Bigler AG: Successful succession planning for family businesses
Bigler AG Fleischwaren, located in Büren an der Aare, has grown from a small butcher shop to a large, family-run company over the course of 70 years while always remaining under the ownership of one family. Taking advantage of changes in the industry and automating logistics processes have been the key to growth.
A festively set table in a Swiss living room, wine glasses shimmering in the light. Tonight, the meat dishes will play the main culinary role. Perhaps veal medallions in puff pastry, or tender, thinly sliced filet for a fondue chinoise or even a local specialty. Only a few hours before their guests arrive, the hosts stopped by their neighborhood butcher to pick up the star of their meal.
The butcher, in turn, placed his order for the raw material for his specialty with Bigler AG Fleischwaren in Büren an der Aare on the previous evening. A logistics specialist in Büren packed the butcher's order into a green plastic crate at 3 a.m. Marked with a coded label, the green container will take a complex trip on a system of conveyor belts to reach a trolley in the right order to reach the proper truck. The system looks something like a baggage sorting system at the airport. At 5 a.m., the driver starts the truck's engine. It is one of 30 trucks and 30 delivery vans delivering to butcher shops and retailers throughout Switzerland every day for Bigler AG.
A Success Story for over 70 Years
Bigler AG Fleischwaren is a family-owned meat processing company with around 620 employees. As incoming CEO Markus Bigler explains, "My grandfather Hans Bigler founded our company as a simple butcher shop in Bienne in 1946. His sons Willi and Otto, my father and my uncle, joined the company in the 50s and drove its growth. They built a production site here in Büren that was quite modern at the time and began delivering fresh meat throughout Switzerland."
In the 70s, Markus Bigler's older brother by 14 years, Jürg Bigler, was the third generation to take the reins at the company. The principle of self-service signaled the start of a new era in the food industry. Bigler AG took advantage of this change. New technologies and machinery soon made it possible to branch out from exclusively fresh meat to all types of prepackaged, carved meats.
"I took over the role of CFO in 1994 after studying business and working for several years in other companies," says Markus Bigler. After two decades of moderate growth, the company then really took off. In 1992, Bigler AG took over Orello Carne SA, a supplier specializing in salami and cured ham based in Lugano. "By acquiring Orello, we were able to grow in an area that we had previously not served ourselves," explains Markus Bigler.
Meanwhile, the company was bursting at the seams in Büren. Business was so good that it had reached the limits of its capacities in terms of space and logistics. By moving to a brand new building 500 meters away from their original location, Bigler AG gained the room it needed to continue growing its craft. However, this transition was not an easy one. When Bigler AG moved into the new building in 1998, a new digital logistics system was also implemented at the same time. Markus Bigler recalls, "We underestimated this transition. Putting the new system into operation was extremely turbulent and stressful." And just when Bigler AG had mastered the new technology and adapted it to their needs, the company once again ran into capacity problems. The solution was to buy another site in Lyss. Expansions in Büren followed – it wasn't until 2017 that a new building was opened for producing convenience foods, an area that has become a critical mainstay over the last decade.
A Comprehensive Succession Project with Credit Suisse
"Credit Suisse has been a vital and reliable partner in all major investments during recent decades," says Markus Bigler. The most recent project implemented with Credit Suisse was not about financing growth, for a change. It was a combination of a succession process and restructuring in one. The impetus was CEO Jürg Bigler's upcoming retirement, which triggered internal staff changes. Markus Bigler will soon move from his role as CFO to CEO. He will be succeeded by Lukas Bigler, Jürg Bigler's son and a member of the family's fourth generation.
After restructuring, all shares will still be held by members of the family. With this, the members made the deliberate choice to carry on their tradition. "We got to know an entirely new aspect of the bank during this process. For once it wasn't all about investing and growth but rather about very personal things like pensions, inheritance planning and marriage contracts – topics that were also unusual for our family," says Markus Bigler. Currently, twelve Bigler family members work in the company and eight are shareholders. "Credit Suisse recognizes the significance of our family structure, and that explains why our succession project has been so successful," the incoming CEO says. With this background and company history, could the Biglers be the next big reality show family? "No," laughs Markus Bigler. "We lack the family drama for that."