Brundin, E., Litz, R. and von Schlippe, A. (2013), "Taking a hard look at soft issues in family business: introduction to the special issue", Journal of Family Business Management, Vol. 3 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/jfbm.2013.51803aaa.001Download as .RIS
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Taking a hard look at soft issues in family business: introduction to the special issue
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Family Business Management, Volume 3, Issue 1.
It all started over lunch in May 2011 at the EIASM meetings at Witten University, Germany. The three of us were enjoying our sandwiches on the final day of the conference when Lorna Collins stopped by with a question. “How about editing a special issue for the Journal of Family Business Management?” she asked. A special issue? Glances were exchanged, eyebrows were furrowed, imaginations were piqued. We were off and running, or more specifically, thinking.
A special issue – but a special issue about what? For the next half hour we threw around a diverse range of possibilities that reflected each of our respective research interests – for Ethel the role of emotions in and around the family-business system; for Reg the complex goings-on within a house-based-view of the family business and business family; for Arist the psychological and family system-related dynamics resulting from working with one's family.
Then a phrase got floated that gave our diverse contemplations a focus. That phrase – “Taking a hard look at soft issues.” A hard look – that is, seeking to systematically engage and understand; soft issues – the largely intangible and often largely invisible issues that so often result when family and business come together. In mapping out the conceptual range of these soft issues we thought about a variety of efforts that had caught each of our respective attentions. Pieces like Kaye's (1996) radical contemplation of the family firm functioning as an additive substance, de Vries and Carlock's (2008) psychoanalytic tome, Family Business on the Couch and Gordon and Nicholson's (2008) anecdotal Family Wars. After being generally ignored for decades (Litz, 1997), family businesses were finally starting to be engaged in all their complexity, glory and, sometime, ignominy.
Conventional scientific knowledge about all those odd topics is scarce – evidently it seems that, at least at this moment in the discipline's history, merit in the scientific community is on taking hard looks at conventional, comparatively well established, issues. But every now and then examples of those interesting “side-glances” have shown up – for example Levinson's (1971) piece on the family firm as an emotional arena. He put the finger on father-son rivalries, where two parties vie with one another for control of the firm, which at the same time creates a winner-take-all guilt for both involved. Or Brundin and Sharma's (2011) work of the family business as full of contradictory emotions, something they label emotional messiness and, which, in turn, can jeopardize harmony in the family as well as in the business. Likewise, in a forthcoming effort titled “Leaving the Godfather to follow God the Father: Successor generation conversion in a mob family” Litz (2013) explores the dilemma of religious conversion that necessitates successor exit from the family business. Studies such as these point to the powerful role of emotional orientation, which may, in turn, involve toxic emotions and/or unhealthy family business organizations. While we had hoped to encourage others to continue exploring such lines of inquiry, we remain hopeful that more light will, one day, be shed on these still largely “blind spots” of interaction between families and firms. In contrast, other examples in the literature that inspired us focussed on the positive side of emotions. For example, Sund and Smyrnios (2005) looked at the meaning of happiness by drawing on Aristotelian conceptualizations of happiness as wisdom, virtue and pleasure; likewise, Hubler (2005) suggested rituals of forgiveness be included in the family business interactions in an effort to heal hurt and broken relationships. Our intention, therefore, was to continue these types of long overdue explorations by encouraging examination of a variety of issues that had so often been glossed over by conventional management research. In short, our vision for this special issue was to create a space in which scholars of all shapes and sizes, nations and disciplines, could engage in a diverse range of issues emanating from the merging of commerce and clan.
In that lunch and in subsequent trans-Atlantic e-mails and skypes we began imagining what this largely unexplored territory might include. All kinds of topics were considered; as the Call for Papers attests, we were interested in work on intra-individual emotions and intra-family politics. We invited work on sub-tribal loyalties and the capacity of the family and business units to respond to both sudden crises, such as suicide, and more gradual processes of decline and losses, such as cancer or dealing with ambiguous losses, such as Alzheimers. Efforts seeking to better understand person-specific issues, such as individuation, and family-level issues, such as shared secrets, were welcomed. We were interested in efforts that attempted to unravel the symbolic worlds of the family business and business family by examining the symbolic power of money within the family-business system. To draw on and paraphrase the instructions given by England's seventeenth century Lord Protector, Sir Oliver Cromwell, to his portrait painter, Sir Peter Lely, to paint him “warts and all,” we sought to encourage family business researchers to engage the family business “warts and all.”
Introducing the papers
And what came of our invitation? As you will find in this issue, a handful of noteworthy efforts, which we introduce in brief here. First, a bit about the process that led to the final selection: while we received just under a dozen submissions, the subsequent peer review process generated four papers. As far as the content of those pieces goes, while our original call was for work on soft issues, one of the most notable patterns in the papers received was soft being operationalized as female. While at one level this confirms an earlier stereotype of “soft” being equated with “feminine,” it may also signal the extent to which females have heretofore been marginalized in the discourse of family business research. More to the point, three of the four papers published here focus on the specific experiences of daughters and spouses (which generally meant wives). It was an interesting pattern given earlier efforts that have noted the recurring invisibility of women in and around the family firm (e.g. Gillis-Donovan and Moynihan-Bradt, 2004).
Two of the papers featured here relate to the specific experience of daughters in family firms. The first, by Dominique Otten-Pappas, seeks to extend Sharma and Irving's conceptualization of successor commitment. That 2005 framework proposed a typology of different commitment types that included the affective (i.e. wanting to work in the family business), the normative (i.e. “feeling one ought to work in the family business”), the calculative (i.e. working at the family firm because one perceives it pays to work there from an opportunity cost standpoint) and the imperative (i.e. perceiving that given the limits of one's skill set they have no choice but to work at the family business). While Sharma and Irving's work took an important first step toward understanding the experience of successor commitment, it did not explore gender-specific dimensions. Accordingly, Dominique takes a next step along the road by offering a finer-grained look at successor commitment from the vantage point of six daughters who successfully took on the mantle of leadership from their respective fathers. Drawing on the experience of these women in six different German family firms, she notes some interesting gender-specific dynamics that enrich Sharma and Irving's original framework.
In the second paper, Margaret Humphreys takes a hard look at daughters that take over leadership positions in the family firm. Based on the fact that family businesses more rapidly incorporate women to leadership roles than non-family businesses (Barrett and Moores, 2009), Humphreys seeks to offer an alternative view of how women are generally portrayed in the succession literature. In this piece, she reverses predominant views of female successors as largely invisible into visible and significant stakeholders. She provides the reader with an emerging picture of women who are competent, skilled and know what they want – and then actively go for it! What is more, these women are major share holders and also have male siblings. From 14 reflective interviews with daughter successors that operate in positions of firm leadership, she finds that competence in managing “soft issues,” such as relationships, motivations, family involvement and emotional competence, is an integral executive competence. Her results show that the time is nigh to re-evaluate much of the previous literature concerning the nature of the female succession experience.
A third piece by Sharon Danes and Juyoung Jang explores the emergence and significance of another largely overlooked construct: copreneurial identity. Drawing on Meyer and Herscovitch's (2001) work on commitment as the willingness to direct personal, psychological and/or temporal resources toward the accomplishment of specific ends, these authors explore to what extent spouses perceive their own and their significant other's commitment to the venture-building process. The question they ask is an interesting one: how do spouses respond to the launch of a new venture, particularly as the venture becomes part of the couple's shared identity? They also explore a number of related questions including whether both partners typically perceive their commitment to the venture in the same way and to the same degree, and if they do not, whether there is any significant pattern in observed differences.
A final paper is written by Esra Memili, Kaustav Misra, Erick Chang and James Chrisman and belongs to the emerging call for empirical studies on socio-emotional wealth (Berrone et al., 2012). This work explore the practical dynamics of a traditionally “hard” issue, namely compensation of non-family managers, against the backdrop of a comparatively “soft” issue, namely socio-emotional wealth. Given that non-family managers are an important stakeholder group in many family-controlled enterprises (Mitchell et al., 2003), this study seeks to explore whether family firms are willing to offer bonuses and profit sharing to non-family managers. In short, it is hypothesized that ownership, family management, and intra-family succession intentions are negatively associated with the propensity to use non-family managers’ incentive compensation in family firms. While the authors argue that such compensation embodies low-economic risk for the firm, their findings show that family firms favor preservation of their socio-emotional wealth, potentially at the expense of negative trade-offs.
As a last note, we would especially wish to take this opportunity to say thank you to all authors that submitted pieces to this special issue. We would also like to acknowledge and thank our colleagues who assisted us by serving as reviewers for this special issue. Our thanks go to Francesco Chirico (Jönköping International Business School), Tony Fang (University of Manitoba), Nathan Greidanus (University of Manitoba), Kajsa Haag (Jönköping International Business School), Annika Hall (Jönköping International Business School), Mattias Nordqvist (Jönköping International Business School), Maria José Parada (Esade), Allison Pearson (Mississippi State University) and Markus Plate (Witten Herdecke University).
Finally, our thanks to you the reader for your interest in this special issue. Suffice to say, we hope you find real insights from these hard looks at soft issues.
Ethel Brundin, Reg Litz and Arist von SchlippeGuest Editors
Dawson, A. and Hjorth, D. (2012), “Advancing family business research through narrative analysis”, Family Business Review, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 339-355Sharma, P. and Irving, P.G. (2004), “Four bases of family business successor commitment: antecedents and consequences”, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 13-33
Barrett, M. and Moores, K. (2009), Women in Family Business Leadership Roles: Daughters on the Stage, Edward Elgar, Northhampton, MA
Berrone, P., Cruz, C. and Gomez-Mejia, L.R. (2012), “Socioemotional wealth in family firms. Theoretical dimensions, assessment approaches, and agenda for future research”, Family Business Review, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 258-279
Brundin, E. and Sharma, P. (2011), “Love, hate and desire: the role of emotional messiness in the business family”, in Carsrud, A. and Brannback, M. (Eds), International Perspectives on Future Research in Family Business: Neglected Topics and Under-Utilized Theories, Springer International Entrepreneurship Series, Springer, New York, NY, pp. 55-71
de Vries, M.F.K. and Carlock, R.S. (2008), Family Business on the Couch: A Psychological Perspective, Wiley, Chicester, West Sussex
Gillis-Donovan, J. and Moynihan-Bradt, C. (2004), “The power of invisible women in the family business”, Family Business Review, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 153-167
Gordon, G. and Nicholson, N. (2008), Family Wars, Kogan Page, London
Hubler, T. (2005), “Forgiveness as an intervention in family-owned business: a new beginning”, Family Business Review, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 95-103
Kaye, K. (1996), “When the family business is a sickness”, Family Business Review, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 347-368
Levinson, H. (1971), “Conflicts that plague family businesses”, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 90-98
Litz, R.A. (1997), “The family firm's exclusion from business school research: explaining the void, addressing the opportunity”, Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice., Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 55-71
Litz, R.A. (2013), “Leaving the godfather to follow god the father: successo generation conversion in a mob family”, Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, pp. 1-29 (in press)
Meyer, J.P. and Herscovitch, L. (2001), “Toward a general model of commitment”, Human Resource Management Review, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 299-326
Mitchell, R.K., Morse, E.A. and Sharma, P. (2003), “The transacting cognitions of nonfamily employees in the family businesses setting”, Journal of Business Venturing, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 533-551
Sund, L.-G. and Smyrnios, K.X. (2005), “Striving for happiness and its impact on family stability: an exploration of the Aristotelian conception of happiness”, Family Business Review, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 155-170