Family feuds

Thicker Than Water

Tönnies dpa
I'll see you in court: Family-owned businesses struggle over corporate legacies.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    In Germany, a high proportion of businesses are family owned, which means regular conflicts over succession and management of the firms pose a threat to the country’s economy.

  • Facts


    • In Germany, 91 percent of businesses are family owned.
    • Most family businesses pursue organic growth strategies, according to a survey by PriceWaterhouseCooper.
    • Half of Germany’s family-owned businesses want to grow abroad.
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Who will lead Germany’s biggest meat-processing business in the future?

A court is to decide this question, mediating between an uncle and a nephew following the death of founder Bernd Tönnies.

Clemens is his brother, Robert his son. They each half own the business which has annual revenues of €5.6 billion ($6.9 billion). Robert Tönnies wants to run the business; Clemens Tönnies won’t let go.

As the case is heard in court, stories fly back and forth, of the hard-working penny-pinching years Clemens spent building up the business. Of intrigue and ingratitude when the son gave 10 percent of his holding to his uncle. Of the father’s deathbed wishes and false promises. The tales go on, of the uncle setting up a secret holding company established in a different country, of the father’s plans to leave his wife. The court will have to separate out the lies and slander to determine the founder’s intentions and who will succeed him. The case may take years to resolve.

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