Drama-Free Succession: Ten Families Who Made it Work

succession stories

Succession planning is critical for multi-generational family businesses. When plans succeed its thanks to organisation, open communication, and a shared vision for a seamless transition. When they fail, they become the inspiration behind popular shows like HBO’s Succession, which follows the complicated dynamics of a family struggling to move through a leadership transition. 

The real-life stories in this collection highlight the significance of the strategies, principles, and values that allow family firms to preserve the entrepreneurial spirit behind their founding while embracing new ideas and perspectives. 

Here are 10 examples that put the success back into succession: 

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10. Fidelity Investments Inc.

Family: Johnson

Annual Revenue: $25 Billion

Country/Region: USA

In 2014, one of the world’s largest mutual fund groups addressed the dip in popularity of actively managed funds while also solidifying its succession plans for the future. Abigail Johnson took over the position of president and CEO from her father, Edward Johnson III, of the firm her grandfather founded in 1946. Abigail Johnson diversified and modernised Fidelity’s financial products and services, making it the first investment company to offer bitcoin options, and established Fidelity Digital Assets in 2018. Today, Abigail Johnson serves as Fidelity’s chair, CEO, and president, overseeing the company’s $11 trillion in assets and 40 million investors.

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9. CH Boehringer Sohn AG & Co KG

Family: Boehringer

Annual Revenue: $24.4 Billion

Country/Region: Germany

Contending with falling revenues, patent losses, and pricing pressures, Boehringer Ingelheim, Germany’s second-largest drugmaker, selected a member from its founding family to serve as CEO for the first time in 25 years – a move intended to help steer the business through a challenging period. Hubertus von Baumbach, great-grandson of founder Albert Boehringer, assumed the job in 2016, launching the largest acquisition in the firm’s history and restructuring the organisation’s operations.

Family-owned since its founding in 1885, Boehringer Ingelheim operates in over 130 markets in the areas of human pharma, animal health, and biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing. CH Boehringer Sohn AG & Co KG is the parent company of Boehringer Ingelheim Group which ranks in the top 20 biopharmaceutical companies globally. Hubertus von Baumbach remains the group’s CEO and chairman today.

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8. Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd.

Family: Keswick

Annual Revenue: $37.7 Billion

Country/Region: Hong Kong

When taking over the executive chairman’s position in 2019, Ben Keswick became the second member of the family’s fifth generation to lead the business as tai-pan (top boss.) Holding various key posts in the firm since his mid-20s, Keswick’s rise within the organisation was part of the family’s succession strategy. In 2021, less than two years after taking over the top job at Jardine Matheson, Ben Keswick initiated one of the biggest corporate restructurings in the company’s nearly 200-year history. The move was seen as a rapid measure to modernise the business and set ambitious performance goals for the conglomerate.

Jardine Matheson employs over 400,000 people and operates a wide range of businesses in several sectors, including motor vehicles, property development, construction, financial services, and luxury hotels.

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7. America Movil SA de CV

Family: Slim

Annual Revenue: $41.6 Billion

Country/Region: Mexico

Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim appointed his sons, Carlos Slim Domit and Patrick Slim Domit to the board of the family’s expansive business empire in the early 2000’s. Following this, Carlos Slim stated that his succession plan was complete. However, in 2017, Slim revealed his continued strategy for multigenerational succession when he made his grandsons, Daniel and Rodrigo Hajj Slim, directors at subsidiaries of America Movil mining firm, Minera Frisco, and real estate company Soinmob Inmobiliaria Espanola. The move was seen as the creation of a generational bridge to ensure future family leadership in one of the world’s biggest companies. Excluding China and India, America Movil is the largest wireless service provider with over 300 million subscribers.

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6. CK Hutchison Holdings

Family: Li

Annual Revenue: $58 Billion

Country/Region: Hong Kong

Li Ka-shing founded Cheung Kong Holdings in 1950, growing the business into one of Hong Kong’s largest multinational conglomerates. The company’s interests range from telecommunications to infrastructure. In 2015, he combined his business activities with a merger that produced CK Hutchison Holdings but the billionaire investor began formulating his succession plan as early as 2000. Li’s long-term approach to leadership was considered unusual in Hong Kong, where succession strategies of many family firms were seen as lacking, or absent all together.

Li stepped away from the chairmanship of CK Hutchison Holdings in 2018, promoting his son, Victor Li Tzar-Kuoi to the firm’s top position. Li Ka-shing remains an advisor to his son, as their business empire looks to leverage new ideas for the future. CK Hutchison is one of the largest companies listed on Hong Kong’s stock exchange and operates in four core segments: ports, retail, infrastructure, and telecommunications.

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5. Arcelor Mittal

Family: Mittal

Annual Revenue: $79.8 Billion

Country/Region: Luxembourg

After transforming his company into the largest steel manufacturer in Europe, North America, and South America in 2021, Lakshmi Mittal passed the role of CEO over to his son, Aditya Mittal. CNBC Europe named Aditya Mittal ‘European Business Leader of the Future’ in 2018.

Although Lakshmi Mittal remains Arcelor Mittal’s chairman, his son’s succession to chief executive officer from his previous position as president and chief financial officer reflects the family firm’s forward-looking leadership strategy. Arcelor Mittal produces over 69.1 million tonnes of crude steel annually and operates in 155 countries globally.

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4. A.P. Møller – Maersk Group

Family: Maersk Mc-Kinney Uggla

Annual Revenue: $81.5 Billion

Country/Region: Denmark

A.P. Møller – Maersk appointed Robert Maersk Uggla as its board chair in 2022; an important move in a restructuring plan that began in 2016. The former CEO and fifth-generation family member was considered an ideal fit to lead the shipping firm’s transformation into a fully integrated container logistics company. In the management shuffle, Robert’s mother, Ane Maersk Mc-Kinney Uggla stepped down from her position as vice-chair, making her son the Maersk family’s sole representative on the company’s board.

The A.P. Møller – Maersk Group handles around 16 per cent of all ocean-faring shipping containers, operating in over 130 countries with more than 700 vessels.

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3. Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH)

Family: Arnault

Annual Revenue: $85.6 Billion

Country/Region: France

LVMH chairman, Bernard Arnault, appointed his daughter, Delphine Arnault to the top leadership job at Christian Dior Couture in 2023. The move was part of a longstanding commitment to strategic succession planning has helped the luxury group grow and expand its key brands. As chair and CEO of one of the group’s largest houses, Delphine Arnault is expected to apply the same managerial approach that enabled her to establish new sales records and advance the desirability of Louis Vuitton products in her former post at the iconic luxury brand.

Christian Dior operates 245 boutiques around the world.

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2. Comcast Corporation

Family: Roberts

Annual Revenue: $121.4 billion

Country/Region: USA

After graduating from business school, Brian Roberts learned the ropes at his father’s cable company, first as a line installer, working his way up to head of operations. After succeeding his father, Comcast founder, Ralph J. Roberts as president, Brian Roberts led the company into a new era of expansion during the 1990s. He continued to grow Comcast as its chairman and CEO after his father stepped away from day-to-day activities in 2002. The company is now America’s largest multinational telecommunications and media conglomerate.

Today, Comcast reaches hundreds of millions of customers globally through its brands, which include NBC, Universal, Sky Sports, A+E Networks, and DreamWorks Animation. The company’s Xfinity segment is the largest provider of cable internet access in the United States.

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1. Walmart

Family: Walton

Annual Revenue: $572.8 billion

Country/Region: USA

With the planned appointment of Greg Penner to succeed his retiring father-in-law Rob Walton as the retail giant’s Chairman in 2015, the world’s largest family business maintained its long-term succession strategy. Penner is Walmart’s third chairman in its over 60-year history and previously served as chair of the company’s technology and commerce committee. Both the Walton family and Walmart’s board pointed to Penner’s technological, financial, investment, and international business experience as a key factor to ensure future opportunities in the evolving retail landscape.

Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue, operating approximately 10,500 stores and clubs in 20 countries and eCommerce websites. Walmart employs 2.1 million associates globally.