Family businesses


Family businesses form the backbone of the Italian economy.

The latest edition of the AUB Observatory, promoted by AIDAF, by UniCredit, by the “AIDAF – EY Chair of Family Business Strategy” in memory of Alberto Falck of the Bocconi University and by the Chamber of Commerce of Milan, returns the photograph of an Italian economy in which family businesses with a turnover of more than 20 million euros represent 65% of the total number of Italian companies, consolidating a total turnover of over 730 billion euros and employing around 2.4 million workers [1]. Widening the view to companies with a turnover of less than 20 million Euros, it is estimated that the percentage increases to around 85% [2] .

Data from the AUB Observatory also confirm that family-owned businesses create employment (+20.1% in the last six years, followed by +14.4% of cooperatives and consortia, +5.7% of branches of foreign companies , +1.4% of coalitions, -8.7% of companies controlled by funds and -12.3% of companies and state bodies), are growing more than other types of companies (+47.2% in the last ten years, against 37.8% of other companies), record higher profitability (ROI of 9.1% in 2016 against 7.9% of other corporate forms) and have a lower debt ratio.

In terms of the incidence of family businesses, the Italian context is in line with that of the main European economies such as France (80%), Germany (90%), Spain (83%) and the UK (80%), while the differentiating element compared to these countries is represented by the lesser use of external managers by entrepreneurial families: 66% of Italian family businesses have all the management made up of family members, while in France this situation is found in 26% of companies family members and in the UK only in 10%.

Italian family businesses also stand out for their longevity: among the top 100 oldest companies in the world, 15 are Italian and among these, 5 – Fonderie Pontificie Marinelli (year of foundation 1000), Barone Ricasoli (1141), Barovier & Toso (1295), Torrini (1369) and Marchesi Antinori (1385) – are among the ten oldest family businesses still in operation.
Family businesses numerically represent almost 60% of the Italian stock market (which sees a total of around 290 companies listed), and account for over 25% of its capitalization.


Even in the main world economies, family businesses represent the fulcrum of economic and social development. In a report by the Economist, published in April 2015 and dedicated entirely to family businesses, it is underlined that family-owned businesses represent more than 90% of active businesses in the world [3].

The Global Family Business Index, created by the Center for Family Business at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, in cooperation with the EY Global Family Business Center of Excellence, analyzes the top 500 family-owned companies worldwide. The most represented countries are the United States (with 122 companies on the list), Germany (79), France (28), Hong Kong (21), Switzerland (19) and India (17). Italy is in 7th place with 17 family businesses.

In 2010, a study conducted by EU-EFIGE/Bruegel-UniCredit on a sample of around 14,000 European businesses showed that the incidence of large family businesses – intended as businesses with more than 250 employees -, while decreasing with growth in size, is in any case higher than 40% in the primary European countries: in France it is equal to 42.5%, in the United Kingdom it is 40.6% and in Spain it is close to 46%. In Italy the percentage of large family businesses is just under 47%. Germany confirms its status as an “atypical economy”, with a percentage of large family-run businesses equal to 67.9%. [4]

[1] G. Corbetta, F. Quarato, A. Minichilli (a cura di), Dieci anni di capitalismo familiare. X Osservatorio AUB.
[2] EU-EFIGE/Bruegel-UniCredit, 2009.
[3] «Family Companies. To have and to hold», The Economist, 8 aprile 2015.
[4] EU-EFIGE/Bruegel-UniCredit, 2009.