This qualitative study attempts to understand what kinds of evolutionary selection and variation occur in family businesses during the preparation of a managerial and ownership succession.
The study was conducted by interviewing members of one family business in Louisiana, USA and one in Finland in order to contribute to the understanding of succession preparation in small family businesses with two generations. Evolutionary economics was adapted for this interdisciplinary study to explain evolutionary changes in a family business succession.
The findings indicate that both selection and variation can take place through different routes during the preparatory phase of a family business succession. Selection is influenced both by the founder and next generations. However, it does not occur in company A due to the reluctance of the younger generation. In company B selection is processed through joint thinking and visioning. This will lead to variation which is shaped by both generations.
This study is based on qualitative interpretation. Limitations of the study are the small number of informants and the lack of generalization of the results.
This study shows that selection and variation are intertwined. If selection does not occur in a family business, it leads to no variation between the generations. However, exits are possible; death and birth of companies are part of the life cycle of family businesses.
Evolutionary thinking has not been studied recently among family firms except in the field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary thinking offers a variety of topics to study in the future.
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