Business

Is family capital a theme at Davos?

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The World Economic Forum might have appointed a new head of its family business community. Still, the theme of family capital is sorely missing at the Forum’s big gathering at Davos this week.

Does that matter? Probably not too much to most of the big holders of family capital, who might or might not be represented at Davos. Most of them probably don’t care what goes on at the Swiss ski resort, and the ones that do might be happy with the vast program on offer anyway. 

That might seem strange given family capital knows a lot more about stakeholder capitalism than the non-family capital world

But some might feel a bit aggrieved with one topic family capital gets scant consideration – and that is the Forum’s discussions on stakeholder capitalism in its Better Business category.

Over three days of the Forum, discussions on stakeholder capitalism are themed around long-term investing, corporate governance, and Asia. Each subject has a panel discussion and, as would be expected at Davos, some high-powered global executives are featured. 

These include Isabelle Kocher, the CEO of the large French power group Engie; Paul Tudor Jones, the billionaire US hedge fund manager; and Fumiya Kokubu, the chairman of the Japanese trading company Marubeni. 

Illustrious business people no doubt, but apart from Chey Tue-Won, the chairman of the South Korea chaebol SK Holdings, who is on the Asian panel, no other representative from a family business or family office is on any of these talks. 

That might seem strange given family capital knows a lot more about stakeholder capitalism than the non-family capital world. As the owners of many multi-billion dollar family businesses down to small local family businesses can testify to – stakeholder capitalism is at the heart of their values, and in most cases, has been over multiple generations.  

Might not those who attend like to know how family businesses have practised stakeholder capitalism so successfully by many of them for sometimes more than a hundred years or more? There are so many examples that can be cited – and many top family business owners more than willing to tell their story. 

As these owners would say, their businesses were never just about shareholder capitalism, but they were practising stakeholder capitalism even when the values of shareholder capitalism were at their most intense – from the 1980s until the financial crisis of 2008. That might not be the case for the companies represented on these panels. 

It might also have piqued the interest of a few that Tudor Jones is a speaker. Yes, the American runs one of the world’s most successful hedge funds and is a notable philanthropist, but hedge funds and those managing them, at least in the past, appeared to stand for a set of values in complete contrast to stakeholder capitalism. If in doubt, ask any German family business owner, whether of a listed or non-listed company, about what they think of hedge funds.  

To be fair, it’s good stakeholder capitalism has moved up the agenda at the WEF and for big business in general. The wider world should benefit. But perhaps the WEF might like to give a bit more of a nod to the role family capital has played in the raising of the profile of stakeholder capitalism. And how family businesses are the store of those values more than non-family owned businesses.  

Maybe this is something the new head of the Forum’s family business community might like to raise with Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the WEF, in the future? 

 

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