Family Business Research Module 2015

Contemporary Entrepreneurship and Family Business Research


Family Business Research Module


Daniela Montemerlo

Economics Department

Università dell’Insubria



The course at a glance

Family business is a relatively young field that basically started at the end of ‘80s. It is a field of outmost relevance, as family firms are the most widespread form of enterprise all over the world. It is intrinsically multi-disciplinary because of the several, possible levels of analysis that include individuals (featuring various roles in turn), firm, ownership, family, industry and economic system.

Given the field’s recent history and the nature and multiplicity of its objects and topics, many issues are quite open with a number of consequent challenges and stimuli for scholars.

In this course on Family business research we will discuss concepts and ideas on how family business has been investigated so far and can or should be researched in the future. After an overview of the field’s evolution, topics and theoretical and empirical issues, we will focus on some core topics and related key issues.

The course implies high involvement and active contributions by participants. Please, read this syllabus very carefully before the beginning of the course.



Prof. Daniela Montemerlo



The goal of the course is to offer an overview of the field of Family business research and its main issues, theories and methods. Participants are expected to ‘get to know the field’ and its development trends, as well as to discuss most relevant decision-making issues for family firms’ main actors and for scholars, concerning managerialization, succession, strategy and governance.



Lectures will offer perspectives on the evolution and variety of family business studies as well as a focus on some core topics


Teaching methods

Seminar mode, featuring guided discussions, students’ presentations and self-study in groups or individually.


Course design and format

Consistently with the Entrepreneurship module, this course consists of two components: class discussion (70%) and final assignment (30%). Students must take the course for a grade.


For each topic, we will read and discuss a few articles. The set of articles for each lecture may include theoretical and empirical work, or both. The reading list is short for a seminar of this type. That is because I expect you to read every article and to think about them before coming to class.

Then,  our discussions will focus on the specific articles assigned as well as the general theoretical issues and the decision-making issues they raise (see next paragraph).


Course preparation


Consistently with the Entrepreneurship module, here are some hints to prepare to our sessions.


As to specific articles, it may be useful to ask yourself the following questions about each reading:

(1) What are the central theoretical questions addressed? What are the underlying assumptions? (2) What is the (empirical or conceptual) evidence to support the research questions? How convincing? (3) How has the analysis been designed? (4) How could this analysis be improved? Be specific and practical (do not make suggestions that you could not realistically envision yourself implementing); and (5) Identify at least one way that the analysis is cleverer or smarter than the author knows. This could take the form of deriving a new argument or developing new ideas. Another approach would be to apply the author’s reasoning under a different setting and explain why it might be useful.

NB: All articles will be made available in electronic format.


As to the general issues, for all articles please keep in mind the theories/meta-theories  behind in terms of core research problems or questions addressed, key concepts, assumptions, arguments, evidence, methods, etc.). Obviously, you may find these questions challenging if your knowledge of the approach is limited—but you should try to answer them anyway.



Detailed schedule


Session 1. The evolution and domain of family business research

Monday, May 30th, 14:00 – 16.00




Sharma P., An Overview of the Field of Family Business Studies: Current Status and Directions for the future, Family Business Review, XVII (1), 2004, 1-36.


Sharma P.,  Chrisman J.J., Gersick K.E., 25 Years of Family Business Review : Reflections on the Past and Perspectives for the Future, Family Business Review XXV(1), 2012, 5-15.


James A.E., Jennings J.E., Breitkreuz R.S., Worlds Apart? Rebridging the Distance Between Family Science and Family Business Research, Family Business Review, XXV (1), 2012,  87–108.


Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class, especially thinking of the field’s present state and its opportunities for further development.



Session 2. Key decision-making issues in family business research: governance (1 & 2)


  • Monday, May 30th, 16.00 – 17.00
  • Monday, June 6th, 9.00-10




Steier L.P., Family Firms, Plural Forms of Governance, and the Evolving Role of Trust, Family Business Review, XIV (4), 2001, 353-367.


Mustakallio M.A., Autio E., Zahra S., Relational and Contractual Governance in Family Firms: Effects on Strategic Decision Making, in G. Corbetta e D. Montemerlo (editors), The Role of Family in Family Business, Family Business Review Special Issue, XV (3), 2002, 205-222.


Montemerlo D., Gnan L., Huse M., Governance systems in family SMEs: the substitution effect of family councils on official mechanisms, Journal of Small Business Management,  2015, 53(2), 355–381.


Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class (see notes above about course preparation).



Session 3. Key decision-making issues in family business research: developing strategic resources for long-term viability

Monday, June 6th,  10.00-12.00


Ward J.L., Growing the Family Business: Special Challenges and Best Practices, Family Business Review, X (4), 1997, 323-337.


Chirico F., Salvato C., Knowledge Integration and Dynamic Organizational Adaptation in Family Firms, Family Business Review, XXI (2), 2008, 169-182.


De Massis A., Kotlar J., Frattini F., Chrisman J.J., Nordqvist M., Family Governance at Work: Organizing for New Product Development in Family SMEs, Family Business Review, XXIX (2), 2016, 189–213.


Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class (see notes above about course preparation).



Session 4. Key decision-making issues in family business research: managerialization

Monday, June 16th,  9.00-11.00


Chua J.H., Chrisman J.J., Sharma P., Succession and Nonsuccession Concerns of Family Firms and Agency Relationships with Nonfamily Managers, Family Business Review, Volume XVI (2), 2003, 89-107.


Salvato C., Minichilli A., Piccarreta R,Faster, Route to the CEO Suite: Nepotism or Managerial Proficiency, Family Business Review, XXV(2), 2012, 206–224.


Vandekerkhof P., Steijvers T., Hendriks W., Voordeckers W., The Effect of Organizational Characteristics on the Appointment of Nonfamily Managers in Private Family Firms: The Moderating Role of Socioemotional Wealth,  Family Business Review, Vol. XXVIII (2), 2015,  104–122.


Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class (see notes above about course preparation).



Session 5. Key decision-making issues in family business research: succession

Monday, June 16th,  11.00-13.00


Murray B., The Succession Transition Process: A Longitudinal Perspective, Barbara Murray, Family Business Review, vol. XVI, no. 1, March 2003, 17-34.


Zellweger T.M., Nason R.S., Nordqvist M., From Longevity of Firms to Transgenerational Entrepreneurship of Families: Introducing Family Entrepreneurial Orientation, Family Business Review, XXV (2), 2012, 136-155.


Daspit J.J., Holt D.T., Chrisman J.J, Long R.G. , Examining Family Firm Succession

From a Social Exchange Perspective: A Multiphase, Multistakeholder Review, Family Business Review, XXIX(1), 2016,  44–64.


Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class (see notes above about course preparation).





You are asked to prepare a brief research proposal (Times New Roman 12, round 15 pages) specifying, reference theories, RQ, literature review, propositions/hypotheses, methodology and sample and expected contributions on a family business issue. You may choose to develop a project we discussed in class or another one, or to develop one from scratch.

The assignment topic will have to be approved by the instructor.

Deadlines will be defined in class.