Navigating between two world wars and a rapidly changing continent into the new millennium, European multinational companies arguably struggled more to survive than their North American counterparts. Those who have persisted are defined by leadership that has stayed one step ahead, seeking opportunities that few others have been so quick to capitalize on. But innovation cannot go further into success as a multinational; people need to see the brand’s commitment to standing up for the values they believe in.
As Henri mintzbourg says, “Businesses are social institutions. If they don’t serve society, they have nothing to do.
For any global business, finding the right balance between maximizing profits for shareholders and maintaining strong ties to their consumer base is elusive. These three multinationals have stood the test of time for three centuries because of the way they serve both the local and global communities in which they operate.
A brand defined by extraordinary events, charismatic characters, and of course, its cars, Fiat popular its first 120 years in 2019 with growth plans. In 1899, a group of Italian businessmen and professionals from Turin joined forces to realize a common dream: an Italian car factory that could offer “democratic mobility”. The same year, the first Fiat model went into production.
Over the next century, Fiat continued to expand production across Europe, dominating the Eurasian and North American markets even in the midst of the world wars. But it was under the leadership of the former CEO Sergio Marchionne that Fiat has established itself as a world leader in automotive manufacturing. With a leadership style combining the personality of the Agnelli family, the genius and design vision of Dante Giacosa and the administrative foresight of Vittorio VallettaMarchionne pulled the Italian automaker from the brink of bankruptcy on the New York Stock Exchange after buying Detroit automaker Chrysler.
During his tenure at Fiat, Marchionne more than increased the value of the company by restructuring the automotive business and segregating assets. Among the most significant fallout is the 2015 listing of supercar maker Ferrari NV, where Marchionne also served as CEO and Chairman. The self-proclaimed “business repairer” also oversaw the Centro Ricerche Fiat in international research projects on green energy innovations such as the use of recycled materials and biomaterials. One of these initiatives was the Forbioplast project, who assessed forest resources for plastic production at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Perhaps one of these forests sought after for the project was the 1,000 hectares of sustainable forests in Scotland managed by Kronospan Forestry Ltd, a subsidiary of Kronospan, the leading manufacturer of wood-based panels. Founded in 1897 as a small family timber company, the Austrian multinational has developed a supply chain with more than 40 production sites and 16 distribution centers in 30 countries.
Under the leadership of Kronospan owner and CEO Peter Kaindl, the company has harnessed the potential of the integrated single market to both consolidate its strength in its home industry while diversifying beyond the primary sector. While most manufacturers feared the risk of expanding outside Western Europe at the turn of the last century, Peter Kaindl pushed Kronospan to own dozens of wood-based panel manufacturing sites in what was to become the EU, notably in Latvia, Poland and the Czech Republic. , Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary.
His hands-on approach allowed him to expand the small Austrian and Western base of Kronospan from his father’s tenure into an international conglomerate with manufacturing centers across Europe – as well as factories and branches in the United States – with billions of euros in annual revenue. But Kronospan has distinguished itself from the rest of the lumber industry by placing sustainability at the heart of its operating model. In 1999 the company joined the Stewarship forest council which ensures the use of sustainable practices.
In 2003, Kronospan was one of the first organizations to join the Carbon Trust in Wales for a pilot carbon emissions management program. Kronospan also works with Business in the Wales Community which aims to address key social issues in the most disadvantaged rural and urban areas of Wales, where its first international factory was established and has been operating in the region for over 50 years.
A commitment to the local community that has helped an industry thrive is also shared by Neuhaus, the Belgian chocolatier. Swiss pharmacist Jean Neuhaus opened his first boutique in Brussels in 1857 after his branded chocolate-coated medicine catapulted him to fame. Today, the building still houses the worldwide production of his famous Belgian praline, as invented by his grandson. Today, CEO Ignace Van Doorselaere works closely with the family to pursue their vision of selling 2,400 tonnes of ‘honest chocolate’ in more than 50 countries.
Neuhaus has been endowed with a royal mandate-holder seal by the King and Queen of Belgium in recognition of his services both to protect Belgian art and to work for environmental sustainability. 100% Neuhaus chocolate is UTZ certified, the largest sustainable cocoa cultivation program in the world. Under the supervision of Van Doorselaere, from 2025, all their cocoa production will be 100% traceable and will meet living and deforestation standards.
Like Fiat and Kronospan, Neuhaus has persisted as global strongholds of a unique European craft: doing one thing and doing it right. But leaders everywhere have made important strategic decisions at key junctions in their journey to remain viable and profitable to this day. The marriage of three centuries of good governance and commitment to sustainability – or as Kronospan’s Peter Kaindl might say, the ability to see the forest from the trees – is what separates these three multinationals from the rest.