Practitioner Commentary: Moving from Theory to Practice in Family Business Research

By Vought, Kimber L.; Baker, LaKami T. et al. | Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Practitioner Commentary: Moving from Theory to Practice in Family Business Research


Vought, Kimber L., Baker, LaKami T., Smith, Garry D., Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice


This paper examines the papers presented at the 2007 Theories of Family Enterprise Conference for their applicability to practice and presents some ideas to make family business research more appropriate to practitioners. In general, we found the papers are not immediately useful to practitioners; however, the papers of a theory conference should not necessarily be immediately useful to practitioners. We identify several areas for future research, which include the development of a concrete definition for family business, a thorough analysis of the positive and negative effects of the concept of familiness, a close look at failed family business, as well as other issues.

Introduction

The field of family business is based on the assumption that family firms are different from nonfamily firms in some important ways (Chrisman, Chua, & Sharma, 2005; Sharma, Chrisman, & Chua, 1997). However, determining "how" and "why" family firms differ from nonfamily finns has been problematic for researchers who are trying to build theory and contribute to practice. Academics are trying earnestly to move the field forward with conferences dedicated to research on family firms. In that light, this article examines the papers presented at the May 2007 Theories of Family Enterprise Conference held at Mississippi State University to identify the practical contributions of each to the field of family business. In other words, our purpose is to discuss how we can best translate the theoretical advances that have occurred in the field into insights that will improve practice.

Before getting into our observations of the output of the conference, we note that a good theory does not have to be immediately useful to practitioners. In fact, many theories are not immediately useful--they take testing, restating, and interpretation so they can be applied to real-world problems. Thus, if all of the papers presented at a theory conference are immediately useful and practical, then the conference is probably not a true theory conference. However, it is important that researchers, when developing the field, periodically question whether the theories they are developing can eventually help solve practitioners' problems. We attempt to provide some insight on how research and theory development could be more useful to practitioners.

Theory to Practice

In our opinion, most family business owners and managers would not have found the conference stimulating or would not have seen the relevancy of many of the papers presented or included in this special issue. However, we believe individuals that assist family business operators such as lawyers, accountants, and consultants would value the conference and the special issue more highly. Moreover, we believe that both these observations are positive with respect to the conference, its participants, and this special issue. While the current research on family business does offer promise in assisting family businesses to achieve better results (Chrisman et al., 2005), there is still a need to develop both a general theory of the family firm and subtheories on different aspects of operating a family firm. The direction provided by a cogent theory can facilitate research and allow the field to move forward in a rational manner that may provide some information that is immediately useful, and more information that will be useful in the future. We must have theory to provide roadmaps to focus the research. The following discussion attempts to clarify our conclusion relative to both family business operators and advisors.

From the perspective of a business owner, the apparent lack of consensus about the definition of a family business is of concern. It is disheartening for practitioners to hear, "We are here to help you and we will, just as soon as we figure out who you are." In some ways, practitioners do not care so much about the specifics of the definition as long as the definition has face validity. …

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