Uncovering the ‘Missing Variable’

The Family in Family Business Research

Authored by: Thomas Rieg , Sabine Rau

The Routledge Companion to Family Business

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138919112
eBook ISBN: 9781315688053
Adobe ISBN: 9781317419990


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While the family is undoubtedly the variable that distinguishes family firms from other organizational forms, surprisingly little scholarly attention has been paid to the examination of business-owning families (Dyer 2003). Consequently, scholars have recently called for a greater focus on the family, and accordingly on variables related to the family system, to better understand the behavior and performance of family firms (e.g., Craig and Salvato 2012; Dyer and Dyer 2009; Sharma, Chrisman, and Gersick 2012; Sharma, Melin, and Nordqvist 2014; Yu et al. 2012). To the point is Bertrand and Schoar’s (2006; 95) assertion “that much can be learned by taking serious the ‘family’ part of ‘family firms.’” For example, recent studies demonstrate that different family configurations and characteristics are associated with varying levels of entrepreneurial activity in family firms (e.g., Alsos, Carter, and Ljunggren 2014; Jaskiewicz, Combs, and Rau 2015; Michael-Tsabari, Labaki, and Zachary 2014). However, such family related research endeavors require ways to conceptualize and measure the family variable (Dyer and Dyer 2009; Pearson, Holt, and Carr 2014; Sharma, Melin, and Nordqvist 2014). Thus, to pave the way for more family related research in the future, it is essential to synthesize, consolidate, and assess existing knowledge on how to operationalize the family in empirical research and to identify blind spots where new measures need to be developed. Accordingly, the central research question of this paper is: Which options are available to operationalize ‘family’ as a variable, and what are avenues for future research?

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