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Family business obituaries 2009

This year has seen the passing of some of the brightest and best known in the family business world. pays tribute to those who have died and celebrates their careers, their businesses and their legacies.


However, this year's list also contains two tragic reminders of the personal impact of the severe economic difficulties. Adolf Merkle and Huibert Boumeester both took their own lives in 2009, a stark illustration of the real extent of the problems faced by some.

Adolf Merckle: Family business tycoon Adolf committed suicide in January after he made a series of bad financial decisions that left his investment company owing banks €5 billion. The 74-year-old was Germany's fifth richest man with an estimated fortune of €7 billion. He inherited a small pharmaceutical company from his father in the 1960s and developed the family business, began by his grandfather, into German's largest pharmaceutical wholesaler, Phoenix Pharmahandel. The family also owns Ratiopharm and has a significant stake in HeidelbergCement and Kässbohrer. He is survived by his wife Ruth, sons Ludwig, Philipp, Daniel and Tobias and his daughter Jutta.

Richard Pratt: Known affectionately as the "Cardboard King", Richard Pratt was the patriarch of the family-owned, $5 billion Visy business group and one of Australia's most successful businessmen and philanthropists. Richard was born in Poland in 1934 but moved to Australia with his parents in 1938. Visy Board was founded in 1948 and under Richard's guidance grew into one of the largest privately-owned packaging, paper and recycling companies in the world. Richard was also known for his commitment to philanthropy; the Pratt Foundation currently distributes over $13 million to carefully targeted causes making it the most generous private foundation in Australia. Richard died on 28 April aged 74, he has two children Anthony and Heloise.  Click here to read Australia bids farewell to the "Cardboard King" 

Huibert Boumeester: Huibert committed suicide in June aged just 49. He was a member of the Fentener van Vilssingen family, owners of SHV Holdings, the Neatherlands' largest family-owned company. Huibert did not work in the family business; he was a banker with ABN Amro for 21 years and served as chief financial officer. He had resisted the takeover of his bank by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2007, which ultimately plunged RBS into severe financial trouble, and left in 2008 citing personal reasons. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Donald Fisher: Co-founder of the family-owned clothing retailer Gap Inc, Don Fisher died in September aged 81 after a long battle with cancer. Don and his wife Doris founded Gap, which celebrated its 40th birthday in August, in 1969 after Don found it particularly difficult to return an ill fitting pair of jeans. The experience inspired the couple to start their own business which is now an internationally recognised fashion brand with revenues of $14.5 billion. Don is survived by his wife Doris, three sons, two brothers and 10 grandchildren. 

Kevork Hovnanian: Kevork founded the family-controlled homebuilding-company Hovnanian Enterprises in 1959. Upon his death in September aged 86 he served as chairman of the business, which he grew into one of the largest homebuilders in the US recording 2008 revenues of $3.3 billion. Aside from his business interests, Kerork funded the building of a children's hospital that bears his name. His son Ara Hovanian now heads the company of which the family own 46%.

Reinhard Mohn: The fifth generation of the family that founded media giant Bertelsmann AG, died in October aged 88. He is credited with growing Bertelsmann from a small printing and publishing business into an international media company over the 60 years he was involved in the family business, which today is operational in over 50 countries and has revenues of approximately $21.1 billion. He was also known for his philanthropic endeavours; most notably he began the Bertelsmann Stifung foundation in 1977. Bertelsmann was founded in 1835 by Carl Bertelsmann, Reinhard's great-great-grandfather.

Lewis Golub: The chairman of the US-based retailer Price Chopper, Lewis Golub, died on October aged 78. He was the second-generation to work in the business his father and uncle founded in 1932. He is credited with introducing a profit sharing stock plan in which he encouraged employees to participate. Today, the business is 52% owned by its associates making it the largest employee-owned retail food store in the country. The family owns the remaining 48% and three third-generation family members work in $3.3 billion business. 

Sy Syms: The founder of the family-controlled discount retailer SYMS Corp, died of heart failure in November. SYMS was one of the first retailers to offer cut-price clothing for men when Sy opened his first shop in New York's financial district in 1959. The business is still known by the slogan coined by Sy in 1974, "An educated customer is our best customer". Sy took the company public in 1983 and was succeeded by his daughter Marcy Syms as CEO in 1998. Today, SYMS has revenues of $242 million. Sy is survived by his wife Lynn Tamarkin Syms, four children, two stepchildren, 10 grandchildren and three sisters. He also had two other children who died before him. 

Family business obituaries 2008

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