Succession - University of Auckland Business Review

Hard Graft
Paul Woodfield
Research surrounding family businesses
is saturated with talk of trouble. Academics
and practitioners often miss what works
well and how a business can build on its
strengths and create a vision for the future.
Usually the focus is on the succession
process rather than the question of whether
a family business can be sustained across
generations and by what means. There
needs to be a change of perspective that
addresses how families can refine their
businesses without perpetual navel gazing.
38 | University of Auckland Business Review, Volume 16 No1, 2013
To build sustainable businesses, families
must understand how entrepreneurial
orientation and heritage interact
LENGTH : 10 min (2570 words)
Growing up, I found the stories of my heritage intriguing.
My great-grandfather had built a wine business from money
he made as an importer of fancy goods.
Following the entrepreneurial mantra, he
and his wife endured times of risk and
uncertainty while bringing up a family
that would be integral to the success of
their business. Corbans wines grew to be
the largest winery in New Zealand, with
each generation pushing the boundaries
with innovative thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit.
As with many of the wine industry’s
older families, at Corbans knowledge was
passed on with a respect for the next
generation’s education and experience.
At the time, the younger generations
of the pioneering families were among
the first to get formal qualifications in
viticulture and oenology, and consequently huge advances were made in the
commercialisation of wine. The Corban
family remained competitive in the fruitful
climate but the time came when external
finance outweighed that of the family,
and the decision was made to make what
they could of their 75-year investment by
handing the reigns over to a transnational. The brand remains as a legacy but the
essence that was the family is now lost. It
is a common story.
What are family businesses?
Most definitions of family businesses
refer to the ownership and management—and sometimes the governance—
structure. What is often neglected is the
business’ continuity—a focus on sustaining a family business across generations.
40 | University of Auckland Business Review, Volume 16 No1, 2013
Intergenerational family businesses refer
to businesses that have more than one
generation in the business. Writing in
the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and
Practice, researchers Jess Chua, James
Chrisman and Pramodita Sharma defined
a family business as: • One that is governed and/or managed
and controlled by a dominant coalition
of the same family or small number of
• One where the family or families intend
shaping and pursuing the vision of the
business in a manner that is potentially
sustainable across generations.
A recent article by Pramodita Sharma, James Chrisman and Kelin Gersick—
all preeminent scholars and practitioners
in the family business field—reviewed
common topics featured in the journal Family Business Review. Since the
1980s, the bellwether topic has been
succession, but numerous others have
been explored, including challenges
and conflicts within a family business,
the dynamics of relationships, business
performance, governance, professionalisation, and internationalisation. More
recently there has been strong interest in entrepreneurship and, to a lesser
extent, innovation. Bringing family
business, succession, and entrepreneurship together, my recent research has
focused on how an entrepreneurial
family business can be sustained across
generations. This article will concentrate
on some of the findings.
Knowing your orientation
there is awareness that entrepreneurship
is an essential element of any business,
although many businesses—including
family businesses—don’t see themselves
as entrepreneurial. This becomes obvious when speaking with family-business
owners, who often relate their endeavours
to “business as usual” or to “projects”
that they are working on. This difference
in lexicon demonstrates the gap between
academic “observers” and practitioner
Academics describe entrepreneurs as
those who gain new entry to a market,
or perhaps create a new market, while
practitioners consider themselves to be
engaged in a broader continuum of projects that may lead to something. Interestingly, what practitioners describe aligns
well with the foundational definition of
entrepreneurship, which is “undertaking
a project”. Without distorting this definition too much, I would go further, and
describe an entrepreneur as someone
who undertakes innovative projects—ones
that involve taking a product or service to
market, and/or establishing new markets.
Undertaking innovative projects inherently means taking on a degree of risk and
More recently, research has shifted
from a study of entrepreneurial behaviour
and the role of an entrepreneur to how
a business is oriented entrepreneurially.
Instead of focusing on what entrepreneurs
do or think through concepts such as risk
and uncertainty, scholars now recognise
what it is to be entrepreneurial, and how
individuals and organisations can orientate toward being entrepreneurial. This
line of thought originated in the following
way. In 1983, Canadian academic Danny
Miller presented firms as having one of
three configurations—the simple firm,
the organic firm, and the planning firm.
His suggestion was that entrepreneurship in simple firms was founded on the
characteristics of the leader. An example
of this is a business where a leader tends
to strategise intuitively rather than engaging in analytical thinking. Planning firms
were more deliberate with their integrated
marketing strategies, meaning they would
engage in more elaborate planning and
control systems. Organic firms, on the
other hand, sit between these configurations and “strive to be adaptive to their
environments, emphasising expertisebased power and open communications”.
Almost 30 years on, and after a proliferation of research based on his seminal
1983 article, Miller acknowledged that
the purpose of it was to show that the
drivers of entrepreneurship manifested
themselves differently in different organisational configurations. Little did he
realise that from this foundation would
emerge a movement toward understanding entrepreneurship within organisations
(corporate entrepreneurship) and, more
recently, how organisations adopt various
entrepreneurial orientations. This evolution from theorising the configuration of
firms to entrepreneurial orientation helps
academics and practitioners unbundle
entrepreneurship in a more strategic way.
means taking
on a degree
of risk and
Entrepreneurial orientation
Danny Miller, Chair in Family Enterprise and Strategy at the
University of Alberta, is also well
known for his articulation of entrepreneurship in family businesses and his
formative work on intergenerational
succession. Miller encouraged scholars
and practitioners to be mindful of family
businesses’ entrepreneurial orientation.
In their article ‘The role of entrepreneurial orientation in stimulating effective
corporate entrepreneurship’, Researchers
Gregory Dess of the University of Texas
at Dallas and Tom Lumpkin of Syracuse
University include among concepts that
underscore entrepreneurial orientation:
“the propensity to act autonomously, a
willingness to innovate and take risks,
and a tendency to be aggressive toward
competitors and proactive relative to
marketplace opportunities.” Although all
are of importance to the robust entrepreneurial orientation of a family business,
the willingness to innovate is key. In my
research, innovativeness featured strongly
where knowledge was shared within the
family business.
One of the key resources for innovation is knowledge. American management
consultant Peter Drucker once stated that
knowledge was not just a resource but the
resource that underpins society. For a family business to be innovative the sources of
knowledge need to be considered as well
as the conditions under which knowledge
is tested and refined in individuals and
Having outlined the background of
family businesses in relation to entrepreneurship, let’s now look at a local study
completed in 2012 that captured stories
from family businesses themselves.
Wine trail of interviews
Recently, I spent time travelling
around New Zealand visiting family
wine businesses —not an unpleasant
task! The aim in each case was to speak
to the entire family involved in the
business as well as to a number of key
employees. The main criteria were that
they were medium-sized, intergenerational New Zealand businesses. To find
out what had worked well an appreciative inquiry approach was important.
Essentially this meant that all questions
were positive by nature—for example,
asking about strengths or highpoints
in the business’ growth. In total, three
wineries were visited and 27 interviews
conducted, averaging an hour in length.
Typically, interviews with family members were longer but the more objective
views from employees were invaluable.
Corporate Venturing
Strategic Renewal
Competitive Aggressiveness
Figure 1: The general evolution of entrepreneurial orientation
42 | University of Auckland Business Review, Volume 16 No1, 2013
All interviews were transcribed verbatim, then categorised, synthesised, and
analysed for patterns and emerging
Grafting the generations
All respondents spoke candidly about
their business, with some telling stories
of struggles, risks taken, and of ensuing
times of uncertainty. A number of themes
emerged, including three relating to the
sharing of knowledge in family businesses:
• Aptitude: Acquired through the accumulation of knowledge. Sources of
this knowledge included any competence gained through formal education
—which need not be aligned with the
family business. Practical experiences
featured prominently and included travel,
working in other industries, and even
working for competitors.
• Guidance and grooming: Beyond aptitude, guidance and grooming includes
knowledge gained from family members
and from outsiders such as advisors or
board members. The son in one business,
for example, was mentored by a board
member with extensive industry experience who had previously mentored his
• Continuity: The continuity theme relates to the conditions where knowledge
is tested. It includes succession planning,
the transition between generations, and
the assent of the next generation. Succession is often referred to as a process
and not merely an event. To reflect the
process, this theme was formulated as
planning, transition, and ascension.
I find “two sides of a coin” a useful
metaphor to illustrate knowledge sharing in a family enterprise. Obviously, a
coin has two sides—obverse and reverse
respectively. Relating the coin metaphor
to the generations in a family, obverse
knowledge sharing occurs from the
senior generation to the next generation,
and reverse knowledge sharing occurs
from the next generation to the senior
generation. The knowledge overlap can
be expressed as diverse knowledge sharing where there is potential for conflict.
In a family business, it is often assumed
that the senior generation will pass on
knowledge to the next generation. This
is often true, given the accumulated
education and experience that the
senior generation(s) possess. However
the reverse can also be true. Given the
advancement of technology and science,
the next generation of a family business
can possess knowledge that was not
available to the senior generation. The
same also holds for experiences gained
through travel and individual careers.
One memorable example was a nextgeneration family member who had a
financial interest in bars and was involved
in a number of sports. These experiences
were translated into ways where the
family wines could be showcased and
promoted beyond traditional channels.
Thomas Kalling, director of the
Institute of Economic Research at Lund
University, and Alexander Styhre of the
University of Gothenburg, viewed knowledge sharing as the single most important knowledge management practice,
given the opportunities and challenges
associated with “invisible assets”. These
are assets such as tacit knowledge that
are unseen, hard to replicate and idiosyncratic to individuals or to the collective
family. The senior generation tends to exercise accrued wisdom through intuition,
foresight, and pragmatism, and can at
times frustrate the next generation who
often want to exercise knowledge from
fresh experiences and up-to-date education. Family members need to be aware
of this potential clash in knowledge and
respect each other’s views. Importantly,
the next generation needs to be treated
as the emerging experts as they consider
stepping up in the business.
44 | University of Auckland Business Review, Volume 16 No1, 2013
Knowledge sharing to innovation
One of the more enduring phenomena
within family businesses is their long-term
orientation. CEOs of non-family businesses
tend to address the short-term orientation
of the business, or as I like to put it “theirterm orientation”. As an employee, a CEO
can bring about change and align the culture of the business with his or her values
through leadership. This has advantages—
especially where change is needed—but
it can be short lived. Family businesses are
likely to have the same CEO for a long term
and all going well the successor will also
be a family member. Such long-term focus
and stability can lead to an accumulation
of knowledge that is trustworthy, built on
shared values, and consistent. The question is whether this is enough to invoke an
innovative mindset that can re-orientate a
business or feed the growth necessary for a
sustained enterprise. It is my belief that the
next generation can be key to advancing
innovation through their refreshed education and experiences. The task for the
senior generation is to provide an environment that entices the next generation to
be open with their knowledge and engage
in innovativeness within the family business
rather than somewhere else.
Examples uncovered by my research
include the introduction of organic growing by a daughter of one family wine
business, and the systems approach and
innovative partnerships of another.
With her siblings already in the family
business, one daughter struggled to see
how she would fit into the business. She
was a viticulturist, but so was her father,
and he appeared likely to remain in the
business for some time. She proposed
that she use the experience gained at
other wineries to start an organic growing operation. Initially dubious, the
father set aside several hectares for her to
experiment with. What eventuated was a
The key inference in each case is that the
senior generation was open to advancing
the family business through the new
knowledge the next generation was able
to bring to the table.
46 | University of Auckland Business Review, Volume 16 No1, 2013
successful and award-winning sub-brand
that catered to a market not previously
pursued by the family business. The
father then gave her more leeway to
experiment with different varieties on yet
more land.
The second example is of a son who
defied the traditional practices of the
senior generation and, drawing on an
extensive career in commerce, introduced systems that generated a better
understanding of the cost of each bottle
produced. It allowed the family to reduce
the uncertainty around costs and introduce more innovative pricing structures.
Another aspect introduced by the next
generation was the forming of innovative partnerships. These were not just
for production, but for the acquisition of
other wineries and land through nonfamily partnerships that the family later
acquired through buyouts. Although
not revolutionary, this example provided
leverage to purchase within the confines
of the debt constraints imposed by the
family as part of their long-term orientation strategy. By not over exposing themselves financially they were one of the
few wineries that expanded when others
were downsizing.
The key inference in each case is that
the senior generation was open to advancing the family business through the
new knowledge the next generation was
able to bring to the table. Talking with
both the senior and next generations of a
family business revealed that the succession process was where rich knowledge
could be found. However it is also where
it can be lost. Through guidance and
grooming, knowledge can be disseminated, but guidance can equally come from
the next generation as a result of their
fresh competencies.
Parting Remarks
There will be challenges and
conflict in any family business. What
advisors can do is refocus family businesses on what has worked in the past
and what is currently working, and
build on these strengths. This is not to
say that some reflection on mistakes
or challenges is not also important.
However understanding what works
well can refine the vision for the
future. A family business is not limited
to one generation but is an intergenerational environment. Importantly, a
clear focus on the family’s entrepreneurial orientation for their business
will inevitably strengthen the focus on
what works well.
Capturing the knowledge from all
willing family members can change
the attitude of the family business.
Through careful guidance and grooming by the senior generation, and
respectful acknowledgement of the
next generation’s competencies, family businesses have a better chance at
being innovative. They are also more
likely to enjoy a harmonious transition
between generations when the time
comes. One of the advantages the
senior generation has is the ability to
draw on experience to mitigate overzealousness on the part of the next
generation. The key is not to smother
the next generation with outdated
traditions, but to revitalise its heritage
through the grafting of new concepts.
Paul Woodfield is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at
the University of Auckland
Business School’s Centre for
Enrepreneurial Learning. His
main research interests are in
the fields of family business,
entrepreneurship, and innovation in traditional industries.
[email protected]
This research was made possible through the support of the
Employers and Manufacturers
Association and the Tertiary
Education Commission.
key take-outs
The willingness to innovate is key to the entrepreneurial orientation of a family business.
The next generation needs to be treated as the emerging experts as they consider stepping
up in the business.
The task for the senior generation is to provide an environment that entices the next
generation to be open with its knowledge and to engage in innovation within the family
business rather than elsewhere.