Skip to content

A closer look at entrepreneurship in family firms

A closer look at entrepreneurship in family firms

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

Many researchers have examined the topic of entrepreneurial motivation, or why a person might decide to start a business. But how much of that research considers how individuals retain their evolving entrepreneurial spirit while staying competitive over time? The answer is: surprisingly little.

Peter Jaskiewicz, Professor at the Telfer School of Management who has just been awarded a University Research Chair in Enduring Entrepreneurship, seeks to fill this gap. 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 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 in a family and then to develop that into a conceptual model.”

Professor Jaskiewicz said the reasons why some firms stand the test of time and others do not remains a mystery. “And even on the rare occasion that a study has followed up on the question, we don’t really get to the heart of transgenerational entrepreneurship,” he adds. “You need to go beyond the simple notion of an enterprise and expand your research lens, drawing from fields such as management, sociology and family science at the level of transgenerational entrepreneurship. 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, as well as to contemporary debates about the right way to encourage entrepreneurship in society. Here again, the focus comes back to family influences. “When we look at 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 have, their work experience, etc. All of this is well and good, but we’ve really neglected the first 25 years of the person’s life, which actually give us a lot of insight into their potential to become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.”