To have and to hold: How five huge business families maintain their wealth

Some of the world's most prosperous businesses have been closely held by family members for generations.

The family wealth behind some companies is staggering. When a successful business remains closely held by the original family, the money keeps getting pumped into their bank accounts. A couple of generations down the line, you have families that look like these: the richest business families in the world.

Slim family (total family wealth: $US79.7 billion): Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu is the power behind the richest family in the world. The family owns financial company Grupo Financiero Inbursa, which provides banking services and Grupo Carso, a global conglomerate with operations in construction, manufacturing and retail.

Slim also owns America Movil, a mobile phone company operating across Latin America. He has stakes in Dutch phone company KPN and Telekom Austria. His sons, Carlos, Marco Antonio and Patrick, are now in charge of some of the companies. Slim has also given the majority of his shares in Grupo Financiero Inburso, a holding company that offers retail and commercial banking services through its subsidiaries, to two of his daughters.

Thomson family (total family wealth: $US20.3bn): The Thomson family own a media and publishing fortune founded by their grandfather Roy Thomson. Roy acquired a single Ontario newspaper and, within five years, he owned the majority of all Canadian newspapers before expanding aggressively into the United Kingdom and going public in 1965.

Now in its third generation, the family owns Woodbridge, a family investment company which has 55 per cent of media information company Thomson Reuters. David Kenneth Roy Thomson, 57, otherwise known as ‘the third Baron Thomson of Fleet’, is chairman of Woodbridge and also chairs the board of Thomson Reuters as well as the Globe and Mail board in Canada. David took over as chairman of Thomson Corporation following his father Kenneth's death in 2006. In 2008, he led the acquisition of Reuters to form the merged conglomerate Thomson Reuters.

Thomson Reuters has a tight hold on the market data industry, commanding a 29.4 market share, competing with Bloomberg on 29.2 per cent. His brother Peter is also on the board at Woodbridge.

The Thomsons reportedly earn more than $US3bn in cash dividends from public holdings every five years. Thomson gives few media interviews, which is hardly surprising given he’s been married and divorced twice. His personal life has received extensive coverage.

His first marriage was with Mary Lou La Prairie, who he married in 1988 and divorced in 1997. Together they have two daughters and one son. His second marriage to Laurie Ludwick ended on 10 March 2006 -- the date is significant because his son Benjamin James Ludwick was born the same day. The boy can look forward to a future as a Lord Thomson of Fleet and the male heir to the Thomson fortune.

Albrecht family (total family wealth: $US19bn): The wider Albrecht family can thank Karl Albrecht and his brother Theo, who took their mother’s humble corner store and grew the business into Aldi supermarkets -- a global retail behemoth. In the 1990s, Albrecht stepped away from leading the company and handed over duties to his son, Karl Jr. The company also established Trader Joes, an American discount grocery retailer. The two chains have more than 5300 stores in nine European countries and the US.

They pull in estimated revenues of around $US38bn per year. The businesses are controlled by a foundation that gives out dividends to family members; all of them still have a stake in the various companies. The purpose of the foundation is to keep the business intact and stop it being split apart by different family members. Karl Albrecht died in July this year at 94.

Fontbona family (total family wealth: $US18bn): The Fontbona family in Chile runs one of the largest copper miners in the world, Antofagasta. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, the company had a turnover of $US5.97bn last year. Jean-Paul Luksic Fontbona is the chief executive. The family also holds most of the shares of Quinenco, a consumer packaging and beverage company with stakes in the banking, energy, port services and transportation sectors.

The company was founded by Andronico Luksic, who died in 2005 at the age of 78. He had had been company chairman until the year before. On his 78th birthday, Luksic handed over the chairmanship to his son Jean-Paul, but the family maintained a tight grip, paying little heed to criticism that they fell short of corporate governance standards.

According to legend, Luksic claimed his fortune was born from a misunderstanding. As a young man, he had sold his stake in a copper mine to Japanese investors. As he told it, they thought he was quoting them a price in dollars when in fact the amount he had proposed was in pesos. The mistake meant that Luksic was paid more than 10 times the money he had asked for.

An amateur geologist who enjoyed long, lonely walks to collect ore samples, Luksic bought a controlling share of a small copper mine whose owners were feuding. That was the mine that he sold in 1954 to the Nippon Mining Company for the unexpected windfall; a business dynasty was born with the soaring price of copper.

After the death of his first wife, Ena Craig, with whom he had two sons, Luksic endowed a religious foundation in her memory and then re-married to Iris Fontbona, with whom he had a son and two daughters. Luksic left his business to his wife and three sons, Jean-Paul, Andronico, and Guillermo Luksic. From all reports, the Fontbona matriarch has managed to keep the family working together harmoniously, unlike her Australian counterpart Gina Rinehart.

Quandt family (total family wealth: $US15.8bn): The Quandts are the richest family in Germany. Legendary industrialist Herbert Quandt made BMW the luxury-car colossus it is today.

Herbert Quandt was the half-brother of Harald Quandt, the only remaining child from Magda Goebbels’ first marriage. They inherited the industrial empire built by their father, Guenther Quandt, which had produced Mauser firearms and anti-aircraft missiles for the Third Reich’s war machine. The Quandt family bought BMW nearly 15 years after the war.

When he died, in 1982, he left his daughter Susanne Klatten, her younger brother Stefan, and his third wife Johanna Quandt his BMW holdings and other assets.

Klatten is valued at around $US9bn and Stefan is worth $US6.7bn. Stefan Quandt's fortune jumped by about $US3bn over the past year, thanks mostly to a 19 per cent rise in the share price of the German automaker's stock.

Susanne also inherited a 50.1 per cent stake in a pharmaceutical and chemical company, Atlana. In 2006, she sold off its pharma division and received about $US3.25bn. Last year she took over the 50 per cent she did not own and the company was valued at around $US1.98bn. The Quandt family owns 46 per cent of BMW, which had a turnover of $US100.98bn at May 2014. 

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