Succession at any business is almost always more keenly anticipated when that business is family run. Even when the family member most associated with the business has hired outsiders to run things his or her’s succession is still the biggest headline event when it happens. That’s because the business is most associated with that individual, regardless of their position within it.
Family Capital looks at five of the most anticipated successions at family businesses…and who’s in the running to replace these big beasts of the business world.
Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox
There is no greater anticipated succession in global business today than that of Rupert Murdoch. That’s because the media mogul is one of the best-known business leaders in the world – and he controls a media empire, which means journalists comment more on him then they would from someone outside of their world. Now 86, Murdoch is still very much in charge of the two companies he owns, News Corporation and 21st Century Fox, overseeing both as executive chairman.
And despite frequent protestations from the media about his preferred successor, no one is completely sure what he’s going to do when he steps down. His two eldest sons, Lachlan and James, are the most likely successors, and work closely with their father at both companies. But it might appear that until Rupert actually dies the world won’t know exactly who’s going to fully take over the media business Rupert has been associated with for all his life.
Lee Kun-hee, chairman of the Samsung Group
No one quite knows where Lee Kun-hee is right now, but the chairman of the huge conglomerate best-known for its mobile phones, TVs and silicon chips isn’t in stellar health. After a heart attack in 2014, Lee languished in hospital for a few years and Samsung officials haven’t said much about his health ever since. Now 75, Lee has one big problem with succession and that is his son and designated successor Jay Y. Lee went to jail for five years back in August for corruption. Jay’s eldest sister, Lee Boo-jin, might be the top candidate, given that some reckon she’s proven herself as CEO of a Samsung hotel subsidiary. But Jay could equally still take the top spot when he’s done his time. After all, heads of South Korean chaebols often get in trouble with the authorities and still continue to control their businesses successfully, as Lee himself did.
Reinhold Würth, chairman of the supervisory board of the Würth Group
At just 19 Reinhold took over the business founded by his father and built it up to one of Germany’s most successful companies. The Würth Group today has annual sales of more than €6 billion and Reinhold is very much still associated with the business, despite bringing in non-family senior managers and appointing his daughter Bettina as chairwoman of the advisory board, which manages the business, more than 10 years ago. Given her current position Bettina is the obvious successor, but Reinhold, 82, still holds the real reins of power. Whatever happens, a foundation structure set up by Reinhold to control the business once he dies will probably lessen the role of family members in its future.
Li Ka-shing, chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings
Arguably Asia’s most famous business tycoon, Li Ka-shing is often referred to in Hong Kong as superman for his business acumen – but he also has superman qualities for his ability to keep on going on at the top of global business for such a long time. Now 89, Li hasn’t told the world who will succeed him. His two sons Richard and Victor Li are the two obvious successors to the business empire. And Richard, the youngest, might just get the job, even though it is the tradition in many Asian family businesses that the business passes to the eldest son. Richard is a serial entrepreneur of some stature. He’s set up various successful companies, with the best known being the Hong Kong-based PCCW, the holding company for the HKT Group, an information and communications technology company. PCCW may be closely connected to Li’s vast business empire, but a lot of its success is down to Richard’s entrepreneurial acumen.
Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH
At only 68, Bernard Arnault is the youngest on this list, but there is already considerable anticipation around his succession. LVMH is the biggest luxury group in the world in terms of revenues, notching up €37.6 billion in sales last year – so who oversees this empire once Arnault decides to step down is a big deal. LVMH announced some important management changes last week. But Arnault’s children will be first in line to take on a bigger role in the business once he departs. Delphine and Antoine are his eldest and the two children from Arnault’s first marriage. They’ve held senior positions in the LVMH empire for some time. Two other offspring also work for the sprawling luxury empire – Alexandre, 25, is co-CEO of an LVMH subsidiary, and Frédéric, 23, works for one of LVMH’s watch subsidiaries. The youngest of Arnault’s three offspring from his second marriage, Jean, is still at university.