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.


WIFU has developed an unusual 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 push on with our research and training and to develop innovative theories, approaches and practical solutions.
With 6 departments/ research areas and numerous professors, WIFU has been contributing significantly for more than twenty years to the ability of family businesses and business families to endure into the future.


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



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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 the cross-institutional research and publication strategy. Thus, the Academic Director is the WIFU’s highest representative in the scientific community. In particular, the Managing Director represents the practice-related concerns of the WIFU within and outside the university, organises practice-oriented research projects and cooperations 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 the area of 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 cooperations with practice.

Prof. Dr. Heiko Kleve
Academic Director/ Chairholder Organisation and Development of Business Families
Prof. Dr. Tom A. Rüsen
CEO WIFU Foundation/Managing Director WIFU
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 summer 2005 onwards, a group of sponsoring family businesses took responsibility for the research institution, thus securing it future financing. But it is not only the financial support of this group of sponsors which enables and shapes the work of Institute, it is the content and personal assistance they provide us with. The WIFU sponsoring group is a uniquely protected platform for the exchange of opinions and experience 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 WIFU were thereby given an institutional structure which enables even more comprehensive research, training and practical exchange.


… more closely examining the opportunities and risks of family businesses and business families,

… making a substantial contribution in research, training and practical exchange,

… promoting an exchange of opinions and experience between members of family businesses and business families,

… training potential successors and managers for family businesses,

… providing members of family businesses and business families with the academic findings generated, in a practical form.


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As one of the leading institutes for research into 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 orientates themselves around WIFU theories and uses the WIFU Network. WIFU offers a platform for free access knowledge and a platform for the target-group-specific analogue and digital exchange between family businesses and business families. This makes 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 mutual exchange between theory and practice. That 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 which WIFU produces set the quality and performance standards that themselves provide 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 talk with each other openly and intimately. As a research institution, WIFU takes unconventional approaches, which give it access to areas that do not belong to mainstream interest. The Institute acts as an initiator and incorporates practical problems into the formation of its theories.

WIFU’s strength is that we combine disciplines (including psychology, sociology, jurisprudence etc.) and unite topics (crises & conflicts; company and family; corporate management; family businesses in society; transgenerationalism; digitalisation & technology). We establish ourselves across different disciplines to meet new challenges. Disciplines are used as a resource and for orientation, but are constantly changing, so as 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.

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