Understanding the key issues of the day for family businesses in Belgium
expect to grow over next two years
expect to change their business model over the next two years
feel vulnerable to disruption
have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan
PwC’s Family Business Survey talked with 2,953 key decision makers in family businesses with a sales turnover of more than five million euros in 53 countries - 64 in Belgium. Of the respondents, 42% of Belgian family businesses have one dominant owner, a further 25% have siblings as owners and around 22% have ownership shared between cousins or extended family.
For the coming two years, 72% of Belgian family businesses optimistically expect to grow, compared to 84% globally. "These are the most positive results we’ve collected for 10 years," says Mélanie Adorante, Director at PwC.
In terms of challenges they need to address to support that growth, the main concerns are the recruitment and retention of the right people - a first challenge for 80 percent of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) -, the need to innovate, professionalising the business and digitalisation.
Growth doesn’t seem to be a challenge for Café Liégeois, Wallonia’s first coffee roaster, which has enjoyed double-digit growth for most of the past 15 years, "except between 2008 and 2009 when our turnover remained stable," notes Michel Liégeois, co-CEO of the company with his brother Benoȋt. Café Liégeois had the foresight to move into the coffee pod market early on and has built much of its progress on that pioneering activity. Its innovative streak continues.
To date, the firm’s digitised its invoicing, connected printers, connected coffee machines at customers and much more. Having been hacked on more than one occasion, Café Liégeois doesn’t underestimate the risks of a cyberattack - a fear of 27% of survey respondents. "Even though we’re quite advanced with our defences, we’re aware of potential problems. The server of one of our companies was attacked recently and the ransomer asked for a million euros… we’ve since been able to rebuild and secure our database, but we’re well aware that the risk remain," notes Benoȋt Liégeois.
Just like others in the survey, finding top talent is a challenge for Café Liégeois. Currently employing 130 people, the firm understands the importance of values to millenials and their need to work with a company that thinks beyond simply profit. "We put a lot of effort into fair trade and work with Chaipas in Mexico and the Comequi project in Congo, we also calculate our carbon footprint and take initiatives in the area of sustainable energy," Michel Liégeois reports.
"For us, digitalisation is just like breathing, it's something we do every day and we’ll continue to do. We see it more as an opportunity than a threat."
Like Café Liégeois, Varo, a family business with more than 50 years of experience in the worldwide distribution of do-it-yourself materials, understands the importance of disruption and change in order to not just remain relevant, but survive.
Active since 1958, in the mid-1990s, it revamped its business model to expand from simply a distributor of other brands to launching its own private label, a move that, "not only opened the door to international business, but was our only means of survival," says Jeroen Nys, CEO of Varo. And Varo also continues to innovate, looking at how the use of its products is changing and adapting to the evolution, especially in terms of creating an outstanding user experience, to make sure it remains relevant.
Grandson of the creator of the business Jeroen Nys says Varo’s like the vast majority of family business owners in Belgium (91%) with no documented succession plan. "I think this is typical for any family business, generally we’re not ready to formalise a succession plan. Even looking five years ahead seems too far in an increasingly uncertain market," he says. And while like 61% of survey respondents, he’d like to pass Varo on to the next generation, he notes, "when the time comes, I’ll see if they want to be involved and can be involved, ultimately, I have to do what’s best for the firm."
Tel: +32 (0)4 220 6230
Director, PwC Belgium
Tel: +32 4220 6282
Senior Manager, PwC Belgium
Tel: +32 3 259 3210