Agustin Coppel Gomez was born into one of Mexico’s greatest retailing fortunes, but he has a lot of company.
He and his three siblings are among 31 third-generation descendants of the family’s late patriarch, Enrique Coppel Tamayo, who founded the business in 1941 and later introduced a credit card so that his working-class customers could buy clothes and furniture at his stores.
Agustin is one of the few of his cohort who has worked in the family company, Grupo Coppel, most recently at its banking unit. The fourth generation, with some 70 members, is even less involved, with many pursuing their own ventures or philanthropic initiatives.
“It’s challenging to work in the business, challenging to report to family members,” Agustin, 33, said in a recent interview in Mexico City. “If you want to do it, you’re welcome, but it’s going to take time to go through the ranks and learn.”
Family dynasties are the backbone of Latin America’s economy, accounting for 75% of the region’s firms valued at $1 billion or more and driving 60% of the region’s gross national product, equal to about $3.2 trillion. Yet they’re noticeably less adept when it comes to putting succession plans in place, with almost two-thirds eventually being wound down or sold by founders and less than 15% seeing a third-generation family member lead the company, according to a report by French business school INSEAD.
Many of the things that make them so successful — concentrated ownership, streamlined decision-making and the ability to draw on the family’s business and political connections — are not easily transferable to new owners.
Succession concerns will likely take on ever greater urgency in coming years. Credit Suisse Group AG predicts Latin American wealth will grow to a record $18 trillion by 2026, from $12.6 trillion in 2021, and will become the fastest-growing region for new millionaires in that period.
An advantage for the current generation is the ability to draw from a wider pool of resources in learning how best to go about managing such transitions, said Lisa Moller, a former director of family enterprise and private clients services at Ernst & Young.
“Family business governance is exploding across the world and there are means to get help in many places,” she said. “Also, the awareness of this service for families in business is increasing. It doesn’t mean that problems or issues stop for family businesses. It still takes a lot of hard work to be successful.”
The issue was front and center last week at the Latin Family Office Investment Summit in Mexico City, especially after the death of Mario Lopez Estrada, Guatemala’s first billionaire, which occurred on the first day of the event. Lopez, who was 84, sold his telecom business to Millicom International Cellular SA for $2.2 billion in 2021 to focus on Grupo Onyx, where his son is chief executive officer and two daughters are board members.
Many attendees at the summit, organized by Alea Global, a Kuwaiti family-owned group, were second- or third-generation heirs like Coppel. They included Gonzalo Hevia Bailleres, a scion of a billionaire Mexican mining fortune; Bettina Bulgheroni, wife of Alejandro Bulgheroni, the Argentine billionaire who heads Bridas, the energy company founded by his father; and Alejandro Botran, a third-generation member of the family that runs Guatemala’s national liquor company.
Agustin Coppel said that they’ve tried navigating potential issues arising from succession by organizing a family council. It’s headed by his cousin, Susana, one of the few female family members in a leadership role.
“You have to study a lot, read books, and talk to professionals,” Coppel, who has an MBA from University of California Los Angeles, said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit. “We’re actively working to have a clearer messaging to the rest of the family, now that we’re going into a fourth generation.”
After Grupo Coppel’s founder died in 2007, his five sons took over the company, with Agustin’s father — Agustin Coppel Luken — becoming CEO the following year. The family’s retail empire, based in the state of Sinaloa, now has about $10 billion in annual revenues, making it one of the largest and fastest-growing retailers in the region, according to a Deloitte report this year. The family collectively is worth about $15.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
That hasn’t kept third-generation scions from starting their own enterprises.
Agustin Coppel Luken’s branch has its own family office, called Talipot, which recently spun off a San Diego-based investment firm, 1200VC. Led by CEO Adriana Tortajada, 1200VC is raising its first $150 million fund this year with plans to invest in areas including artificial intelligence, financial technology and climate technology.
Other families are pursuing similar strategies. The Botran’s traditional business is spirits and sugar production — they distill ultra-premium Zacapa rum in a joint venture with Diageo Plc — but third-generation heir Alejandro is scouring for opportunities outside of the core business.
Alejandro, 54, built and sold a television station to Ricardo Salinas’s TV Azteca network, and said he was also an investor in hospitality group Selina, which recently went public through a $1.2 billion deal with a special purchase acquisition company.
He created startup accelerator Aceleradora Danta y Fabrica de Unicornios to ensure new growth areas for his family, which has sold off assets in recent years as it grapples with “complicated” family-planning issues, he said. His family’s third generation has about 30 members, and the fourth could have as many as 100, he said.
“What I decided is that we have to play in this game of the unicorns,” Botran said.