The Witten Institute for Family Business (WIFU) conducts academic research and training on the special features of family businesses and business families. We are especially keen to maintain a high, internationally compatible level and to include all disciplines.

The foundations of a consistent transdisciplinary approach were laid when the Institute was founded. Three research and teaching areas – business administration, psychology/sociology and jurisprudence – have always provided an academic reflection of family businesses.


The WIFU has developed an extraordinary level of expertise in the field of family businesses and business families. A group of approximately 80 family businesses enables us to act on an equal footing as an institute of family businesses, for family businesses.
We utilise these unique circumstances to advance our research and training and to develop innovative theories, approaches and practical solutions.
With six departments/research areas and numerous professors, the WIFU has contributed significantly for more than 25 years to the ability of family businesses and business families to endure into the future.


  • Founded: 1998
  • 6 departments/ research areas
  • 51 researchers and employees from 10 nations
  • 20 professors
  • 80 sponsors, approximately
  • 30 collaborators from academia and practice
  • 870 publications
  • 29 sets of best practice guides
  • 29 volumes in the WIFU scientific series
  • 25 congresses
  • 85 forums
  • 8 nations
  • 65 lecture series
  • 16 ongoing doctoral theses and habilitations



Mit dem Laden des Videos akzeptieren Sie die Datenschutzerklärung von YouTube.
Mehr erfahren

Video laden


The WIFU is funded by the WIFU Foundation, which is linked to Witten/Herdecke University through a cooperation agreement. It is integrated as an institute into the Faculty of Economics and Society and is jointly managed by a team of three: the academic director, the managing director and the co-director. The academic director coordinates the academic activities at the WIFU and represents the scientific interests of the Institute vis-à-vis the faculty and the public. The central concern is to ensure a cross-institutional research and publication strategy. Thus, the academic director is the WIFU’s highest representative in the scientific community. The managing director represents the practice-related concerns of the WIFU within and outside the University, organises practice-oriented research and cooperation with practice and implements suitable forms of practice transfer. The core objectives are to maintain the Institute’s ability to function within the University and to ensure its basic funding. The managing director is the WIFU’s highest representative in the ‘practice public’. The co-director drives the conceptual and organisational development of the Institute in research and practice transfer and represents the research results of the Institute to the scientific community as well as to the practice. The focus is on the targeted promotion of young academics – for example, through the conception and organisation of academic development programmes – as well as cross-institute teaching concepts in the area of family entrepreneurship. In addition, the co-director is in charge of organising practice-oriented research projects for the representatives of the younger members of business families and cooperation with practice.

Prof. Dr. Heiko Kleve
Managing and Academic Director / Chairholder Organisation and Development of Business Families
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Anne Katarina Heider
Co-Director of the Witten Institute for Family Business


The Witten Institute for Family Business (WIFU) was launched in 1998 at the Witten/Herdecke University’s Faculty of Economics. It was set up and initially developed with the comprehensive assistance of Deutsche Bank AG, which, for seven years, provided financial support for what was a unique family business research institution in Germany at the time.


From the summer of 2005 onwards, a group of sponsoring family businesses took responsibility for the research institution, thus securing its future financing. In addition, this group of sponsors provides us with content and personal assistance to enable and shape the work of the Institute. The WIFU sponsoring group is a uniquely protected platform for the exchange of opinions and experiences between the businesses and researchers involved. A major step towards this was taken in 2009 with the establishment of the WIFU Foundation, which is currently supported by approximately 80 sponsors. The friends and supporters of the WIFU were, thereby, given an institutional structure, enabling even more comprehensive research, training and practical exchange.


… to more closely examine the opportunities and risks of family businesses and business families

… to make a substantial contribution to research, training and practical exchange

… to promote an exchange of opinions and experiences between members of family businesses and business families

… to train potential successors and managers for family businesses

… to provide members of family businesses and business families with the generated academic findings in a practical form


telescope with sky in the background


As one of the leading institutes for research on family businesses and business families, we are pioneers and initiators. This is how we make a significant contribution towards a sustainably functional economy and society. Everybody seeking information and advice on this form of business can orientate themselves around the WIFU theories and use the WIFU network. The WIFU offers a platform for free access to knowledge and for target-group-specific analogue and digital exchange between family businesses and business families. This makes the WIFU a market leader in research, knowledge, practical exchange and networking in the field of family businesses and business families.

We are consistently successful in our research because we always pursue a mutual exchange between theory and practice, which is why we actively integrate members of family businesses and business families into our research and training. We deliver this knowledge to society and, in particular, to the research community and to family entrepreneurs and business families using the latest digital and analogue communication media and channels. We choose and design these on the basis of our system of values and the usage preferences of our stakeholders. The numerous publications produced by the WIFU set quality and performance standards, providing impetus to the international research community.


Understanding family businesses and business families through targeted, broad research:

We aim to understand family entrepreneurs and to create a protected space in which family entrepreneurs can meet and converse with each other openly and intimately. As a research institution, the WIFU takes unconventional approaches, which give it access to areas that do not belong to mainstream interests. The Institute acts as an initiator and incorporates practical problems into the formation of its theories.

The WIFU’s strength is that we combine disciplines (including psychology, sociology and jurisprudence) and unite topics (such as crises and conflicts, company and family, corporate management, family businesses in society, transgenerationalism, digitalisation and technology). We establish ourselves across different disciplines to meet new challenges. Disciplines are used as a resource and for orientation but are constantly changing in order to generate new and different findings. This means we go beyond the limits of previously linked disciplines in our themes and methods, opening up new focuses for our research.

telescope with sky in the background


Approximately 80 family businesses from Germany, Austria and Switzerland currently support the activities of the WIFU. Our group of sponsors is open to family businesses that would like to get involved with the WIFU.

open chat