This week the Family Business Office, for its 34th edition of Focus On , features the very secretive family business synonymous with the world acclaimed brand C&A considered to be the richest family in the Netherlands , more specifically the Brenninkmeiyer family, now in its sixth generation of ownership.
C&A has 2,005 stores in 23 countries including the Americas and Asia, with its largest numbers in Europe. The family business was founded in 1841 by brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer. In 1861 the first store was opened in Sneek, Holland, a small town in northern Netherlands. Since the family business does not want to release any figures to the Dutch government, in 2001 the operations of all countries were consolidated into Cofra Group, a holding company headquartered in Zug, Switzerland. Cofra also makes investments in real estate, private equity, and life sciences technology.
COFRA is a privately held family business owned by a group of around 60 descendants of Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer. The group is also known as the “Sneekerkring”, a reference to the town of Sneek, where C&A was founded. Although traditionally the majority of owners were male, today around half of all trainees are female. These family owners play an active role in the business. Prospective family owners are subject to a strict selection process and have to follow a long period of training before they are admitted. Within the group of family owners, key decisions are taken on the basis of consensus rather than voting.
Responsibility for COFRA’s strategy and management lies with the COFRA executive board, whose chairman is Martijn Brenninkmeijer.
C&A Foundation was a corporate foundation that worked with manufacturers, government, charities and major brands to promote sustainability throughout the industry, especially by promoting circular fashion, and to improve the working conditions of those employed in the industry.
C&A is the world’s largest user of certified organic cotton.
To become a leader in the family business and own shares in COFRA, children of the current family owners undergo a rigorous process of selection, evaluation and apprenticeship lasting around 15 years. Not everyone chooses it – many have a different calling in life – and not everyone who chooses to work at COFRA makes it all the way.
Those that do have earned their place as a steward of the business and the confidence of their colleagues. It is a commitment they make for life, taking on financial risk and making themselves available wherever and whenever they are needed. In that sense, it’s more of a vocation than a job.