Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Entrepreneurship and Family Business Research: Comparisons, Critique, and Lessons

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Entrepreneurship and Family Business Research: Comparisons, Critique, and Lessons

Article excerpt

Academic interest in family business is relatively recent. However, interest is rapidly growing among a diverse group of researchers. This rapid increase is similar to that which occurred in the field of entrepreneurship during the last two decades. The two areas are similar enough that there may be some value in examining the development of entrepreneurship research to learn if it might offer some guidance that will help family business researchers to advance their field more quickly and effectively. Toward this end, the development of entrepreneurship research will be reviewed and its status in several areas common to family business will be presented. In a similar manner, family business research will be reviewed and critiqued. Finally, some specific recommendations will be presented that can enhance the quality and value of family business research.



Entrepreneurship research was originally developed by economists who presented the role of the entrepreneur in economic growth and innovation (Schumpeter, 1934; Baumol, 1968). Early research was primarily prescriptive as writers offered their evaluation of and practical suggestions for the entrepreneurial processes based upon their observation of small business owners (Hornaday, 1982). These writers seldom considered research questions nor suggested ones for other researchers to consider. It was not until the early 1970s that a more diverse group of academic researchers began to study the topic of entrepreneurship (Vesper, 1982). This group consisted primarily of academics whose interest was more directed toward teaching entrepreneurship and providing consulting services to small business than conducting well-designed research studies or the development of theories of entrepreneurship. This lack of interest and often lack of research skills resulted in research studies that suffered in comparison to those by other academics that focused on more traditional business topics (Sexton, 1982).

It was not until entrepreneurship caught the attention of more traditional academic researchers that the level of research methodologies began to improve significantly and initial attempts at theory development began in earnest. More about the current status of entrepreneurial research will be discussed later.

The evolution of family business researchers has much in common with that of entrepreneurship researchers. The initial writers on the subject of family business were consultants to family businesses. Frequently they were financial advisers or family therapists (Lansberg, Perrow, & Rogolsky, 1988). They wrote of their observations and suggested ways in which family businesses could avoid some of the pitfalls that the authors had observed occurring to their clients. This prescriptive approach is almost identical with that of 1950 and 1960 entrepreneurship research. The majority of current family business articles are currently of this type (Swartz, 1989). Similarly, there are many articles that stated the contributions of family businesses to the GNP and to employment much as entrepreneurship and small business writers have done and continue to do.

Overview of Research Weaknesses

Problems inherent in the earlier studies of entrepreneurship continue to challenge current entrepreneurship and family business researchers (Churchill, 1992). Such problems include a lack of secondary data sources forcing researchers to conduct field research studies. Field studies, in turn, are difficult to achieve because of the entrepreneurs' and family business owners' disinterest in participating in such studies; the wide spectrum of "entrepreneurs" and family businesses; the lack of theories for hypothesis testing; and the lack of commonly accepted definitions of an entrepreneur or a family business.

Donald Sexton has been responsible for convening three conferences on the state-of-the-art of entrepreneurship research. …

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