March 3, 2021
Founded in 1989, the Family Business Network is the world’s leading family business association. Boasting some 30 local chapters – including one in Belgium – FBN brings together enterprising business owners from 4,000 families across 65 countries. Once thought of as “mom & pop stores”, today family enterprises are increasingly receiving the recognition they deserve. After all, family owned and operated businesses represent two-thirds of all companies worldwide, employ over 60% of the global workforce, and contribute more than 70% to the global GDP. To help make sustainability more concrete for family enterprises, FBN worked with UNCTAD to create a tailormade framework for sustainability.
This places family businesses in a unique position when it comes to leading the movement for sustainability. Not simply because of the market share they represent, but also because they tend to have long term vision and human values. Instead of being mainly driven by quarterly financial results, family businesses tend to think in generations. As a fourth generation member of the family Bekaert, Sophie Velge Lammerant has a deep-rooted love of the entrepreneurial spirit. The empassioned Co-Founder and Vice-Chair of FBN Belgium spoke to Source of Change about the uniqueness of family business.
“Family businesses have very specific concerns,” explains Sophie. “And this is where FBN comes in. It’s a place where members can share their challenges and learn from each other’s successes and failures. Peer-to-peer learning opportunities and regular networking events are an important part of our program. For instance, there are often two or three generations working alongside each other. It can be difficult to broach certain subjects or introduce new ideas when you are related. But when members of the senior generation speak with the next generation from a different family, it becomes an open exchange as the emotional context is removed.”
“Not only is sustainability a must for the climate and our wellbeing, it creates a lot of opportunities too and organisations are starting to realise this. Moreover, only sustainable enterprises will survive; if you don’t change with the times, it will be game over.” – Sophie Velge Lammerant
Today organisations are faced with a major shift in social expectations. Consumers demand transparency on environmental performance and value chains; they want to know how companies contribute to local economies and help reduce inequality. Where once the focus was on shareholder value, today companies seek to create value for all stakeholders. Action on climate change is just one facet of sustainability. The call for change is coming from all directions, including from within families themselves, says Sophie.
“BLM (Black Lives Matter) protests, calls for gender equality… Open any newspaper and you’ll see how important the human aspect has become. To society in general and to businesses too. We all need a sense of purpose. Going to work and getting paid is essential but it’s not enough anymore. Millennials and Zoomers want to be part of a company that positively contributes to the world. These are the generations that are now entering the workforce and the human aspect is vital to them. I couldn’t agree more. Call me idealistic, but I love my professional life precisely because I feel there is a purpose.”
Focus on Sustainability
To help make sustainability more concrete for family enterprises, FBN launched Polaris (named after the North Star). A global movement focused on maximising economic, social and environmental impact, it enables learning, innovation and co-creation to empower family businesses and help them shape the future they want for people, communities, the environment and future generations. This was then followed by the Family Business Sustainability Pledge; a joint FBN and UNCTAD global statement that calls on business-owning families to promote a more purpose driven business model.
“It all started with a ‘Pledge’, back in 2011. But we realised a pledge wasn’t enough: it was just a declaration of intent. We had to act on it, which meant introducing criteria and KPIs that can be measured and benchmarked. B Corp helped us tailor the general framework – already very demanding – and make it even more specific for family businesses by adding dimensions such as family governance, preparing next generations to be responsible owners, transparency on sustainability, and so on.”
“We then went on to write about fifty separate case studies, one of which was Spadel,” Sophie continues. “These companies are real champions when it comes to sustainability, which is why we also organised an inspiration afternoon at Spadel for our members. Finally, we aligned a number of these sustainability indicators with the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) with the support of UNCTAD so that companies can really measure their progress and see how far they are along their journey. The FBN Sustainability Pledge is prescriptive in its vision and strategy as well as actionable and deliverable inn line with the SDGs.”
“The SDG framework challenges us to question whether we are doing enough and whether we are focussing on the right themes. Signing the Pledge and joining Polaris sends out a strong message to our stakeholders: now is the time to act and together we can achieve more.” – Marc du Bois
“For us a major reason to use the SDGs as a reference model for our family business is that it takes into account not only the current situation, but future generations too. And ensuring sustainability is at the heart of what we do,” adds Marc du Bois, CEO and third generation of the family behind the Spadel Group. “The purity of our natural mineral water depends on a clean and healthy natural environment. As a company with a strong local identity, we have important social impacts as well. We closely monitor the local and global evolution and the different frameworks help us achieve our goals. At the same time, the SDG framework challenges us to question whether we are doing enough and are focussing on the right themes. By signing the Pledge, we not only found likeminded companies but we also send a strong message to our stakeholders: now is the time to act and together we can achieve more.”
It’s this take-charge attitude and not shying away from being the first mover that tends to be unique to family enterprises. Growing up in a household where business matters are discussed at the dinner table can give you a major edge, believes Sophie. “You hear about the challenges and a few weeks later you hear about how they were overcome. You learn life isn’t always easy but also that problems are often an opportunity to find solutions. There are always ups and downs in business, just as there are in life, but you stay together and find satisfaction in working together.”
“Growing up with this entrepreneurial spirit is a privilege, but it also gives you a sense of duty. Personally I learned the importance of giving back and having respect for everyone. That’s something we need much more of in society. Family businesses sometimes have the reputation of being the “golden boys” who collect dividends every year. But I see people who work alongside their employees every day and consider them to be part of the family. Sometimes workers are second or third generation too. It’s very important not only to talk about work, but to find out how people are feeling. This sense of togetherness is something we all need, especially in these COVID times.”
“There’s no question that sustainability policies are crucial to Spadel’s business success,” agrees Marc. “But other factors are important too. Spadel is a great company with great people, who do excellent work. Over the past five years, we have been able to attract quality employees. The people who come to us often come from large companies and multinationals. We regularly ask our employees why they chose to work for Spadel. Four arguments keep coming back: the family character with its long-term vision, the brands and the innovation, our progressive vision on sustainable development, and our values, including agility. We are small among the great. We’ve now reached a certain level of maturity in sustainability and are proud that is has become part of our culture. ”
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