Case Detail

Case Summary

Carvajal, S.A.: Building on a Century of Business Growth and Family Values

Case Number: 5-313-503, Year Published: 2014

HBS Number: KEL872

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Authors: Ivan Lansberg; Mary Alice Crump; Sachin Waikar

Key Concepts

Board of Directors, Communication, Corporate Governance, Family Businesses, General Management, Growth Strategy, Leadership, Organizational Behavior, Organizational Structure, Social Responsibility, Family Enterprise, Governance


This case presents the history and recent governance challenges of Carvajal, S.A., a Colombia-based, family-owned, billion-dollar-plus holding company that had offered printing-related (e.g., Yellow Pages, notebooks) and other products and services across and beyond South America for more than a century. Specifically, the case details the company’s state of affairs in early 2011, a time by which Carvajal’s flagship businesses had matured rapidly with the emergence of digital technology and diminished demand for paper/print-based products. Though profits and growth remained positive, Carvajal’s leaders knew that upholding the business’s legacy of returns, dividends for all family members, and extensive philanthropy would take significant strategy and execution.

Compounding the strategy issues, Carvajal faced these market challenges with new leadership: the first non-family CEO since the company’s inception. Well-established Colombian executive Ricardo Obregon had been hired in 2008 over two family candidates to lead the business. Obregon was to oversee a complex governance network that included a holding company with seven operating companies, their management and respective boards, a family council, and 280 members (including spouses) of a shareholding family in its sixth generation. Carvajal’s business and family leaders had to face market issues and decisions that included the possibility of taking public the operating companies and/or the holding company while maintaining the business’s long traditions of unity, respect, strong ethics, and philanthropy. That meant optimizing several crucial relationships: between the family and the new CEO; between the family and the board; between the operating companies and the holding company; and between members of the large Carvajal family, many of whom now resided outside of Colombia and Latin America.

Learning Objectives

In reading and analyzing the case, students will be able to: understand general and specific challenges associated with carrying on a longstanding family business facing multiple market challenges; explore the process of engaging a complex family-business governance network to handle business challenges while maintaining family values; and consider the effects of culture on a multi-generation family business.

Number of Pages: 22

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Family Business

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Cali, Colombia

Industry: Printing, paper, furniture, BPO

Organization Name: Carvajal, S.A.

Organization Department: Holding-company board

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: Board Member/Family Council Member

Decision Maker Gender: Male and Female

Year of Case: 2011