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La Famiglia: Family values that drive business success

April 2, 2022, 2:52 PM UTC
Giacomo Chiesi, the founder of Chiesi Group, in his office at Via Palermo signing some working papers in 1955.
Courtesy of Chiesi Group

In business, the term “family-owned” is often considered synonymous with attributes including “small,” “slow to innovate”, and “risk-averse.” Control passes from one generation to the next rather than through an effort to continually bring in the “best and the brightest.” In film and drama, it is often synonymous with intrigue and power struggles.

As a result, business insiders often dismiss or fail to fully appreciate that many strategies in running family-owned businesses can serve as models and guides for other companies. As a member of the third generation to work in the family business, I have seen firsthand the opportunities that these companies have to use their unique management structures and histories to their advantage.

Chiesi Group was founded in 1935 by my grandfather, Giacomo Chiesi, a chemist who dreamed of doing research. In the years that followed, his two sons Alberto and Paolo took over management of the company and led efforts to expand globally, with members of the next generation of Chiesi joining the company later on. We continued to focus on opportunities for growth, reaching new global markets, and expanding our product portfolio. Today, Chiesi employs 7,000 people worldwide and generates $2.7 billion in annual revenue.

On paper, our story might seem straightforward and similar to other pharmaceutical companies that have been successful by developing great products and marketing them around the world. In recent years, though, we have worked to assess how our culture and position as a family business have shaped our success and how those attributes can continue to strengthen our business moving forward. In many cases, these are strategic approaches that other successful family businesses also embrace.

Long-term planning

“Think long term” is often positioned as an essential corporate goal but then challenged by a focus on quarterly earnings and near-term results.

In pharma, where drug development can take years or even decades, a long-term strategic focus is essential. But unless a business is solidly structured to plan and execute long-term strategies, even as these plans face challenges, they are likely to fail.

Family-owned businesses are often structured to be better able to consider and follow through on longer-term strategic planning.

Courtesy of Chiesi Group

Streamline decision-making

To make smart and fast decisions, you must really understand the business. In many cases, family members are immersed in an industry from a young age. Unlike outsiders, they don’t need to “get up to speed”.

Make sure you invest in this process so that every member of the senior team fully understands and appreciates the factors that affect the business. From there, carefully review your decision-making procedures.

A core group of family members can make fast business decisions, but all companies can work to streamline decision-making while also making sure the process incorporates the necessary range of perspectives. Build a structure that allows you to make a decision–and then move on.

Focus on your reputation

When your name is on the door, your company’s reputation follows you everywhere. Even if that is not the case, you should act like it. We engage with patients and caregivers to make sure we understand their needs and that they see us as good corporate citizens.

Take actions that reinforce your commitment to quality and integrity, to treating your employees fairly, and to making a positive difference.

Treat employees well

The pharma and life sciences sectors continue to be highly competitive. At all times, and especially in this period of labor shortages, how we treat our employees can play a central role in the success of any pharma business. In family-owned businesses, employee relations are often a top priority.

The culture of the business and the family that owns it are often closely aligned and must reflect the needs of all employees. Family businesses often take extra steps to build a strong team, but these same approaches can be applied to any business.

Giacomo Chiesi is head of global rare diseases at the Chiesi Group, where he leads the team developing and commercializing treatments for rare and ultra-rare diseases.

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