadly five things that motivate someone at work: getting ahead, security, autonomy, work-life balance, and getting a high from their job.

Entrepreneurs tend to seek a high, for example, while corporate types value getting ahead. “People who work for family firms tend to be more safe and balanced,” he says. Perhaps most pertinently, he adds: “Loyalty is a positive characteristics with business families.” Francois Pinault would surely agree.