Family-owned businesses are the backbone of the economy — and the plastics industry. This industry has its share of big publicly owned companies, businesses owned by private equity investors, partnerships and lone entrepreneurs.
But many of the most significant companies in plastics are family-owned.
It's been that way for more than 100 years now, since shortly after Leo Baekeland cooked up the first batch of Bakelite in 1907. I'm confident predicting that family-owned businesses will still be among the industry's leaders a century from now.
The question is, how many of today's family-owned plastics companies will survive until 2116?
The odds are against them.
Only the strong survive
There are lots of statistics on family-owned businesses, and the data tells two stories: First, on the important role they play in the economy. Second, on the difficulty they have in surviving over the long term.
Sources estimate that 80 to 90 percent of all global businesses are family owned — in the United States the number is close to 90 percent. They include two- and three-employee businesses all the way up to multinational companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Ford Motor Co. Some of the biggest companies in the world are family-owned businesses on their second, third or fourth generation of family leadership.
But few get that far.
Whenever I visit a family-owned company, we have the talk, where I start to bring up the statistic —that only 12 percent of U.S. family businesses make it to the third generation. Typically I'm interrupted before I can even get out the whole question.
They're already aware of the issue. They live it every day, they worry about it, they plan for how they'll beat the odds — or how they'll eventually turn over the business to someone else.
We're a family-owned company, too
Our parent company is turning 100 years old this year, which is what's prompting me to write about this issue today. That's because we're using our anniversary to take the opportunity to put the spotlight on other family-owned businesses.
We're planning a special issue on May 16 that will feature profiles of dozens of family-owned plastics companies. We'll also cover the common issues that they face and highlight the importance they play in the industry, and the overall economy. And we'll write a bit about our family-owned history, too.
It should be a fun package, like our PN Women in Plastics and Rising Stars that you've seen the past few years. If you work for a family-owned business that wants to be included, go to www.plasticsnews.com/familyowned and fill out our survey.
There are questions about your company history, the challenges you've faced as a family-owned company, and your outlook for the company for the next 5, 10 and 20 years.
We don't ask if you've ever had a heated discussion about business at Thanksgiving dinner. But if you want to volunteer that story, we're all ears.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.” Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.