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Nobility losing grip on nation’s rich list

Published on 01/09/2005

1 September 2005

BRUSSELS — The list of the richest Belgian families still contains a large number of ‘noble’ names, but they are quickly being overtaken by families who have made their fortunes in modern times.

Weekly magazine ‘Trend’ published on Thursday its list of the 100 richest Belgian business families.

However, the list is not a ranking per se of the “richest” Belgian families. It is instead based on “professional” wealth and not total private fortune.

The distinction is somewhat arbitrary, but it means that Trends did not make an inventory of real estate wealth or the investment portfolios of the richest families. Those who sold the company are thus not included in the list.

Nevertheless, topping the list were the noble families behind the brewery group InBev, with a business wealth of more than EUR 7 billion.

They were followed by two of the usual suspects, the Solvay and Frère families. The old nobility is also well represented by names such as Janssen (UCB) and Boël (Sofina).

However, these families have been joined by the new rich, families such as Colruyt (of Colruyt supermarkets), Saverys (shipping group CMB) and Coucke (pharmaceutical company Omega Pharma).

Fortis chief Maurice Lippens — also a member of one of Belgium’s richest families — said the wealth of Belgian nobility is being splintered due to inheritance

The list is also not an exact science. The value of family interests in companies listed on stock exchanges can be easily calculated, but for non-listed companies the fortune can only be estimated.

The fact that a family is featured on the list means more than the rank itself, newspaper ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ reported.

Some families are not listed either because it is not clear which companies they still hold a stake in.

This is the case for the families Ullens de Schooten and Wittouck (the founders of Artal, the holding company that owns Weight Watchers) and Leysen (KBC).

It is also noteworthy that shareholders of technological firms are barely represented in the list.

During the internet bubble several years ago — when a firm such as Lernout & Hauspie was valued at EUR 11 billion on the stock market — the list would have undoubtedly included a couple of other names.

[Copyright Expatica News 2005]

Subject: Belgian news