Charting the Future of Family Business Research: Perspectives From the Field

Reginald A. Litz, University of Manitoba, Allison W. Pearson and Shanan Litchfield, both of Mississippi State University, published “Charting the Future of Family Business Research: Perspectives From the Field” on August 23rd in OnlineFirst of  Family Business Review. All of the authors kindly participated in responding to the following questions.

Who is the target audience for this article?

This article is intended for the general field of family business scholars. That said, we also hope that it is especially relevant for doctoral students and early career researchers interested in family businesses and business families.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

The 25th anniversary of Family Business Review is no small achievement. In respect  of this anniversary our team was motivated to offer the field a multi-faceted perspective of where the field currently stands and where it might potentially be heading in the future.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

The most interesting finding centered on how members of the field sometimes looked at the same phenomenon in rather different ways –  for example, while some scholars saw the research on succession as having made enormous strides, others saw the topic as having been studied to death. Likewise, while some saw conventional methodologies and theoretical frameworks, like regression analysis and agency theory respectively, as appropriate for the challenge, others saw the undiscriminating application of these approaches and frames as potentially problematic for phenomena as inherently complex and idiosyncratic as family businesses and business families.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Our hope is that this study will challenge the field to consider expanding its conceptual toolkit to more intentionally include insights and frameworks from areas such as family sciences. In addition, we also hope this paper will encourage more longitudinal approaches to understanding why family businesses and business families rise, stand, fall and sometimes rise again.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

Reginald’s work has centered on three basic themes: conceptualizing family businesses and business families, family creativity and innovation, and inherited ethical dilemmas in family settings. This paper connects most directly to the first theme insofar as it seeks to help understand the evolutionary dynamics of how we understand family businesses and business families.

Allison’s research focuses on behaviorally-based issues, such  as social capital, conflict, trust, goals and other issues that could impact the family dynamics, and hence the family firm.  Allison also has a keen interest in research methodology and measurement.  This study provided great insight into those behaviorally-based constructs of interest, as well as where family business scholars gauge the progress of the field with respect to research methods.

Shanan is also interested in the behavioral issues in family firms, including human resources, conflict, identification with the firm, and family dynamics.  These and other related family issues were specifically identified by scholars in the current study as needing much more emphasis and study.

How did your paper change during the review process?

One of the most important things that happened during the review process centered on encouragement from the editors and reviewers to refocus the paper around Mintzberg’s (1995) “seven ways of seeing” framework. In our first draft we used this framework as our starting point. However, the editors and reviewers found the framework as a more powerful organizing frame than we had first imagined. In reworking the paper around the framework we came to better appreciate just what it was that we had seen.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

One of the key questions, which we had contemplated concerned whether family business researchers were from families with family businesses and what difference, if any, this might make. However, somewhere along the way that question got moved to the sidelines. That said, the question nonetheless resurfaced on its own in response to an open-ended question in our survey, which asked why people did family business research. A handful of people responded by saying they did family business research because they came from a family business. We find this a very interesting development, particularly insofar as it resonates with a favorite maxim that says that ‘A lot of research is me-search.’ Such responses also leave us wondering to what extent family business researchers might be, perhaps, also motivated by a desire to better understand themselves and their families through researching families in business. Perhaps that could be a future project for an interested reader.

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