Top 500 German Family Businesses – the economy most dependent on family enterprises

Germany’s top 500 family businesses contribute nearly 43% of the country’s GDP, which underlines just how vital family enterprises are to the fourth biggest economy in the world. 

Most of the 500 will continue to thrive in the 21st-century digital dominated economy. But issues such as gender diversity at many of these businesses have been neglected at a time when women in senior management are considered critical to a company’s prospects. 

These are some of the main findings of research by Family Capital in association with PwC on the size and characteristics of the family enterprise sector for Germany. Below is a table of the top 500, which looks at their revenues, family involvement, women in senior management positions, employment numbers, as well as other data points.  

Last year, the top 500 generated $1.8 trillion in revenues, against Germany’s total GDP of $4.2 trillion in the same year. This figure accounts for 42.8% of the country’s GDP, which is by far a bigger proportion of family business involvement among the top five economies (the US, China, Japan, Germany, and the UK) in the world. 

“The research shows the huge importance of family businesses for the German economy,” says Peter Englisch, global family business leader for PwC. “Most are embracing the challenge of the digital economy through efforts like their corporate venturing partnerships and investments, which will help them thrive in the future. It is clear they will continue to play an essential role in Germany, and fuel not only that economy’s growth, but the world’s as well.” 

The top 500 employed 6,412,413 people globally last year. Although this figure is substantial and indicates just how important these businesses are to job creation, the top 500’s contribution to employment is considerably less as a percentage of total employment in Germany than their contribution to total GDP. 

With as many as one million of the 6.4 million people employed by the top 500 family businesses employed outside of Germany, their contribution to employment in their domestic market is closer to 5.4 million. Total German employment was 41.7 million in 2018, suggesting the top 500 contributed to around 13% of jobs in their domestic market last year. 

What these employment numbers hint at is that the bigger family businesses are requiring less labour to produce more output – a trend happening across the world at the big corporate level. Nevertheless, the top 500 family businesses in Germany are still extremely important to job creation in their domestic market and will continue to be so. 

Family Capital also looked at women representation in senior management, i.e. C-suite positions at all 500 companies. Our research found 394 (78.8%) of these businesses had no women representation at the C-suite level. Some of the more well-known companies on the list with no senior women in top jobs included the Robert Bosch Group, the Schwarz Group, which owns the supermarket chain Lidl, and the pharmaceutical group Boehringer Ingelheim. 

We did not look at gender equality at the board level for these businesses, but the lack of women in senior management at family businesses in Germany is something the sector will need to work on in the years ahead. 

Family Capital also looked at family generational involvement in the top 500 and found third generation involvement – where this generation was the latest to be involved in the business, although not necessarily the only generation – comprised the biggest number on the list, at 142. This was followed by the second generation (123) and the fourth (101). 

The two oldest family businesses in terms of the number of generations of the same family who have been involved in the business, 13 each, are the pharmaceutical group Merck (founded in 1668) and the bank Berenberg (founded in 1590). The oldest business on the list is Boschgotthardshuette O. Breyer (founded in 1466), although under is current family owners, the latest generation involvement is the third.  

Family Capital also looked at whether the family owners of the 500 had involvement at the board level (both executive and supervisory level) at these companies. The research found 67% (337) had family representation at board level, but a third did not. 

Overall, the family enterprise sector is in excellent shape in Germany and is an exemplar of best practices for others to follow around the world. Nonetheless, issues like improving gender equality need addressing. 

Trends like the diminishing role in job creation of the top 500 when their output is rising are good for profits, but might have negative societal consequences in the years ahead. The development of AI and robotics is likely to further hit their job-creating abilities. 

How the top family businesses deal with these issues, particularly as many of them are big advocates of stakeholder values, will be of critical importance for the sector in the years ahead. 

Methodology and Table heading explanations are at the bottom of the table

To access the Table in full, please click on its content and scroll right or left with your mouse. Or scroll down to the end of the Table and use the right/left scroll bar there.

Germany's Top 500 Family Businesses

wdt_ID Rank Company Revenues 2018 $m Employees Family ownership Founded Public/Private Generation Family executive Woman in leadership Sector Headquarters State (abbreviation) Website
1 1 Volkswagen Group 266,315.1 665,260 Porsche, Piech 1937 Public 4 No Yes Automotive Wolfsburg NI
2 2 Schwarz Group (aka Lidl, Kaufland, ...) 119,418.4 429,000 Schwarz 1930 Private 2 No No Retail Neckarsulm BW
3 3 BMW Group 109,018.3 134,682 Quandt, Klatten 1916 Public 4 No Yes Automotive München BY
4 4 ALDI Discounter (Nord + Süd) 100,423.6 208,000 Albrecht 1913 Private 4 No Yes Retail Essen and Mülheim an der Ruhr NW
5 5 Robert Bosch Group 87,935.7 409,881 Bosch 1886 Private 3 No No Automotive Gerlingen-Schillerhöhe BW
6 6 Continental AG 49,802.1 245,686 Schaeffler 1871 Public 1 No Yes Automotive Hannover NI
7 7 Metro Group 41,790.7 150,000 Haniel, Schmidt-Ruthenbeck, Beisheim 1963 Public 3 No No Retail Düsseldorf NW
8 8 Merckle Group (Phoenix, Kässbohrer, etc.) 29,883.2 37,900 Merckle 1881 Private 4 Yes Yes Asset & Wealth Management Ulm BW -
9 9 Heraeus 23,236.8 14,903 Heraeus 1851 Private 5 No No Industrial Manufacturing Hanau HE
10 10 Henkel AG & Co. KGaA 22,844.1 53,000 Henkel 1876 Public 5 No Yes Consumer Products Düsseldorf NW
Rank Company Revenues 2018 $m Employees Family ownership Founded Public/Private Generation Family executive Woman in leadership Sector Headquarters State (abbreviation) Website



Family Capital with the support of PWC compiled the 500 ranking through extensive research of publicly available sources. Sourced material was independently verified and no source material was obtained from Family Capital or PWC’s client relationships. The ranking was based on revenues.

“In order to qualify for the ranking, the family or group of families would have to control at least 50% of the voting shares in a privately held company and at least 30% of the voting rights in a publicly listed company. The 30% cut-off is motivated by the observation that in most economies 30% of voting shares are sufficient to dominate the general assembly of a publicly listed company. This is because on average 60% of the entire voting shareholders are present at a general assembly of a listed business.”

To be considered a family business, Family Capital has selected only companies that are 20 years (from June 2018) and older. This 20-year time frame corresponds on average with a level of transition from first-generation control to at least some participation of the next generation of the family owners.

Generation: The latest generation to be involved with the business. Other earlier generations might still be involved in the business

Family executives: Family involvement either at the executive or supervisory board level

Women in leadership: Women involvement at the C-suit level, CEO, COO, CFO.

State abbreviations

BB Brandenburg; BE Berlin; BW Baden-Württemberg; BY Bavaria; HB Bremen; HE Hessen; HH Hamburg; NI Lower Saxony; NW North Rhine-Westphalia; RP Rhineland-Palatinate; SH Schleswig Holstein; SL Saarland; SN Saxony; ST Saxony-Anhalt