Successful succession project in a family firm

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. 

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. 

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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."

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."

Reto Portmann, Team Head of Corporate Clients, regularly oversees SME succession projects

Reto Portmann is Team Head of Corporate Clients and Deputy Head of Market Area Bern. He has worked for Credit Suisse in Bern since 2003 and has looked after Bigler Ltd. for 10 years.