Would it surprise you to learn that one of the most iconic business families in the world – one worth USD $78 billion and now in its 4th generation – is also solidly in the ‘think tank’ business, with the aim of engaging enterprises around the globe in doing good for our planet?

The family is Mars – the owner and controller of a 115,000-employee company and maker of products like M&M’s, Wrigley’s gum and Whiskas cat food.

CMG has always taken a keen interest in the best practices of the world’s most outstanding family-controlled businesses,  and has periodically profiled the stories behind these families – like this one on the Mars family.  We often refer to these families as “builders” because they’re built for the long term, not purely for the sake of growth, and usually with a deep-serving purpose at their core.

Recent media coverage of ‘life on Mars’ has added further commentary to our original profile. (We’ve sourced the articles for further reading below.)  It’s a powerful story of a family’s unwavering commitment to remaining privately-controlled, keeping the business in the family, while also sharpening its focus on being good corporate citizens too.


Here are three observations that stand out to us in the ongoing evolution of the Mars family and its business.


1.  Walking the talk in ‘doing good.’

Under the current leadership of Stephen Badger, the 51-year-old great-grandson of founder Frank Mars, the family has stepped up its efforts to make its business more sustainable – and do good for planet earth too – with its own version of “purpose-driven capitalism.”  Stephen is part of the family’s 4th generation and will soon complete his second three-year term as chairman of Mars’ board, a post that rotates regularly through family members.   

Much of his focus has been spear-heading the family’s efforts to take its internal think tank – Mars Catalyst – out of the company and into a foundation based in Switzerland.  The intent is to engage other business schools and companies from around the world in collaborating in research, new strategies, and innovations and practices to help business in positively impacting our planet.

This all traces back to Stephen’s grandfather, Forrest Mars Sr., who in a 1947 letter wrote that the company’s sole purpose was to generate “a mutuality of benefits” for the consumers, staff, suppliers, distributors and communities on which it depends. The Mars company mantra has now been updated to read, “We believe we will only achieve the best results if we are unselfish in these relationships and give a fair return.”  In other words – how to balance making a decent profit with also creating value for society?

Mars seems to be putting its money where its mouth is.  It invested $1 billion into what it calls its ‘Sustainable in a Generation Plan’ in 2017 alone, and aims to reduce its carbon footprint by more than 60% over the next five years.  There are many other similar ‘purpose-driven’ initiatives underway.  “It’s through Mars that I’ve had my eyes opened to the reality that not only is business critical to solving today’s issues, it’s fundamental to it,” Stephen has said. 


2.  A business family knitted together by core principles.

You’ll often hear various Mars family members refer to the company’s famous Five Principles – and their importance to both the business and the family. These principles go back decades, and were officially formalized in in the late ‘70s.  They are:

  1. Quality of work and contributions to society;
  2. Embracing the responsibility of each Mars associate to act;
  3. Making decisions based on the mutuality of benefit (the 1947 letter by Forrest Sr. on serving many stakeholders);
  4. Maximizing resources through efficiency; and
  5. “Having the financial freedom to make our own decisions, unrestricted by motivations of others.” 

The Mars website describe these as “more than a statement of values; they are a set of fundamental beliefs that help to shape and define Mars as a company.  Stephen’s cousin, Pamela Mars-Wright, has described them as the “bedrock” of the company. In a recent interview with Campden FB, she emphasized the family’s commitment to adhering to the principles and constantly evolving them:  The big thing is… over time…. we have continued to update them so they are relevant to the following generations that are working in the business.”


3.  Resolutely family-owned and private (“ownership freedom”)…

The last of the five Mars principles includes this revelation: “We need freedom to shape our future; we need profit to remain free.” For the Mars family, ownership freedom means keeping the business entirely private and family-owned.   As a privately-owned enterprise, with shares concentrated among a few family members, this freedom is best exemplified by the ability to focus on the long-term, and make investments for the future, not more immediate ones driven by the desires of non-family investors.

Says Pamela Mars-Wright in the Campden interview:  “The philosophy of the family and the philosophy of the business is that it’s a family business.  More importantly it’s a privately held business and that’s the way that we’d like to keep it.”





Peter Creaghan is a co-founder and partner at Creaghan McConnell Group.