German family firm conference in Siegen

March, 7-8 the German Family Firm Research Conference (“FIFU DACHLi”) took place in Siegen. More than 60 researchers and practitioners met in order to share new research ideas and to listen to interesting keynotes of Simon Parker and Karl Wennberg. The Family Firm team of WHU was present with 6 participants, taking active roles in the doctoral round tables and paper presentations.

The best paper award was given to my PhD student Alexandra Michel (University of St. Gallen) for her empirical work on advisor utilitization and family firm advising. Congratulations! Alexandra-best-paper

Family Ownership Stake: Does the Amount Matter?

Often we treat family firms as a monolithic group. In particular, we do not make any differences between firms in which a family holds the majority of shares versus a firm in which the family is a blockholder with as few as 5 or 10% ownership shares. But is this simplification correct?

To answer those questions my former student Nemo Rime, who now works as an investment banking analyst in London, and I sat together in 2013 to design a study that answers how pure family firms (ownership >25%; FF), family-influenced firms (ownership between 5 and 25%; FIF), and non-family firms (NFF) differ in terms of various performance measures and investment behavior.

That‘s the outcome, as summarized in Nemo‘s excellent thesis:

  • In Germany, the pure family firms clearly outperformed the other types of organizations with respect to profit margins. In Switzerland, however, the non-family firms outperformed. Overall, we observed an outperformance of family firms with respect to several performance indicators.
  • Family-influenced firms, however, play a more volatile role, sometimes being top performers and sometimes underperformers
  • The outperformance of family-firms was observed in most years between 2000 and 2014 but seems to be stronger in times of economic crises as compared to boosting economies.
  • Pure family firms spend most money on CAPEX investments and family-influenced firms spend least money on CAPEX.
  • Family-influenced companies had the highest R&D investment, whereas pure family firms had the lowest R&D investments.

More analyses are now required. For instance, some of the findigs above might be due to industry or size differences. But what do we learn so far? Clearly, it is not a good idea to treat all family firms the same, but our anaylses need to become much more advanced!

Rime (2016): EBITDA margin of pure family firms (FF), family-influenced firms (FIF), and non-family firms (NFF)

The findings of this study are based on 365 publically listed German and Swiss firms that were observed from 2000 to 2014.

CEO characteristics and family firm performance

Many researchers aimed to find out how CEO characteristics affect the performance of large, publicly listed non-family firms. But how about family firms, in which the CEO often has a specific role and long tenure? Is there any specific relationship between CEO age or education and family firm performance? HSG-student Tobias Schori aimed to answer this research question in his master thesis. He collected data on 142 listed family firms from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France in 2013 and finds the following:

  • Functional diversity of the CEO – meaning that the CEO had worked in several different functional areas of the company – has a significant, positive effect on family firm performance (measured as profitability)
  • There is slight evidence that the higher the education of the CEO, the better the family firm performance (measured as Tobin’s Q).
  • Interestingly, the positive effect of CEO education and CEO functional diversity exists for family firms with more than 25% family ownership – but disappears when considering family firms with 5-25% family ownership
  • Contrarily to what we expected, the age of the CEO and the tenure of the CEO did not significantly affect firm performance

The following table illustrates some of the key variables and in particular differences between family and non-family CEOs.

In case of questions or if interested in the full text, please contact nadine.kammerlander[at]

Descriptive data (source: T. Schori)
Descriptive data (source: T. Schori)

New article on Value Creation in Family Firms

Why are family firms more (or less) able to be successful over the long term as compared to other types of businesses? This is clearly one of the core questions of research on family firm research. While much research has been devoted to answering this question, our knowledge is still much fragmented. Thus, in this conceptual article, my co-authors and I call for more integrated research on family firms and their (dis-)advantages. We conclude that much research on, for instance, resources of family firms as well as governance structures of family firms has been conducted, but far too few effort has been dedicated to exploring the nexuses of those aspects.

Model of Value Creation
Model of Value Creation


Besides calling for more multi-theoretical theory building, the paper discusses, amongst others, the following topics.

  • “Goal ambidexterity”: We discuss three different types of family firms that are different in terms of their goals: Dreamers that focus on non-financial goals, traders that focus on financial-goals, and professional owners that manage both, financial and non-financial goals. We argue that professional owners (who possess “goal ambidexterity”) will benefit most in the long term.
  • We further discuss strategy formulation in family firms and note how an effectuation approach can be helpful not only for startups as discussed in prior literature, but also for family firms.
  • Moreover, we also discuss the different layers of governance that family firms need to be aware of: firm governance, owner governance, family governance, wealth governance. We highlight existing literature and discuss the interwoven nature of those aspects.
Goal diversity in family firms
Goal diversity in family firms

Link to article: here

Citation of the paper:

N. Kammerlander, P. Sieger, W. Voordeckers, T. Zellweger. 2015. Value Creation in Family Firms: A Model of Fit. Journal of Family Business Strategy 6(2): 63-72. doi:10.1016/j.jfbs.2015.04.001