Research Briefs: FBR Research for Practitioners

Last month, I was thrilled when asked to introduce my executive summaries of Family Business Review articles, in The Practitioner Wednesday Edition. I’m equally excited to present another assemblage of recaps for you today.

Narrowing my selection to only three was no small task, since each of the articles is incredibly strong and certainly worthy of a closer look. But I think you’ll find the three I’ve chosen to be a wonderful representation of what FBR has to offer and what we as practitioners can learn from the latest research in the field. And of course, don’t let it end here. You can also download the current FBR issue and archived issues online.

Without further preamble, here are today’s recaps:

SUMMARY 1: “Why Can’t a Family Business be More like a Non-Family Business” by Alex Stewart and Michael Hitt

A common suggestion for family businesses is that they need to “professionalize” and become more like nonfamily businesses. But is this advice based on sound research? The authors of this article review 59 empirical studies to find out what is known and not known about this strategy for family business.

The authors argue that “we need a greater understanding of the modes of family firms and of their contexts to know how they can operate more effectively” (p. 59) and identify six modes of professionalization in family firms:

  • Minimally professional family firms
  • Wealth-dispensing private family firms
  • Entrepreneurially operated family firms
  • Entrepreneurial family business groups
  • Pseudo-professional public family firms
  • Hybrid professional family firms

While this article does not provide THE ultimate answer to the professionalization question, it does summarize very effectively what is known and not known about the effectiveness of professionalization in these various modes of family firms based on the current research. The authors do a very effective job arguing “against” the “one size fits all” professionalization recommendation.

Practitioners should find this article thought-provoking and beneficial for their practices. Even if there are no clear answers, the article raises many issues which should help practitioners who are helping their clients professionalize. For example, the authors have a very interesting and compelling discussion about why “some family firms are better served by entrepreneurial rather than professional management” (p.70). The authors then conclude and recommend thatknowing how and when to professionalize a family firm requires more in depth research that examines not only the business but also the family. The authors further conclude that most of the empirical studies of family businesses to date have not explored the capabilities, motivations and goals of both the family and the business in enough depth. If researchers follow the authors’ suggestion in future research, the findings are bound to greatly benefit both practitioners and their clients.

To link to the study, click here.

SUMMARY 2: “Advising the Family Firm” by Vanessa Strike

In her introduction Strike notes that ‘theoretical concepts’ about family business advising have been largely ignored and she sets out to record the contributions to date on this subject. Since 1983, there have been only 105 articles published on the topic of advising family firms and of these, only 6 were studies explicitly measuring outcomes associated with the engagement of a family firm advisor. There is also little evidence indicating the extent to which advisors succeed in influencing family firms and, consequently, the effect on firm performance. Strike elaborates on topics such as: types of advisors, competencies, characteristics, process of advising, and outcomes. And she concludes that, “This literature review suggests that advisors may fulfill family firm needs, yet the process itself remains shielded.”

Hopefully, reading this article will encourage practitioners to consider ways in which we can partner with researchers and encourage more in depth investigation of the efficacy of our practices. We all recognize the importance of client confidentiality, but are there ways that practitioners can share data from their engagements with researchers while maintaining the privacy of clients? Perhaps we can learn from our therapy colleagues since there is a long history of outcome research in that field leading to ‘evidenced based treatments.’ It’s possible we could use some of the research designs in that field to help our field advance in the area of outcome research. Strike’s article is a challenge to us all!

To link to the study, click here.

 SUMMARY 3: “Worlds Apart? Rebridging the Distance Between Family Science and Family Business Research” by Albert James, Jennifer Jennings and Rhonda Breitkreuz

A bibliographic analysis of 2240 articles published in the 25 year period between 1985 and 2010 is used to vividly demonstrate how the study of family business has become dominated by business dominated theoretical perspectives. The authors make a strong case for including family science theories in the study of family business through the use of ‘informed pluralism’ – drawing from different paradigms to enrich the understanding of both families and business.

The authors demonstrate the inherent yet untapped potential of disciplined integration of family science and family enterprise studies. The core concepts and assumptions of two prominent theoretical perspectives in family science (structural functionalism and symbolic interactionism) and family business (agency theory and resource based view) are defined, explained, and examined leading to a series of provocative and important research directions(see Tables 4 and 5).

Just as the authors recommend that researchers should be building bridges with other disciplines, the Family Firm Institute has endorsed multidisciplinary approaches to practice for over 25 years and has recently implemented the Global Education Network which will help practitioners accomplish this important goal in the family enterprise field.

To link to the study, click here.

For complete issues as well as the latest Online First articles, visit the FBR Sage website here.FFI members receive complimentary subscription to FBR. If you need assistance accessing your account please contact [email protected].

About the Contributor:

Karen L. Vinton Ph.D. is a 1999 Barbara Hollander Award winner and Professor Emeritus of Business at the College of Business at Montana State University, where she founded the University’s Family Business Program. An FFI Fellow, she has served on its Board of Directors and chaired the Body of Knowledge committee. From 1997 through 2011, Vinton served on the editorial board of theFamily Business Review, and is the current assistant editor. Before retiring, Vinton served as director for her own family’s business (negotiating its eventual sale) and had her own family business consulting practice, Vinton Consulting Services. Karen can be reached at [email protected].

Next week: stay tuned for an article by Henry Krasnow.

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Yours in Practice,

The Practitioner


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