FAMILY BUSINESSES
IN SOCIETY

BACKBONE OF THE GERMAN ECONOMY


Family businesses form the backbone of the economy and have been firmly rooted in society for centuries. A society in which family businesses and business families are embedded is strongly shaped by cultural norms and values, although these are regularly revised by political change. For example, family structures in India are entirely different from those in China, Latin America and the Middle East. There are regional differences inside Europe as well. How exactly can family businesses from different regions be compared with one another? How can family businesses from different cultural backgrounds collaborate successfully with each other? How have views on family, private property and entrepreneurship changed over the centuries? This includes the way in which politics shapes the economic system, such as the legal tax relief framework, labour law, bureaucratic obstacles and the reliability of state institutions. The framework stipulated by the state not only dictates the general costs of operating in a particular place, it affects decisions about a company’s future direction from a transgenerational perspective.

FAMILY BUSINESSES IN GERMAN SOCIETY


Family businesses are an elementary part of our society, especially its economic system. 91 percent of all privately owned companies are family businesses, and they provide 57 percent of jobs and generate 55 percent of turnover. So, researching the family business corporate form is always going to involve examining the very principle of the social market economy in Germany. That is why, as a research establishment, we consider it our key responsibility to help present a picture of family businesses to the public and illustrate their importance in society as a whole. We also believe this includes strengthening the role of family businesses in politics and society, and emphasising their importance to the German economy and the way our social market economy system works.

It is therefore crucial to the economy and our society that the particular characteristics and needs of this form of business are considered when political decisions are made. That is why WIFU is in regular contact with representatives of politics, business and associations. This engagement has led to a number of initiatives. For instance, WIFU is collaborating with the Nordrhein-Westfalen Department of Commerce on an exchange between representatives of the interests of family businesses and politics. A series of events that has taken place for more than ten years involves discussions and networking between the two groups on a range of topics, moderated by WIFU. WIFU is also working with major associations such as the BDI (Federation of German Industry), regional IHKs (chambers of industry and commerce) and economic promotion agencies, in the form of joint studies and events aimed at disseminating knowledge about family businesses and business families. We also offer the public regular opportunities to gain an insight into our research and its findings. People can find out about WIFU and what its research entails as part of the ‘Bürgeruniversität’ (citizens’ university) organised by the Witten/Herdecke University and in our lecture series.

 

FAMILY BUSINESSES IN OTHER SOCIETIES


When it comes to examining family businesses and business families, the focus is on the cultural and social character of the constructs ‘family’, ‘company’ and ‘law’ and their influence on the development of family businesses. The way family businesses are embedded into local, socio-cultural and historical circumstances is therefore a key to the development of an international theory of family business and business families.

Research in this field also includes investigating behaviours, strategies and processes that facilitate constant growth. Growth in international markets is becoming an increasingly mandatory aspect for companies seeking to keep up with intensifying competition. Family businesses are by no means excluded from this development, although under different conditions. Studies show that family businesses are more risk-averse to abstract internationalisation strategies, less successful at discovering global opportunities in international markets, and heavily focussed on serving local, isolated markets. Internationalisation usually occurs in conjunction with the internationalisation of existing customers, or as a result of personal contacts with members of the business family. As a consequence, family businesses are less focussed on the internationalisation of their business as a whole, and act more slowly than non-family businesses. It is precisely this problem that necessitates deeper research into the key factors behind the internationalisation of family businesses, especially with regard to potential points of intersection with international management and practical implications for the internationalisation of family businesses.

WIFU has initiated several such internationally oriented research projects. Worthy of special mention are the studies that WIFU has done on family businesses and business families in India and China. In both regions, we studied the particular characteristics of cooperative relationships with German businesses, local challenges around succession and internationalisation and growth strategies. We plan to extend this research into Japanese family businesses.

 

HISTORICAL VIEW OF FAMILY BUSINESSES


Family businesses are constructs whose growth, transformability and continued existence can only be explained by considering the historical perspective. Historical researchers have long neglected this corporate form, especially because they doubted its ability to survive the capitalist age. WIFU’s historical branch of research examines recent efforts in economic and corporate history, and, in conjunction with family business research, looks at the peculiarities of family companies and the processes and developmental lines found in them, such as succession, with the aim of recognising continuities, patterns and breaks over time and drawing conclusions for the future. The Witten research projects focus on questions such as these: How have long-lasting family businesses managed to become resistant to crises over generations? To what extent can resilience – rather like property – be inherited? What historical role have business family women played? To what extent has the scope for action open to wives, widows and daughters changed in family businesses over the generations?

SOCIOLOGICAL VIEW OF FAMILY BUSINESSES


Family businesses and business families are extremely interesting social systems for the various disciplines of sociology, especially social theory, and the sociology of families, organisations and the economy. This is because, in these systems, social contexts converge that are normally separate in modern society, namely private, familial and economic, organisational nexuses. Owners of family businesses who are at the same time members of their business families experience something which sociology has been examining since it came into being as an academic discipline: how are individuals shaped as people by their different roles and social expectations, and how do they endure and balance the associated ambiguities? That is why the way children and young people are brought up and educated in business families, and what they experience and how they behave in transgenerational succession especially, are subjects of sociological research. Finally, we can examine, from the point of view of social theory and economic sociology, which particular social functions and contributions family businesses and business families make – for instance, regarding the way economic activity integrates socially and morally into modern market societies.

RESEARCH PROJECTS


FAMILY BUSINESSES IN OUR SOCIETY

  • Cooperation with the Nordrhein-Westfalen Department of Commerce
  • Cooperation with the Nordrhein-Westfalen Ministry of SchoolsCooperation with the Nordrhein-Westfalen Department of Commerce

FAMILY BUSINESSES IN OTHER SOCIETIES

  • Behavioral and Cultural Aspects of German, Indian and Chinese Family Firms
  • Family businesses in India
  • Chinese family businesses in cultural and social change.

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

  • Sociology of the business family
  • System theory of the business family
  • The ‘tripled family’ – large business families as families, organisations and networks

EVENTS


FAMILY BUSINESSES IN OUR SOCIETY

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

LITERATURE (SELECTION)


FAMILY BUSINESSES IN OUR SOCIETY

  • Article: Köllner, T. (2018): Ethnologie und Forschung zu Familienunternehmen: Plädoyer für eine Annäherung. In: Zeitschrift für Familienunternehmen und Strategie (FuS), Issue 04/2018, pp. 154-159.
  • Article: Rüsen, T. (2014): Identitätswahrnehmung und Sinnstiftung – Was können Stiftungen von Familienunternehmen lernen? In: Stiftung & Sponsoring, edition 1/2014, pp. 20-21.
  • Brochure: Hier zu Hause. Weltweit vorne. Familienunternehmen in Nordrhein-Westfalen.

FAMILY BUSINESSES IN OTHER SOCIETIES

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES

  • Article: Urban, T. (2018): Die Krisenfestigkeit der Unternehmerfamilie. Haniel, Stumm und der „doppelte“ Strukturwandel. In: Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte/Journal of Business History, Vol. 63, No. 2.

SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

  • Article: Kleve, H. (2017): Das Tetralemma der Unternehmerfamilie. Skizze eines systemischen Forschungsprogramms. In: systeme, Issue 02/2017, pp. 224-243.
  • Article: Kleve, H. (2018): Die Organisation des Familiennetzwerks. Management großer Unternehmerfamilien als Ermöglichung von Reziprozität – eine Theorieskizze. In: Zeitschrift für Familienunternehmen und Strategie (FuS), Issue 02/2018, pp. 44-49.
  • Article: Kleve, H. (2018): Die Unternehmerfamilie der Gesellschaft. Überlegungen zur Systemtheorie einer besonderen Sozialform. In: Familiendynamik, Issue 03/2018.
  • Book: Kleve, H.; Köllner, T. (2018) (editors): Die Soziologie der Unternehmerfamilie. Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Book: Köllner, T. (2012): Practising without Belonging: Entrepreneurship, Morality and Religion in Contemporary Russia. Berlin: Lit.

CONTACT


Please request further information from us about different topics and issues. Simply send us a message.