Seminar #24 – September 1, 2021


Albertha Wielsma

date: September 1, 2021

time: 12:00-13:00 (CET)

location: Zoom (private event)

ABSTRACT – Research in the family firm field indicates that family firms can capitalize on their connection with the family by highlighting their family firm nature. Nevertheless, family firms are very heterogeneous in their communication practices concerning this aspect. The purpose of this research is to provide a better understanding of why some family SMEs emphasize their family firm nature in their communication and others do not or to a much lesser extent. The paper presents the findings of a longitudinal case study of 12 SMEs that participated in a research project about Corporate Communications. During this project drivers and impediments for highlighting the family firm nature were collected through interviews and workshops. 

The findings show that family firm owners are driven to highlight their family firm nature by both identity and reputation related motives. Examples are pride of their ownership, of the firm and the achievements of the family and a belief that highlighting their family firm ownership is positive for their reputation and helps them to distinguish themselves from competitors. These drivers are in line with theoretical insights on Reputation and Socioemotional wealth and the, albeit scarce, previous empirical studies about motives. The impediments concern the identity of the firm, personal characteristics of the owner(s) and concern for possible disadvantages of emphasizing the family firm nature, such as the increased dependence of the firm reputation on the family and negative perceptions of stakeholders. A salient impediment constitutes the role of the staff. Owners are concerned that highlighting family ownership of the firm divides the firm members into family and non-family, and that this disturbs the identification of the nonfamily employees with the team and the firm, disrupting the team spirit. Lack of knowledge to execute the communication of the family firm nature proved to be a practical impediment. The various motives were not randomly spread through the project. Several impediments only surfaced at a later stage of the project as a result of growing awareness, for instance concerning the role of the staff. The study contributes to our understanding of (the heterogeneity of) family firm identity expressions, particularly to the impediments. For (SME) family firm owners/managers and consultants the study suggests that the staff should be actively involved in the strategy to highlight the family firm nature and that sufficient knowledge is present in the firm. 

PRESENTER – Windesheim University of Applied Sciences; Dutch Centre of Expertise in Family Business

HOST – EDHEC Family Business Research Centre; EDHEC Business School

DISCUSSANT – Department of Management and Entrepreneurship; University of Bern


Albertha Wielsma

Researcher & Senior Lecturer