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The family CEO’s effect on succession planning: founder status, difficulties with letting go and gender differences

Ine Umans (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium)
Nadine Lybaert (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium and University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium)
Tensie Steijvers (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium)
Wim Voordeckers (Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 8 June 2021

Issue publication date: 21 June 2021




The purpose of this paper is to investigate several antecedents of succession planning in family firms: founder status, the family chief executive officer (CEO)’s inability to let go and the family CEO’s gender.


This study conducts moderated mediation analysis on a sample of 259 family firms.


The results show that family firms led by founders show lower succession planning levels than family firms led by descendant family CEOs. This effect is mediated by the family CEO’s inability to let go. Furthermore, the influence of the emotion of being unable to let go on succession planning is dependent on the family CEO’s gender. This influence is smaller when the family CEO is female than when the family CEO is male.


The study introduces the family CEO’s inability to let go as a mediator in the founder-succession planning relationship. The results add empirical evidence to the debate about gender influences in family firms. By showing that emotions have a different outcome concerning succession planning depending on the family CEO’s gender, this study enriches gender research. The study also contributes to the family business field by introducing relational theory as a valuable theoretical framework to include gender in succession research.



Umans, I., Lybaert, N., Steijvers, T. and Voordeckers, W. (2021), "The family CEO’s effect on succession planning: founder status, difficulties with letting go and gender differences", Gender in Management, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 659-673.



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