I&F News

A family business must plan ahead

Founded in 1948 by members of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, Industrie- und Finanzkontor has been majority owned and managed by family members ever since. Originally run as a family office, the company is now one of the leading providers in the field of cross-border asset structuring and long-term preservation of family and entrepreneurial wealth. In 2020, H.S.H. Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein, was elected to the Board of Directors. She was appointed CEO at the beginning of this year.

Princess Gisela received a degree in engineering from ETH Zurich. This was followed by positions in investment banking and engineering in England, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland. She is the daughter of H.S.H. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, who chairs the Board of Directors of Industrie- und Finanzkontor as Executive Chairman.

Princess Gisela, you have gained experience in many different companies. How does a family-owned and managed company, such as Industrie- und Finanzkontor, differ from others?
The main difference lies in our mind-set, and in the strong ties between the family and the management team, and between employees and clients. This leads to high levels of identification and above-average commitment. And this also means that family businesses are usually oriented towards the long-term.

So, the family acts as a role model?
Yes. In a family business, family members are prepared to invest their own time and money in the company, and to take personal responsibility for the success of the business. This
mind-set has a positive impact on the business, providing security and stability to both employees and clients, allowing the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive.

To what extent?
The family vouches for the company with its own surname. This creates a fundamental incentive within the company to perform at the highest level. Our family values form the basis
on which the entire governance of Industrie- und Finanzkontor is built. We are proud of our strong, diversified management and the motivated, well-trained workforce that stand behind those family values. The strong family ties mean that everyone feels the same compulsion to pull together. Our employees are fully aware of their responsibilities and are committed to the company. And our clients benefit from this.

Industrie- und Finanzkontor has an unusual origin. How is this reflected in the company?
We have our roots in the Princely House of Liechtenstein, which has existed for almost a thousand years. The Princely House has always stood out thanks to an exceptional willingness
to perform, a flair for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of independence. These powerful traits run like a thread through our family history, and through Industrie- und Finanzkontor. We look at wealth and family from a holistic perspective, always thinking in terms of generations.

Industrie- und Finanzkontor focuses on the long-term preservation of wealth and values for clients, and structures wealth via legal instruments. How does the awareness of family and wealth play into this?
Each client’s situation is different, as every family is different. Private wealth, and family wealth in particular, are as diverse as the people to whom they belong. Our awareness of family and wealth is expressed in our entrepreneurial thinking, and reflected in each individual solution we craft for our clients. We view wealth from an objective and comprehensive perspective, focussing not only on tangible assets, but on intangible ones as well.

Why is this intangible approach significant for asset structuring?
Values, needs, expectations and goals, as well as the framework conditions in which assets are embedded, are all factors that influence wealth and assets in the long term. That’s why we pay special attention to this side of the business. We also support entrepreneurial families in formulating their own wealth and family culture and to strengthen the family´s understanding of their own legacy.

At some point the time comes when succession in a family business needs to be planned for. What should be taken into account in order to ensure a smooth succession plan?
Apart from the formal succession planning, clear communication and a leading by example on the part of the previous generation form the basis for successful succession planning. Other factors to be considered are that the family members are professionally and financially independent; that they gain experience; show an interest in the family business and have the appropriate willingness to perform. My sister and I were involved in strategic decisions and discussions about the company’s development from an early stage. However, it was always up to us to decide whether we wanted to take over the family business one day.

The world is now in the midst of a transformation: advancing digitalisation, changing client demands, upheavals in the regulatory structure, geopolitical realignment, and so forth. What do you see as the main responsibility of the next generation?
First of all, taking over a business should be seen as a privilege rather than a right. The entrusted company should be further developed for the benefit of future generations, both on a family level and with regard to employees and clients. Economic and social responsibility must also be ensured. The current times are challenging, especially in view of the erosion of private wealth by politics and society. Increasing bureaucracy inhibits productivity and endangers healthy pragmatism. It is important to consciously counteract unproductive bureaucracy. At the same time, there is also enormous potential for new business areas.

What priorities should one set in order to remain viable in the current and future environment?
As a matter of principle, we approach change with an open mind-set, focussing not only on the risks, but on the opportunities presented by new trends and developments, which we evaluate on a regular basis. An organisational structure must be prepared for the future, and employee expertise must be constantly strengthened. As far as the geopolitical realignment is concerned, we are convinced that it further highlights the importance of wealth preservation. In politically and economically unstable times, there is a growing desire for protection and security for wealth and assets, as well as for an environment in which property ownership rights are respected.

While at Industrie- und Finanzkontor we describe ourselves as «Wealth Preservation Experts», sustainability is the most common buzzword in the business world. How do wealth preservation and the quest for sustainability intertwine?
We focus on the long-term and multi-generational preservation of wealth in line with the will of the founder. Our claim «Wealth Preservation Experts» describes what we do in a nutshell. By setting up, implementing and managing asset structures via legal entities such as foundations, trusts or other corporate forms, we create a starting point for achieving positive social, ecological and economic effects in the long term, through those assets. From a governance perspective, we build fiduciary asset structures in such a way that they meet the current framework of conditions, while still being flexible enough to adapt to future changes. This is a basic prerequisite if an asset structure is to be preserved and continued across generations.

In the financial sector, banks in particular are focussing on the issue of sustainability. The fiduciary sector is cautious around this issue. Is the topic not yet ripe for discussion?
The banking industry is probably most directly affected by the current definition of sustainable investments. Accordingly, it is addressing the issue hastily. In the field of foundations and trusts however, the concept of sustainability has always been the guiding principle. Wealth structuring through legal entities lays the groundwork for a long-term alignment of assets. Wealth structures require sustainable asset management; longterm, viable asset investment; and the use of assets, all in line with the purpose of the foundation or trust statutes, which usually includes a time scale of several generations.

Allow me to conclude by asking you what your vision of the future of Industrie- und Finanzkontor looks like?
«Wealth Preservation» is a core value that does not change. The management of asset structures must always be carried out with a long-term view and follow an overall strategy. We, as experts, must anticipate the future, always think a few steps ahead and pave the way for the sake of our clients. This way, we support our clients in their intention to secure the future of their families, assets and values in the long term. At Industrie- und Finanzkontor we develop customised solutions to protect wealth and values and to safeguard them in the long term. Accordingly, our primary goals include to expand the opportunities for wealth structuring and wealth preservation with foresight, and to further develop our products and services.

Gisela Bergmann, Princess of Liechtenstein . Chief Executive Officer

Interview by Susanna Gopp

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