Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Emerging Paths of Family Entrepreneurship Research *

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Emerging Paths of Family Entrepreneurship Research *

Article excerpt

This futuristic commentary reviews family business research since its beginning more than 30 years ago. Prior to 2000, disciplinary roots, professional organizations, and early milestones are identified. More recent books, journals, and special issues are noted, and conceptualizations, theories, and databases are compared and contrasted. Lastly, current and future research paths or directions are identified and discussed, and researchers are challenged to move ahead into new and different research arenas.

Research on family firms has been evolving for nearly three decades, first slowly and disjointedly, yet building to its present, exciting momentum (Rogoff and Heck 2003a). The third annual Office Depot Small Business Research Forum was purposefully entitled "Family Entrepreneurship" to acknowledge the growing consensus that the family firm is a combination of the family system with the entrepreneurial behaviors of its members (Heck and Mishra 2009; Mishra and Heck 2007). The emerging paths of family entrepreneurship research blend our disciplinary orientations and diverse methodologies in new and creative ways. Thus, we are building a research field of our own with promise of both useful and unique frameworks, models, and theories as well as tailored and innovative methodologies; all leading to more meaningful, accurate, and applicable results.

As Robert Frost's well-known poem "The Road Less Traveled" portrays the traveler on the less traveled road (Frost 1993, p. 72), researchers of family entrepreneurship have future research choices that will "make all the difference" in uncovering new understandings that few will find. These new understandings will be instrumental in enhancing and advancing our field of study in the future. The bulk of research conducted within business schools has ignored the family dimension of enterprises. This is surprising given most of the world's firms are family firms. An ongoing challenge is to develop more theories that include the role of family in the entrepreneurial process. We strongly believe that not unlike the traveler in Frost's famous poem, taking the less traveled "research road"--though not without risk--has many benefits.

This special issue represents a challenge for researchers to be "brave" and innovative about new and different ways to view a family firm and to find and embark on the emerging paths that lie before us.

Early Body of Knowledge: Prior to 2000

Disciplinary Roots

Early family business knowledge and research came from a variety of disciplinary roots and a cadre of fields of study. Writers and researchers, some often operating from a consulting perspective, began noticing that many businesses had members from the owning families involved with the business, either as owners, managers or employees. These early researchers hailed from an eclectic group of academic areas including the behavioral sciences, finance, law, and management as well as a few from house-hold economics and management, and family studies including the evolution and application of family systems theory.

Quite naturally, the early researchers brought to their research the models and methods from their respective disciplines even though there was budding recognition that a family business was different from the traditional and isolated notion of a business (Organization Dynamics 1983). Thus, early family business research often suffered from the sometimes limited view of the researchers' disciplinary roots. Nonetheless, great progress was afoot because prior to this early period, business research modeling and samples had, in general and without deliberate neglect, hidden the fact that family businesses were present, not only in industry samples of firms, but in the real world, whereas most business and research omitted this reality from their modeling and studies of businesses.

For example, agency theory has long stood as a widely applied theory explaining the relationship between ownership and management within a firm. …

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