No major Swiss family-owned firm is led by a woman, study finds

Just 5% of family businesses worldwide are led by a woman, according to the consulting firm EY. Keystone / Regina Kuehne

The 16 largest family-owned companies based in Switzerland generate a combined turnover of roughly CHF245 billion ($265 billion) and employ over 567,000 people, says a new audit by consulting firm EY and the University of St Gallen. However, none of the businesses has a female CEO.

This content was published on September 23, 2021

In terms of revenue, this result puts Switzerland in sixth place in the 2021 Family Business IndexExternal link, released on Thursday. The United States holds first place both in terms of overall turnover and the total number of family-owned businesses.

Five Swiss enterprises are among the world’s 100 largest family-owned businesses: Roche, Gunvor, Kühne+Nagel, Tetra Laval and Compagnie Financière Richemont.

"This is a very good performance, which confirms the innovative strength of Swiss family businesses,” said Sascha Stahl of EY Switzerland.

The absence of women at the top of the corporate ladder is not just a Swiss anomaly: only around 5% of CEOs at family businesses worldwide are women, according to the audit.

“Here, we see that the global trend is not reflected in the same way in family businesses,” said Stahl. “When it comes to succession planning, women do not make it to the top of family businesses at the same rate.” 

The index lists the world’s 500 companies with the largest revenues that have been led by one family for at least two generations. The family or family foundation must own more than 50% of the shares and voting rights.

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