Featured case: JM Huber: A Family of Solutions

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The case

Authors

Who – the protagonists

The Huber family and new CEO, Mike Marberry, a non-family member.

What?

The J.M. Huber Corporation is an international portfolio of businesses focused on specialty engineered materials. It has been a family-owned concern for 130 years and is one of the largest family businesses in America.

Why?

AuthorsSeveral years after the company had levered up its balance sheet to complete the largest acquisition in its history, the economic crisis of 2007 badly affected many of its key markets and placed the group under pressure. By 2013, another significant milestone in the company’s 125-year history was also approaching: the retirement of Chairman and CEO Peter T. Francis, a fourth generation family member. Who could replace him?

When?Indian student

In 1881, Joseph Maria Huber, an immigrant from Prussia (now Germany) went to America to develop new markets for his family’s dry colour business. He saw tremendous growth potential for inks and in 1883, founded his own dry-colour business in Brooklyn, New York.

Where?

Huber’s HQ is in Edison, New Jersey, US. It has manufacturing operations worldwide and customers across the Americas, Europe and the Asia Pacific.

Authors

Key quote

‘In the future, our family needs to constantly address the question: Are we together because we are a family or because we collectively own a company? Only with a shared family vision can you start to do the things together, such as philanthropy or venture capital or simply having fun together, that will help you bond for the long term.’ Peter T. Francis, Chairman and CEO, 1993-2009.

What next?

The Board of Directors selected a non-family member, Mike Marberry, to succeed Peter T. Francis as CEO. How could the family best support him as he took the reins in the midst of a global recession? And would they be able to engage with him and trust his vision for the future?
 
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JM Huber: A Family of Solutions
Ref IMD-3-2417
Teaching note
Ref IMD-3-2417-T

The authors
Authors

Benoît Leleux and Anne-Catrin Glemser

Benoît and Anne-Catrin explain why they wanted to write about J.M. Huber and discuss the positives and negatives of family-run businesses.

Award-winning business

Alt text

I (Benoît) have been in charge of the annual IMD-Lombard Odier Global Family Business Award since 2009. When J.M. Huber won the award in 2013, we got to spend a few days with key family members and executives. Other family businesses can learn from the unique features that contribute to their success, including:

  • very original and extensive inclusion policies, making sure they capitalise on in-laws and partners
  • long-term succession preparation, including a tricky succession transition period to a non-family CEO
  • extensive family communication activities and stakeholder management practices
  • a portfolio management approach.

AuthorsNon-family lessons

As well as key learning objectives that specifically relate to family businesses, this case is also relevant for non-family businesses. It demonstrates the critical importance of stakeholder communications, including ‘over-communication’. Also key are the active management of CEO succession, years in advance, and the importance of portfolio management during times of economic crisis.

The positives and negatives

The company in this case places equal importance on family and business. As can be imagined, both positives and negatives result from this. The positives are very clear, including fast decision-making at the top; great alignment of incentives; and the strategic benefits of private ownership. There is also an amazing strategic vision and strong values to build on.

However, the  potential negatives include a danger of complacency: to mitigate this, constant questioning and assessment is needed to ensure the business is on course. Family trust is important, but this takes time and effort to build – and emotional ties to some of the historic businesses might make key decisions difficult. Issues such as CEO succession are always tricky in family businesses: expectations have to be managed and a disciplined approach is vital.

Meet the family

We developed extensive video interviews with a broad range of family members and company executives, highlighting different perspectives, personalities and generations. This really helps to bring the case alive in the classroom.

* This case was judged ‘Best of the Best’ and the overall winner of the EFMD Case Writing Competition.

About the authors

Benoît Leleux is the Stephan Schmidheiny Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at IMD.
e benoit.leleux@imd.org

Anne-Catrin Glemser is Research Associate and Program Development Manager at IMD.
anne-catrin.glemser@imd.org

 

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