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Italian family businesses breathe a sigh of relief

News that the Italian government is looking to protect local companies against unwanted takeovers is likely to be greeted with relief among family businesses in the country – at least in the immediate future.

But longer-term pressures on family businesses in Italy won't be resolved by government intervention. Nor for that matter will they be anywhere else in the world.

With LVMH's acquisition of family-controlled Bulgari barely a week old and another French company acquiring a sizeable chuck of the food group Parmalat a few days later, Italian regulators are getting nervous about the possibility of foreigners taking over strategically important companies.

What's really annoying the Italians is that the French are making most of the acquisitions. They accuse France of blocking acquisitions by Italian companies – "lack of reciprocity by the French", is the common gripe.

So, Italian regulators want to copy the French and set up committees to monitor core industrial sectors, including ones where there is a large presence of family-owned businesses like the luxury and consumer industries.

Italian luxury and fashion brands might be particularly concerned about the likes of the huge luxury consumer conglomerates LVMH, PPR (both of them French) and the Swiss-based Richemont snapping up smaller companies in Italy. Understandably many of them want protection.

Such a move will help in the short-term, and Italian businesses have a right to be upset with France not allowing similar access to its markets as Italy has.

But if Italy's famed family businesses are to avoid hostile takeovers, they will ultimately have to adapt to competitive pressures not just coming from its rival across the Alps, but an onslaught from Asia and Latin America as well.

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