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A Closer Look at Family Firms Entrepreneurship

Under what conditions do family business have more (or less) entrepreneurial fire over time?

A considerable body of work has developed to examine entrepreneurial motivation, or why a person might decide to start a business. But how much of that considers how individuals retain their entrepreneurial spirit, evolving while staying competitive over time? The answer is: surprisingly little.

Filling that research gap will be the work of Peter Jaskiewicz, Professor at the Telfer School of Management, who has just been awarded a University Research Chair in Enduring Entrepreneurship. He will use the chair to develop empirical models on how family businesses thrive (or decline) over a generation. He will also develop policy recommendations that will help family firms with their entrepreneurial spirit and thereby revitalise their products and services, improving their chances to survive and thrive in a competitive marketplace over time.

“Evidence suggests that the entrepreneurial spirit and competitiveness of most family firms dissipates within 25 years, which threatens their continued viability in a competitive, rapidly-changing, and global marketplace,” says professor Jaskiewicz. “The main goal of my research-chair program is therefore to identify the mechanisms that foster or prevent repeated acts of entrepreneurship among family and then to develop that into a conceptual model.”

Professor Jaskiewicz said the need to better understand why firms persist over time comes up again and again as an “unanswered question”. “And even on the rare occasion when a study has followed up on the question, we don’t really get at the heart of transgenerational entrepreneurship,” he adds. “You need a bigger research lens, you need to draw from fields like management, sociology and family science at the level of transgenerational entrepreneurship, where you are beyond the simple notion of enterprise. You need to track more complex influences over time, and look at the way business leaders respond to those shifting conditions. Organizational outcomes of entrepreneurial legacies are highly varied, and they depend on decisions that were made using both a commercial logic as well as a family logic.”

With his new Chair, professor Jaskiewicz will deepen his contributions to both entrepreneurship theory and practice, and to contemporary debates about the right way to encourage entrepreneurship in society. Here again, the focus often comes around to family influences. “When we look to how a person’s background has prepared them to be an entrepreneur, overwhelmingly, we still focus on what school they went to, what degree they completed, their work experiences, etc. All well and good, but we’ve really neglected the first 25 years of the person’s life, which actually give us a lot of insights about the potential of that person to become the next Steve Jobs or the next Bill Gates.”