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Big pharma, a family holding group, and a supporting cast of family offices

Big pharma has many family dynasties behind them. Some are well known, like the Hoffmanns and Roche, the Mercks and Merck, and the Wallenbergs and AstraZeneca. But sometimes they’re much less well known but very wealthy – like this European family. 

Janssen is a very common name in Belgium, especially in the Dutch-speaking part of Flanders. But the name also belongs to one of the wealthiest families in Europe and one of the best connected. 

The Janssens in question are the biggest shareholders in the pharmaceutical group UCB. OK, UCB, listed on the Brussels Stock Exchange, isn’t as big as Roche, Merck, or AstraZeneca, but it’s not small. UCB has annual revenues of around €5 billion and a market capitalization of approximately  $16 billion. 

The Janssens are incredibly well connected – members of the family have married into Belgian/Dutch nobility/royalty. A descendant married into the Boël family…

It was founded by Emmanuel Janssen in 1928, initially as a chemicals company – UCB stood for Union Chimique Belge – but now works entirely as a pharmaceutical company. UCB’s shareholding also reveals a lot about the Janssens, who have considerable other holdings in businesses throughout Belgium. 

Members of the family own their 35% share in UCB through the holding company Financière de Tubize, which is also listed. And this is where it gets interesting from a family office perspective, because three members of the Janssen clan own their shares through their investment groups: Financière Eric Janssen, Altai Invest, and Barnfin

The Janssens are incredibly well connected – members of the family have married into Belgian/Dutch nobility/royalty. A descendant married into the Boël family, the bigger shareholders in the holding and investment group, Sofina, in which members of the Janssen family also have shares. 

Arguably, the most prominent Janssen still alive is Daniel, the honorary chairman and former CEO of Solvay, the chemicals company, in which the family also owns shares. The Solvay connection comes from Emmanuel, who married into the Solvay family before founding UCB. 

One of Daniel’s three sons – Nicolas – is a politician and married to Hélène d’Udekem d’Acoz, the sister of the Belgian Queen (pictured above). Another one – Charles-Antoine – co-founded impact investment group KOIS, and yet another one Edouard – sits on the board of Solvay and co-founded Trusted Family, the technology platform serving family businesses.

According to a Belgian-based journalist, the family also has ties with several other Belgian companies like the agribusiness Sipef, the majority owned by the Bracht family and Ackermans & van Haaren

The Janssen family also own a lot of land throughout Belgium, and at one point, some say, this included the famous battlefield of Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated 

The family are very influential in Belgium and beyond. But another interesting fact about them is how they control their shareholding in UCB. Not least, it’s an excellent example of patient and long-term stakeholder ownership structures that family businesses often do well. 

Through their control of Tubize – they own the biggest chunk of economic and voting shares – the family has created a so-called “concert” ownership agreement. As the articles of Tubize state, the parties of the concert, all Janssen family members, “consult with each other about the decisions to be taken at the general meeting of Tubize, and try, to the extent possible, to reach a consensus.” 

Earlier this month, UCB’s share price fell when the US Food and Drugs Administration blocked the approval of a new drug from UCB. Around about the same time, the family, through Tubize and the concert, acquired €94.5 million of shares in UCB, bringing their shareholding to just under 36%. The family represented by the concert probably it was a good time to pick up shares in UCB at a historically cheaper price. 

This, according to a press release from Tubize: was consistent with the group’s mission to “create long-term value for all its stakeholders, by supporting, as a stable reference shareholder (the family), the maximization of UCB’s potential and the sustainable growth of its industrial project.”

 

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