Market mastery: The expansion playbook of family businesses | Inquirer Business

Market mastery: The expansion playbook of family businesses

/ 02:02 AM September 25, 2023



In my role as the global group chair of the Tom Oliver Group, where the vast majority of our clients are family business conglomerates, I see every day how vital it is to have the right strategies when it comes to expanding and dominating markets.

Family businesses, with their intricate blend of heritage, values and a forward-looking vision, have consistently demonstrated an uncanny ability to grow and dominate markets. Their strategies, deeply rooted in a profound understanding of market dynamics and an unwavering commitment to legacy and quality, offer a treasure trove of insights for CEOs and business owners.


Below I will delve deeper into the strategies employed by iconic family businesses, and we will draw rich insights from examples such as the illustrious Koch brothers, the Waltons and the renowned Mars family.


1. Comprehensive diversification of portfolio

Example: The Koch brothers

Koch Industries, under the astute leadership of the Koch brothers, Charles and David, is a shining example of the power of comprehensive diversification. While their initial foray was in oil refining, they didn’t remain confined to it. Recognizing the potential of branching out, they ventured into a plethora of sectors, from chemicals and polymers to ranching, finance and even consumer goods. This extensive diversification strategy served as a buffer against potential downturns in any single industry, ensuring a balanced and robust growth trajectory.


Key takeaway: For CEOs and business owners, it’s imperative to consider broadening their horizons. Diversifying their portfolios can act as a safeguard against market volatility, ensuring they aren’t overly reliant on a single sector.

2. Branding excellence and unwavering quality assurance

Example: The Mars family

The Mars family’s global confectionery empire stands as a testament to the power of consistent branding coupled with unwavering quality assurance. Their brands, from the universally adored M&M’s to the luxurious Dove chocolates, exude quality. Their relentless commitment to maintaining this quality, irrespective of the geographical market, has fostered deep-rooted trust and an unbreakable bond with consumers worldwide.

Key takeaway: A brand’s strength, underpinned by consistent quality, can be its most potent weapon. It not only ensures customer trust but also lays a solid foundation for market expansion and dominance.

3. Strategic alliances, partnerships and thoughtful acquisitions

Example: The Koch brothers

One of the cornerstones of Koch Industries’ expansion strategy has been forming strategic alliances and making judicious acquisitions. By either integrating companies with an established market presence into their fold or forging partnerships that offer mutual growth opportunities, they’ve rapidly penetrated new markets and enhanced their operational capabilities.

Key takeaway: For businesses eyeing rapid expansion, strategic partnerships and acquisitions can be invaluable. They provide immediate access to established infrastructures, customer bases and often bring in fresh perspectives and expertise.

4. In-depth market research and nuanced consumer insights

Example: The Mars family

The Mars family’s unparalleled success in the global confectionery landscape can be attributed to their profound understanding of consumer preferences. Their significant investments in market research and their knack for gathering nuanced consumer insights have empowered them to tailor their products exquisitely to regional tastes, ensuring a universal appeal.

Key takeaway: CEOs and business owners must recognize the paramount importance of in-depth market research. A deep understanding of consumer preferences, cultural nuances, and evolving market dynamics can significantly inform product development, positioning and marketing strategies.

5. Embracing technological advancements and digital transformation

Example: The Walton family

Walmart, founded by Sam Walton, is a prime example of a family business that has embraced technological advancements to stay ahead of the curve. Their investments in e-commerce, digital payment solutions and supply chain innovations have ensured they remain a dominant force in the retail industry, even in the face of rising digital competitors.

Key takeaway: In today’s digital age, it’s crucial for businesses to stay updated with technological trends. Embracing digital transformation can lead to enhanced operational efficiency, better customer experiences and new revenue streams.

Deciding where to expand and identifying the right markets to operate in

1. Assessing market potential: Before any expansion, it’s crucial to gauge the potential size, growth trajectory and profitability margins of a new market. High-growth markets might be attractive, but they could also be saturated with competition.

2. Understanding cultural compatibility: For family businesses, in particular, understanding cultural nuances is paramount. Markets that resonate with the company’s core values and ethos can lead to smoother integrations and better market acceptance.

3. Navigating the regulatory environment: A comprehensive understanding of the regulatory landscape, encompassing business-friendly policies, potential tax incentives and clear legal frameworks, can significantly influence expansion decisions.

4. Analyzing the competitive landscape: A granular analysis of existing competition is crucial. Identifying markets where your business can carve a niche or offer a distinct competitive advantage can be particularly lucrative.

5. Infrastructure and logistics evaluation: Consider the existing infrastructure in terms of transportation, communication, supply chain logistics and even digital infrastructure. Efficient infrastructure can lead to streamlined operations and better market penetration.

6. Holistic risk assessment: Every market comes with its unique set of challenges. Whether it’s political instability, economic fluctuations or environmental concerns, a thorough risk assessment can guide decisions and help in devising robust risk mitigation strategies.

By delving deeper into the successes of families like the Kochs, the Waltons and the Mars, CEOs and business owners can extract nuanced insights that are both timeless and profoundly relevant in today’s intricate and dynamic business landscape.

A final word of warning: Diversification just for the sake of diversifying is for idiots, and has absolutely nothing to do with risk diversification.

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Many family businesses have bled dry because the next generation did not want to continue the “boring” old business that had made the family rich. This is a typical case of next-gen entrepreneurial ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), but it is no bueno for your business. If you expand, there must be a deep and extremely sound analysis behind it. If you are not sure that your people are 100 percent up to this and you rather play it safe before tanking millions of dollars or even risking your entire business, better get additional external experts to help you. INQ

Tom Oliver, a “global management guru” (Bloomberg), is the chair of The Tom Oliver Group, the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world’s most influential family businesses, medium-sized enterprises, market leaders and global conglomerates. For more information and inquiries: or email

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