Why Can’t a Family Business Be More Like a Nonfamily Business?

Alex Stewart, Marquette University, and Michael A. Hitt, Texas A&M University, published “Why Can’t a Family Business Be More Like a Nonfamily Business? Modes of Professionalization in Family Firms” on September 26th, 2011 in Family Business Review’s OnlineFirst collection. To view other OnlineFirst articles, please click here. Prof. Stewart kindly provided the following reflection on the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

The target audience is researchers in the growing field of family business.  However, there are practitioner implications. Family firms are often urged to “professionalize.”  However, there are different modes of professionalization that fit different types of family firms. The modes are:

  • minimally professional family firms
  • wealth dispensing private family firms
  • entrepreneurially operated private family firms
  • entrepreneurial family business groups
  • pseudo-professional public family firms
  • hybrid professional family firms

The interface between the “domains” of business and kinship affords entrepreneurial opportunities. A reason for this is discrepant evaluations across the two domains.

Principal-principal conflicts in family firms are widely recognized between majority and minority owners in public family firms.  However, these conflicts also exist in private family firms, which can face further principal-principal conflicts within the family regarding the dispensation of private benefits.

What Inspired You To Be Interested In This Topic?

We were inspired to be interested in this topic because it raises the basic questions, “what is a family business?”; or even, “is there such a thing as a family business?” as opposed to various types of firms differentially affected by kinship. Similarly, it raises the question of the diversity of approaches to “professionalization”, which is also a construct that should not be taken as unitary.

Were There Findings That Were Surprising To You?

This is a literature based study, so the surprises arose from our readings.  We were surprised by:

  •             the sheer volume and quality of scholarship that has already been published. (We cite 257 works in our references.)
  •             the range of variables that have to be taken into account and the challenges of conducting research in this area
  •             the relative lack of attention to principal-principal conflicts in private family firms

How Do You See This Study Influencing Future Research And/Or Practice?

We hope that our essay has several influences:

  •             better recognition of the developing maturity of the field
  •             better discrimination among forms of family firms
  •             less use of dichotomized samples
  •             greater attention to the familial or kinship variables
  •             greater attention to the management of the business-kinship interface
  •             greater attention to the opportunities for entrepreneurship in that interface

How Does This Study Fit Into Your Body Of Work/Line Of Research?

The highly multidisciplinary character of this article reflects the collaboration of authors whose backgrounds are in social anthropology (and related areas) and strategic management (and related areas).

How Did Your Paper Change During The Review Process?

The article changed very substantially over four reviews (counting the reviewed proposal).  In this case the process was very productive.  One obvious change was from a focus on performance and secondarily on professionalization to the reverse.

What, If Anything, Would You Do Differently If You Could Go Back And Do This Study Again?

Anything we’d do differently would just reflect hindsight.  It was an example of the review process working well, we believe.

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