Some of the most successful - for example the Meinertzhagens, the Vereys and the various families that have traditionally run Barclays Bank - have not actually owned a company for years - in some cases, for generations.
You would have to go a long way to find a more meritocratic City organisation than SG Warburg. Yet its chief executive is a peer of the realm, Lord Cairns, and its securities side is run by a member of one of the most successful City families.
Nick Verey, the managing director of Warburg Securities, aged 50, rose to his position through the stockbroker Rowe & Pitman, which Warburg bought in 1986.
His cousin David is chief executive of Lazard Brothers, having been made a director at the age of 31 and managing director at 34.
David's father, Sir Michael, was chairman of Schroders.
The success of the Verey family is not unique. Across the Broadgate plaza from Nick Verey's office sits Peter Meinertzhagen, chairman of Hoare Govett, which, after a few years in the doldrums, has been re-establishing itself as one of the City's leading stockbrokers.
Peter's father, Daniel, was chairman of Lazard Brothers in the 1950s and 1960s. His uncle Luke was a senior partner of Cazenove, the blue-blooded stockbrokers.
The Meinertzhagens did once own a bank - Huth & Co - which concentrated on trade with Germany and, not surprisingly, went under during the First World War. But these days they are not proprietors. Though he admits that the old-school-tie element was prevalent in the City when he started, Peter says the family's success in the City closed as many doors to him as it opened. He was debarred from Cazenove because his cousin was already employed at the broking firm. For all the people who would do business with him, there were as many who would not because of the Meinertzhagen name.
Then there is the question of intra-family Chinese walls. In the early 1970s, P&O wanted to buy Bovis. Its merchant bankers, Lazard, supported the deal - but its brokers, Hoare Govett, thought the price too high and would not underwrite the share issue P&O needed. The deal was shelved.
The following Sunday's lunch at the Meinertzhagen household was not a happy event.
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