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The 155-year-old business empire’s dynasty is building a family office

One of the wealthiest families in the Netherlands today is the Pon family, which began selling tobacco, sewing machines, and seeds in 1867.

In 1867, the Pon family opened a small store selling soap, sewing machines, and tobacco near Amsterdam. Five generations later, it is now a significant retailer of equipment made by Caterpillar Inc. and Volkswagen AG, among other companies.

Their privately held company, Pon Holdings, just reported 2021 revenue of 8.1 billion euros ($8.5 billion), the largest in at least five years, increasing its value by approximately $6.4 billion. Along with the families who own the clothes retailer C&A and the brewer Heineken Holding NV, they are among the wealthiest in the Netherlands.

The Pons established Knop Investments, a family business, last year to aid in managing their wealth, and are already expanding its management. Lennart Klooster was appointed in April as the finance director from the family office of VolkerWessels’ owners, while Maurits Koning joined in 2021 as a director from an investment division of Pon Holdings. Former head of private equity at Dutch pension fund administrator PGGM, Eric-Jan Vink, began serving in this capacity this month.

Over the past two decades, the number of family offices has increased dramatically as secretive businesses devoted to protecting the wealth of the world’s super-rich. Many of them operate with the same level of sophistication as institutional businesses and commonly make investments in venture capital, real estate, and private equity.

Before joining Knop, Koning spent nearly seven years working for Pon Holdings’ venture capital division, Ponooc. Ponooc recently invested in Laka, a London-based insurance technology company, Bikemap, a Vienna-based bicycle start-up, and Orion, a Dutch fleet management company.

While a Knop representative declined to comment, Pon Holdings did not answer emails for a comment.

Around 1900, the Pons grew their retail operation to include the sale of bicycles, and roughly three decades later, they were appointed the sole agent for Opel automobiles throughout the Netherlands.

After visiting a Volkswagen production site in Wolfsburg in 1947 and observing Beetle chasses being used to transport large goods, Ben Pon Senior, a member of the dynasty’s third generation, contributed to the development of the Volkswagen camper van.

Three years later, his bus prototype sketches would come to life.

Soon after World War II, the family started importing Volkswagens, and over time, they expanded their line of vehicles to include Audi, Skoda, Bugatti, Bentley, and Lamborghini.

According to the family business, in addition to supplying Caterpillar excavators and marine engines, it now imports one of every five cars in the Netherlands.

A significant player in the cycling industry still is Pon Holdings, which in January completed the $810 million acquisition of Dorel Industries Inc.’s sports division for its bicycle division. According to the business, Pon bikes are owned by 75% of Dutch individuals.

His daughters Fanja, who leads the investment committee of Ponooc and holds the position of president of the supervisory board of Pon Holdings, and Linda, who assists in managing Knop.

The everyday management of the Pons’ business has changed. Bas Sprong and Janus Smalbraak, both longtime employees, serve as its chief financial officer and chief executive officer, respectively.

Wijnand Pon decided against working for his family’s business and pursued a career in agriculture. He established the farming company Koepon, which has operations in Scotland, the Netherlands, and Germany.

My father allowed me to buy a farm, Pon said in a June 2021 interview with the Dairy Show podcast, adding that he wanted to be a farmer since he was 18. I was very fortunate.

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