An interesting family investment concept is the closed multi-family office. A closed MFO is a family office that works with a few families but is not actively looking to increase the number it works with. Effectively, it is a way of institutionalising a co-investing arrangement between like-minded investors.
Cobepa, a Brussels-based investment house controlled by some of Europe’s wealthiest families, is an interesting example of one – it might even provide a template for others to follow. Starting out sixty years ago as a private equity house run by Banque Paribas, which later became the big French bank BNP Paribas, Cobepa had a successful business taking stakes in mostly family-owned businesses. But in 2004, Cobepa, backed by its management, was bought out by a group of family investors under a holding group called Cobehold. For the families, the move was a way of gaining an already existing and proven infrastructure, rather than starting something new, to invest in mostly privately controlled businesses.
Cobepa investors include the Spoelberch and d’Ansembourg families, among the wealthiest in Belgium. Both have links to the Anheuser-Busch InBev empire. A member of a prominent Belgian aristocratic family, the Davignons, also sits on the board. Other investors include Benjamin de Rothschild, the UK-based Cayzer family, and the von Baumbach family, who own the German pharmaceutical group, Boehringer Ingelheim. Cobepa is run by Jean-Marie Laurent Josi, who’s been at Cobepa since 1988. Josi himself comes from another prominent Belgian business family, which sold its insurance business to Winterthur in 1997.
Cobepa says it takes minority stakes in businesses as well as participating in buyout transactions, where it takes control or co-control of a company alongside management and other investors. Early this year, Cobepa acquired HG International, one of Europe’s biggest cleaning products groups. It has majority stakes in another four companies including JF Hillebrand, a specialist freight group, and Socotec, a business services group.
Cobepa’s minority investments include the Dutch family-owned dredging business Van Oord, Bank Degroof Petercam, a Belgian private bank, Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian restaurant and bakery chain, Princess Yachts, a UK luxury yacht maker, and International SOS, a Singapore-based healthcare and medical assistance group.