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Legacy Matters
BlogsPublications | October 23, 2018
3 minute read
Legacy Matters

Lessons From a 16th Century Family Owned Winery

I have had the good fortune and privilege to work with many families whose goals include the continuation of ownership and management of their family business by the next generations. Helping families develop and implement succession plans is among the most fulfilling work I have done in my 32 years of practicing law.

At a personal level, among the things I enjoy is wine. My wife Angie and I love to sample new wines, and we try to visit wineries when our travels together afford us an opportunity to do so. From time to time, we have also made our own wine.
Angie and I recently completed a trip to Europe. As part of our week long cruise along the Rhine River, we signed up for a wine tasting excursion at a winery in the Alsace region in France. 
Our afternoon of wine tasting gave me an unexpected opportunity to combine my personal interest in wine with my professional passion for family business succession when we visited Domaine Albert Seltz in Mittelbergheim, France. We discovered that Albert Seltz’s family founded its winery in 1557! Albert Seltz, a man who is clearly passionate about grapes and wine making, became the 14th generation owner of the winery 38 years ago, at age 19, when he took over the winery from his father.  
After tasting Albert’s wines, I had a few minutes to talk with him about his own family’s business succession journey. I came away from the afternoon impressed with his wine (and his passion for it) and realizing a new appreciation for family business longevity. I was also struck by the fact that Albert mentioned some of the same issues he is facing in passing the business to the 15th generation that the families I work with face in passing their businesses to the second, third, fourth, and fifth generations. Some issues truly are timeless across cultures, businesses, families, and even centuries of family business experience!

The Longevity of Family Business

The visit prompted me to think about where Domaine Albert Seltz fits among the ranks of long-lasting family businesses. Take a look at some selections from a list, compiled by William O’Hara, of the world’s longest-running family businesses still being operated by descendants of the founding family:

  • Hoshi Ryokan Hotel in Japan (46th generation! - established in 718 A.D.)
  • Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli - Bell foundry in Italy (1339)
  • R. Durtnell & Sons - Construction in the U.K. (1591)
  • Zildjian Cymbal Co. in Massachusetts (1623)
  • The Seaside Inn and Cottages in Kennebunkport, Maine (1667) 
  • Taittinger Champagne in France (1734)
  • Jose Cuervo - Tequila in Mexico (1758) 
  • Waterford Wedgwood - Crystal/China in Ireland (1759)

According to O’Hara, author of Lessons from the World’s Most Enduring Family Businesses, those businesses that survive in the long haul share a “classic overachieving spirit of collaboration and drive to succeed.”
Here at Warner, we agree that families with successful businesses that are collaborative in nature and driven to succeed are much more likely to successfully transition to another generation. We also believe that these families possess a common vision for the business and, importantly, a strategic plan for transferring the business to the next generation. 

Warner Can Help in Your Quest for Business Longevity

While we might not have helped families transfer businesses through 14 or 15 generations, our attorneys have decades of experience working with multigenerational family businesses (some of which now have fifth generation owners). Your Warner attorney can help you create a succession plan for the future of your business and the wealth it represents. Once your plan is in place, we can help you update it as your family, assets and liquidity needs grow. We can also help you create governance systems that meet your needs for family and business communication, collaboration and education to increase your chances of long-term success.
Now is a great time to picture your business on a list among the world’s oldest family businesses, and make the plans to get you there.