The driver behind Italy

Five million Italian businesses are built on the family. What are generally known as family businesses could easily be defined as the driver behind Italy. They make a significant contribution to GDP, guarantee jobs and raise the quality of employment. But not everything that glitters is gold. Family ties often represent an obstacle to the long-term continuity of a company. There is the knotty problem of generational succession, and not everyone makes the transition.


The family business is the model that most closely reflects the cultural orientation of Italian business which is famous throughout the world for being creative, tenacious, hard-working and quality-oriented.

In Italy:

  • Between 80-90% of all companies are family-owned;
  • as are over 40% of the 300 largest companies.

These are the highest percentages in Europe. Overall, Italian family-run businesses number about 5 million and, also taking into consideration the smaller companies, contribute 80% of Gross Domestic Product, making them a cornerstone of the country’s economy.

Therefore, when family-run businesses function well, the entire country benefits.

Business and Family: two distinct aspects

Family businesses have many strengths, but also some defects.

At the basis of all this is the fact that family and business are two distinct aspects based on completely different values: solidarity and protection being the first and risk, competition and meritocracy the second. In family businesses these two aspects are seen in structural areas that overlap and often risk triggering conflict, tension and problematic situations.

The knotty problem of generational succession

According to a report based on research conducted by the European Commission, less than 33% of companies on the continent are able to maintain operations and ownership following the transition from the first to the second generation, and only 15% are able to assure continuity following passage from the second to the third.

Over the next ten years, a million small- and medium-sized companies will have to face this phase—more or less 100,000 every year—and it is calculated that, without adequate transitional planning, at least half are destined to disappear.

Therefore, family businesses must adopt the right mechanisms to allow them to optimize co-existence and plan continuity in order to confidently face the delicate phase of generational succession.

It was back in the late 1980s that The European House – Ambrosetti perceived the need to assure effective solutions to the problems of family-run businesses.

Since then, it has been involved in several hundred concrete cases in many different corporate situations and with different families and this has allowed the firm to gain unparalleled experience in managing family business relations.

The three cornerstones

The distinguishing attributes of The European House-Ambrosetti services are:

  • Professionalism. We provide support to families through an approach that is clear-cut, all-inclusive and collaborative. It is designed to cover all major aspects to assure unified action (legal, strategic and organizational considerations) and is based on deep-seated knowledge of the dynamics typical of Italian family-run businesses.
  • Confidentiality. We assure that all information regarding each individual case is accessible to only the small group of individuals working on it. This guarantees confidentiality and integrity.
  • We are always ready to provide services that meet the special requirements and needs of our clients.

A “custom-fit” approach

Our professional services, tailor-made to the specific needs of each client, are:

  • Agreement/Statute among members of the family. This involves a system of shared rules, criteria and mechanisms through which family members establish the “rules of the game” and their behavior towards the company in order to safeguard common interests and the greater good.
    The method by which these delicate issues are taken on is of fundamental importance and represents one of the most unique aspects of our approach.
  • Working alongside younger family members during their professional development in order to maximize their potential for self-realization.
  • Developing within family members knowledge and skills to effectively carry out the role of partner and member of the board of directors.
  • Creating and implementing bodies and mechanisms to promote dialogue and positive coexistence (family councils, etc.).
  • Patrimonial strategy. The European House-Ambrosetti provides support to clients in defining and applying a strategy appropriate to the quality of life of family members, their economic needs, control of the company and its governance and the risk level of investments and related balancing requirements.

Our clients

Our major clients belong to different groups and these include:

  • Family businesses: Companies owned and controlled by a single or limited number of families.
  • Companies and institutions: Entities which deal with family businesses.
  • Individuals: People with a significant patrimony who need to create a strategy for its optimization, both present and future.

In this sensitive service area, the confidentiality we have always adopted with our clients prevents us from offering specific case histories.

Nonetheless, for illustrative purposes only, we can provide anonymously a number of cases of families businesses that have made use of our professional consulting services in this area.

Wine producer

Turnover: 60 million euros

Drawing up a family agreement for a medium-sized company with a large family

Key starting points

The family and the company had the following characteristics:

  • Increase in the number of family members (approx. 15 adult members)
  • (consequently) looser family ties
  • Young age of the third generation vs. the advanced age of the second
  • Increasing complexity of the company.

Issues covered by and “regulated” through the family agreement

We provided support to the family in defining solutions to optimize generational continuity and coexistence. In particular, the following issues were covered, among others:

  • Criteria for optimizing the entry and career advancement of the younger generation in the company
  • Role of spouses and related rules
  • Future composition of the board of directors
  • Dividend policy
  • Rules for stock transfer.

Construction company

Turnover: 900 million euros

Drawing up a family agreement for a large company with a small family

Key starting points

The family and the company had the following characteristics:

  • Father and three children
  • Grandchildren who were still young
  • Highly differentiated company.

Issues covered by and “regulated” through the family agreement

We provided support to the family in defining the following issues:

  • How the holding company functioned
  • Composition of the board of directors of the operating companies
  • Criteria for grandchildren entering the company.

Engineering company

Turnover: 20 million euros

Tutorship, support and training of younger generation

Key starting points

The owner family of the company was comprised of its founder and his two children, both active in the company in different roles (and with different aptitudes and skills).

Issues examined through our consulting

We provided support to the owner family through the following activities:

  • Custom training of the younger generation to be members of the board of directors
  • Professionalization of information and decision-making mechanisms
  • Clarification of roles and responsibilities
  • Support in future leader development.

Luca Petoletti

Luca Petoletti

Partner, The European House - Ambrosetti

Tel.  +39 02 46753 289