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A family business is a business in which one or more members of one or more families have a significant ownership interest and significant commitments toward the business’ overall well-being.

In some countries, many of the largest publicly listed firms are family-owned. A firm is said to be family-owned if a person is the controlling shareholder; that is, a person (rather than a state, corporation, management trust, or mutual fund) can garner enough shares to assure at least 20% of the voting rights and the highest percentage of voting rights in comparison to other shareholders.[1]
Some of the world's largest family-run-businesses are Walmart (United States), Samsung Group (Korea), Tata Group (India) and Foxconn (Taiwan).

Family owned businesses account for over 30% of companies with sales over $1 billion.[2]


In a family business, two or more members within the management team are drawn from the owning family. Family businesses can have owners who are not family members. Family businesses may also be managed by individuals who are not members of the family. However, family members are often involved in the operations of their family business in some capacity and, in smaller companies, usually one or more family members are the senior officers and managers. In India, many businesses that are now public companies were once family businesses.

Family participation as managers and/or owners of a business can strengthen the company because family members are often loyal and dedicated to the family enterprise. However, family participation as managers and/or owners of a business can present unique problems because the dynamics of the family system and the dynamics of the business systems are often not in balance.


The interests of a family member may not be aligned with the interest of the business. For example, if a family member wants to be president but is not as competent as a non-family member, the personal interest of the family member and the well being of the business may be in conflict.

Or, the interests of the entire family may not be balanced with the interests of their business. For example, if a family needs its business to distribute funds for living expenses and retirement but the business requires those to stay competitive, the interests of the entire family and the business are not aligned.[3]

Finally, the interest of one family member may not be aligned with another family member. For example, a family member who is an owner may want to sell the business to maximize their return, but a family member who is an owner and also a manager may want to keep the company because it represents their career and they want their children to have the opportunity to work in the company.


When the family business is basically owned and operated by one person, that person usually does the necessary balancing automatically. For example, the founder may decide the business needs to build a new plant and take less money out of the business for a period so the business can accumulate cash needed to expand. In making this decision, the founder is balancing his personal interests (taking cash out) with the needs of the business (expansion).

Most first generation owner/managers make the majority of the decisions. When the second generation (sibling partnership) is in control, the decision making becomes more consultative. When the larger third generation (cousin consortium) is in control, the decision making becomes more consensual, the family members often take a vote. In this manner, the decision making throughout generations becomes more rational.[4]


Balancing competing interests often become difficult in three situations. The first situation is when the founder wants to change the nature of their involvement in the business. Usually the founder begins this transition by involving others to manage the business. Involving someone else to manage the company requires the founder to be more conscious and formal in balancing personal interests with the interests of the business because they can no longer do this alignment automatically—someone else is involved.

The second situation is when more than one person owns the business and no single person has the power and support of the other owners to determine collective interests. For example, if a founder intends to transfer ownership in the family business to their four children, two of whom work in the business, how do they balance these unequal differences? The four siblings need a system to do this themselves when the founder is no longer involved.

The third situation is when there are multiple owners and some or all of the owners are not in management. Given the situation above, there is a higher chance that the interests of the two sons not employed in the family business may be different than the interests of the two sons who are employed in the business. Their potential for differences does not mean that the interests cannot be aligned, it just means that there is a greater need for the four owners to have a system in place that differences can be identified and balanced.

These three scenarios can be mitigated by following the guidelines of TMP, or "The Maria Principle"


There appear to be two main factors affecting the development of family business and succession process: the size of the family, in relative terms the volume of business, and suitability to lead the organization, in terms of managerial ability, technical and commitment (Arieu, 2010). Arieu proposed a model in order to classify family firms into four scenarios: political, openness, foreign management and natural succession (See Succession planning).

One of the largest trends in family business is the amount of women who are taking over their family firms. In the past, succession was reserved for the first-born son, then it moved on to any male heir. Now, women account for approx. 11-12% of all family firm leaders, an increase of close to 40% since 1996. Daughters are now considered to be one of the most underutilized resources in family businesses. To encourage the next generation of women to be valuable members of the business, potential female successors should be nurtured by assimilation into the family firm, mentoring, sharing of important tacit knowledge and having positive role models within the business.[4]


Successfully balancing the differing interests of family members and/or the interests of one or more family members on the one hand and the interests of the business on the other hand require the people involved to have the competencies, character and commitment to do this work.

Family-owned companies present special challenges to those who run them. The reason? They can be quirky, developing unique cultures and procedures as they grow and mature. That's fine, as long as they continue to be managed by people who are steeped in the traditions, or at least able to adapt to them.[5]

Often family members can benefit from involving more than one professional advisor, each having the particular skill set needed by the family. Some of the skill sets that might be needed include communication, conflict resolution, family systems, finance, legal, accounting, insurance, investing, leadership development, management development, and strategic planning.[6]

Ownership in a family business will also show maturity of the business. If all the shares rest with one individual, a family business is still in its infant stage, even if the revenue is strong.[7]

Family Business Research[]

Many researches focuses on Family Business because 45% of publicly listed international firms are family owned.[8] Few academic journals specialized on this topic such as Family Business Review or Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice.

See also[]


  1. Chakrabarty, S (2009) The Influence of National Culture and Institutional Voids on Family Ownership of Large Firms: A Country Level Empirical Study Journal of International Management, 15(1)
  2. Kachaner, Stalk, Bloch What You Can Learn from Family Business. Harvard Business Review.
  3. Loewen, Jacoline (2008). Money Magnet: Attract Investors to Your Business: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-15575-2.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Alderson, K,. (2011). Understanding the Family Business. NY. Business Expert Press, ISBN 9781606491690.
  5. [1][dead link]
  6. See generally, Tutelman and Hause, The Balance Point: New Ways Business Owners Can Use Boards (2008 Famille Press)
  7. [2][dead link]
  8. La Porta, Rafael, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, and Andrei Shleifer. 1999. “Corporate Ownership around the World.” Journal of Finance 54 (2): 471–517

External links[]

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