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Special Issue Innovation in family firms: responses to recent developments

  • 1.  Special Issue Innovation in family firms: responses to recent developments

    Posted 02-16-2021 09:59
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    Guest Editors:


    Maksim Belitski, University of Reading, UK



    Nada Khachlouf, ICD Business School Paris, France



    Caroline Mothe, IAE Savoie Mont-Blanc, France



    Alfredo De Massis, Free University of Bolzano-Bozen, Italy



    Petra M. Moog, Siegen University, Germany







    Since the early 1980s, the rapid growth of family business research has led to the establishment of the academic field of family business. Since, researchers on family firms have paid increasing attention to the antecedents, consequences and anatomy of innovation in family business across various contexts (De Massis et al., 2013 ; De Massis, Minin, & Frattini, 2015). Theoretical and empirical research clearly shows that family firms have highly idiosyncratic characteristics, distinguishing them from their non-family counterparts in a way they innovate and create value (Andreini, Bettinelli, Pedeliento, & Apa, 2020; Schell, Hiepler, & Moog, 2018).


    The literature also reveals the existence of paradoxes in the innovative behavior of family firms, and tensions between, for example: capacity and will, tradition and change, control and autonomy, or liquidity and growth (Chrisman, Chua, De Massis, Frattini, & Wright, 2015; Ingram, Lewis, Barton, & Gartner, 2016; Magistretti, Dell'Era, Frattini, & Petruzzelli, 2020). In particular, previous research highlights the desire to preserve tradition and non-financial objectives and the role of Socio-Emotional Wealth (SEW) (Berrone, Cruz, Gomez-Mejia, & Larraza-Kintana, 2010; Erdogan Rondi, & De Massis, 2020; Ruf, Graffius, Wolff, Moog, & Felden, 2020; Ruf, Moog, & Rius, 2020). For example, acting in a manner consistent with their SEW objectives, founders of family firms, concerned about their business's sustainability, are likely to reject changes that could jeopardize the family SEW.


    Despite the existence of paradoxes in family businesses' innovative behavior, recent research shows that these firms are at least as innovative as non-family businesses (Calabrò et al. 2019). To achieve this, these companies adopt different innovation models that rely, among other things, on limited access to resources, such as the Mittelstand in Germany (De Massis, Audretsch, Uhlaner, & Kammerlander, 2018). Therefore, it would be interesting to understand how family businesses manage to adapt their innovation strategy taking into account internal factors, such as intergenerational succession (Gimenez-Jimenez et al., 2020; Schell, Hiepler, & Moog, 2018), as well as exogenous shocks (De Massis & Rondi, 2020; Mzid, Khachlouf, & Soparnot, 2019) such as financial crises or pandemic.


    In particular understanding the context where family firms operate has important implications in providing stronger grounding for family business theories and concepts (Jaskiewicz et al., 2020) through inbound and outbound theorizing (Jaskiewicz, Neubaum, De Massis & Holt, 2020). Therefore, we argue that examining how family firms adapt and contribute to shaping and transforming their contexts will reinforce our understanding of innovation family firms.


    A context that is little explored in the literature on innovation in family firms is social and environmental innovation (Calabrò, Vecchiarini, Gast, Campopiano, De Massis, & Kraus, 2019; Huang, Ding, & Kao, 2009). Yet, social responsibility concerns of family firms stem from the importance they give to their social legitimacy (Berrone et al., 2010). Accordingly, it is legitimate to ask: to what extent can idiosyncratic characteristics of family firms affect their social innovation and environmental innovation behavior?


    Another context that deserves to be explored in family firms is collaboration with external partners (Feranita, Kotlar, & De Massis, 2017). From this perspective, the competitive advantage lies in the ability of firms to collaborate and share knowledge (Calabrò et al. 2019). Existing studies indicate that family firms are not particularly predisposed to build collaborative relationships because of their strong concerns about the potential loss of control (De Massis, Frattini, & Lichtenthaler, 2013). Additionally, family firms may have more conservative organizational structures that could inhibit their predisposition to open innovation. A broader conception of Socio-Emotional Wealth is needed to advance research on this topic (Miller & Le Breton Miller, 2014) by examining how attributes specific to family firms (like SEW) facilitate/hinder open innovation.


    Furthermore, while research focuses on the macro and micro levels of innovation in family firms, the context's effects at the industry level remain less understood. Indeed, the innovation behaviors of family firms can be different from one sector to another and, if family firms have been successful in traditional sectors (de Groot, Conrad, & Hack, 2020; Le Breton-Miller, & Miller, 2015), they are emerging more and more and orient themselves in emerging industries such as Industry 4.0. This shift questions the role of industries in explaining the variety of family firm's innovation behavior.


    Aim of the special issue

    The aim of the special issue is to offer a comprehensive understanding of family firm ability to innovate and successfully compete in different innovation contexts. This would lead us to better understand how family firms, while being deeply rooted to their origins, tradition, and identity can be highly innovative in different settings?

    This special issue shows how family involvement in ownership and management can set off self-reinforcing cycles of firm adaptation in response to the changing context of innovation. The special issue will identify combinations and conditions leading to high levels of innovation in family firms and how they can overcome the inertia created by their SEW concerns. By doing so, we account for the interrelationships between family-, firm-, and environment-level innovation antecedents.


    On a theoretical level, examining the behavior of family firms in various contexts allows to build bridges between different academic disciplines: for example, between agency theory, where the SWE approach is deeply rooted, and other theoretical approaches such as sustainability theory, stewardship theory or stakeholder theory. Integrating different theoretical disciplines would, in our opinion, consolidate the research on innovation in family firms.


    Novel theorizations of context using insights from other disciplines such as sociology or geography, or using different methods are particularly welcome.


    Examples of contribution include, but not limited to: • The impact of different dimensions of socio-emotional wealth on the societal orientation in family firms• How do family firms respond to pressures from various types of stakeholders in the context of environmental innovation?• How does socio-emotional wealth change over time and across generations, and what are the consequences for social innovation?• How does the impact of exogenous shocks on family firms differ––or not––from that of more progressive changes (such as climate and societal change)?• How do family firms implement open innovation strategies that allow them to manage internal and external knowledge flows with the aim of improving their capacity to innovate?• What challenges does open innovation present to the "innovation through tradition" model adopted by family firms?• How do different dimensions of Socio-Emotional Wealth affect open innovation in family firms?• Are there differences between family and non-family firms in their willingness and/or ability to embrace open innovation?• To what extent does social capital of managers (both family and non-family members) affect open innovation?• The diversity of business models and innovation in family firms depending on sector specificities• The influence of entrepreneurial orientation of family firms on innovation in different activity sectors• The "Mittelstand" model beyond manufacturing and beyond Germany• Socio-emotional wealth and other perspectives to explain the behavior and philosophy of the family business in terms of innovation 

    The above questions, and many others, would highlight the areas in which we believe that academic research should devote more energy and resources in order to advance research on innovation in family firms.


    Following the editorial line of the "Revue de l'Entrepreneuriat", this special issue adopt a multidisciplinary and multi-contextual approach through the diversity of perspectives suggested for the study of innovation in family firms. This disciplinary diversity is strengthened by the different nationalities that compose the guest editorial team of this special issue (France, Germany, United Kingdom and Italy), consisting of researchers who are experts either in family firms or in innovation. The objective is to increase the diffusion of this special issue on an international scale, which should contribute to the international outreach of the journal.

    Maksim Belitski
    University of Reading