Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren: A successful succession project in a family firm

In 1946, Willi Bigler founded a small butcher's shop in Biel. His grandson and great-grandson now run Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren with 650 employees. In the succession project with Credit Suisse, which was completed in 2015, a diverse range of interests were brought to light, as well as topics that had hardly been talked about in the family until then.

01/07/2019

Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren in Büren an der Aare has around 650 employees. Of these, 12 of them have the surname Bigler. CEO Markus Bigler explains: "We are all part of the third or fourth generation of this family firm. Each of us knows exactly where we belong. This is largely thanks to the succession process that we successfully implemented in 2015 with Credit Suisse."

Markus Bigler, CEO of Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren, on the "Bank for Entrepreneurs"

Succession in an SME is challenging for everyone involved. Markus Bigler explains how the SME Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren successfully mastered this process. 

Parallel growth of family and company

The company's story begins in Biel in 1946, when grandfather Bigler opened a butcher's shop. His sons, Willi and Otto, both had families with many children: "There are seven of us in the third generation and in the fourth there are now 11 descendants, who at some stage will have inheritance rights", Markus Bigler explains. In parallel to the growing extended family, the small butcher's shop had become a major meat-processing business. Today, it supplies butcher's shops and retailers throughout Switzerland with fresh meat and charcuterie products, but also with convenience products such as sandwiches, salads, and individual ready-made meals.

 

A few years ago, Jürg Bigler, who had shaped the company as CEO for over 40 years, was due to retire. "We took this change as an opportunity to pave the way for our fourth generation," reports Markus Bigler, Jürg's younger brother.

The succession project "Quattro"

At the time, the equities were owned by 10 family members. However, the shareholders soon realized that professional help was needed for this succession process. Three potential partners presented their approach before the Annual General Meeting, including the house bank of Bigler Ltd., Credit Suisse. "Toni Neuhaus, succession expert at Credit Suisse, impressed all the shareholders already during the presentation and fulfilled their expectations during implementation of the project," recalls Markus Bigler, and continues: "However, the reasons why the individual family members decided on Credit Suisse varied a lot in their nature. For me, the company's continuity was the main priority, and the interests of the shareholders came second. At the same time, I wanted us to find a solution that suited everyone involved. Toni Neuhaus had already spoken with each of us individually before the presentation – without judging our statements. That was probably also why everyone felt like he was looking after their personal interests."

Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren

The company headquartered in Büren an der Aare originated as a butcher's shop founded in 1946. Since that time, the Swiss family firm Bigler Ltd. Fleischwaren has dedicated itself to the craft of meat processing and is now already in its third and fourth generation. With over 650 employees, the business is centered on tradition, passion, and quality. The company is still entirely family-owned today, and is run by CEO Markus Bigler. It produces fresh meat, charcuterie, and convenience products such as sandwiches, salads, and individual ready-made meals. The company is currently experiencing its biggest growth in this newer field of operations, especially since a new convenience products plant was opened in 2017.

Equal statement of interpretation among the shareholders

Succession expert Toni Neuhaus explains why the meetings are so important for him: "For the succession to go well, it is essential that every participant expresses their expectations and wishes at the start. It is not uncommon for some representatives to actually want to sell, but not dare to say it. I come in as a neutral person. This makes it a bit easier for people to share their thoughts. Once I have gathered all the information, I create a statement of interpretation, which I present to the shareholders. In the end, there is a solution for almost everything."

Expert teams for support

A succession project can be emotional for the people involved, because it affects some very private aspects of life. The current CEO confirms this: "We had hardly spoken about money in our family until this project. Now we had to deal with our personal financial planning, think about pension provision, inheritance, and marriage contracts. That was unfamiliar – but good." For the individual specialties, Toni Neuhaus and corporate client advisor Reto Portmann called in the bank's relevant expert teams. Markus Bigler says: "With the help of the Credit Suisse specialists, we were able to overcome the various challenges efficiently and professionally."

The success story steeped in tradition continues

Toni Neuhaus likes to recall the Bigler Ltd. project: "The family had dealt extensively with all sorts of topics, and had already paved the way for the next generation with a shareholders' agreement. Shortly after the project was concluded, the new convenience products plant was put into operation and the success story has progressed impressively since then."

 

Markus Bigler is also very satisfied: "In my role as CEO, from the outset I saw myself as a bridge-builder between the third and fourth generation, as exemplified by Lukas, my brother Jürg's son, who took over my previous role as CFO."

 

With the project, the Bigler family not only solved the CEO succession issue of the time, but also paved the way for the fourth generation with inheritance provisions and a shareholders' agreement. Markus Bigler mentions the most important thing last: "We found a solution that everyone involved could agree to and that was true to the family firm as well as the shareholders."

"Succession projects require a good understanding of human nature."

 

You have been advising Bigler Ltd. for 10 years. How do you perceive the company?

As very complex. As far as financing is concerned, it is rather conservative. In other words, a lot is self-financed, even large parts of projects such as the new convenience build of 2017. You have to be able to afford that. In terms of its markets, Bigler Ltd. is anything but conservative, in fact it is very fit and agile. Butcher's shops were once the classic distribution channels, as were small corner shops, and these remain very important to this day. Over the years, food retailing has become more concentrated as a result of structural change, and yet the family firm Bigler Ltd. has skillfully occupied niches as an independent player and business partner. This is also thanks to their own sophisticated logistics and thanks to innovative products and product packaging. 

 

What was your role in the succession project?

I was involved from the start, but the project was led by Toni Neuhaus, who communicated closely with me. At the same time, the day-to-day business continued, and also needed looking after. It was interesting for me to get to know other representatives of the Bigler family, especially from the fourth generation, who I am in contact with increasingly often.

 

What were the challenges in this succession project?

It is unusual for so many family members to be working in a business and be involved in the company. But as always, Toni Neuhaus was very judicious and got everyone involved on board. There were several people who wanted to sell either all or some of their shares, which can be tricky. In the first round, Toni Neuhaus presented the results of his surveys without names and already proposed initial solutions. The names were only given once everyone had gotten used to the new facts. Succession projects require a good understanding of human nature.

 

What advice would you give to companies planning a succession project?

Due to demographic changes, we expect very many succession cases in the coming years, since the baby boomer generation is gradually reaching retirement age. However, because of the demography there is often a lack of young blood for succession within the family. Even when there are sons and daughters, these days they may not be so eager to take over the family business. My key advice is to think about succession early on and talk to your client advisor about it. There are many more options available when you start early. It is very rare to have as many potential successors available as Bigler Ltd. did.

Succession: our expertise

Here you will find a guide to company succession and other useful documents and links on this subject area.

07/09/2022

Would you like a personal consultation?