Master Theses are offered: Family Firms in the US

Family Firm Researchers at the Chair of SME Research and Entrepreneurship offer master students a unique opportunity to write their theses on family firms in the US context. Students will have a chance to learn and apply the state-of-the-art techniques in research by compiling and using a unique dataset of S&P 1500 firms in the US.

Family firms, that frequently emerge when owner-leaders of entrepreneurial ventures wish to perpetuate their economic activities, are globally the most frequent firm type (La Porta, Lopez-De-Silanes, & Shleifer, 1999; Faccio & Lang, 2002). Their contributions to growth, innovation, robustness and longevity are substantial to the success of the global economy, making them a pillar for sustainable prosperity and development.

Family firms operate in a polar tension between continuity, stability, reliability, sustainability and management for the long-run as one pole; while successful family firms are often steered in a fashion that cherishes dynamic adaption to changing environments, innovation, strategic renewal and succession as the other pole (Miller & LeBreton-Miller; 2005).

In the last twenty years, family firm research made significant progress in terms of theoretical underpinnings, but the field still lacks a systematic adoption of thorough and theoretically-based frameworks (Chrisman, Chua, & Sharma, 2003; Zahra & Sharma, 2004). The key topics mirror issues of family business managers, with the main ones being succession, economic performance, and firm governance (Chrisman, Chua, & Sharma, 1996; Debicki, Matherne, Kellermanns, & Chrisman, 2009), while significant areas of the field clear deserve more scholarly scrutiny, especially the domain of effective family firm management, strategy, and governance.

Moreover, sociological and psychological aspects remain under-researched, although it is well known that family firm garner and capitalize in particular on social capital. Their focus on sustainability, both financially and non-financially, often leads to the emergence of a fragile social structure around them – consisting of a web of strong and weak relational ties – that often goes along with the development of shared values and vibrant firm cultures (Long, 2011), which needs to be understood better in several dimensions. Emergent social structures (Ekeh, 1974) may influence and alter managerial behavior at helm of the family firm and thereby affect family firm performance: the social individual, the individual in his group setting (Asch, 1952), remains largely unexplored (Ahrens, Calabrò, Huybrechts, & Woywode, 2019). Similarly, the field has found that part of the economic and non-economic relations often create a strong regional and spatial anchoring, the consequence of the activities of family firms for the regions, cities, provinces as well as the trajectories they create need to be better understood (Stough, Welter, Block, Wennberg, & Basco, 2015).

From a theoretical point of view, we welcome theses with interesting and new hypotheses that may include, but are not limited to:

  • agency theory,
  • leadership theory,
  • social exchange theory,
  • resource-based theory,
  • theory of the firm,
  • identity theory,
  • upper echelon theory,
  • organizational theories,
  • theories of familiness, et cetera.


We encourage students to test hypotheses that may advance or help to reinterpret existing theory and knowledge in the field of family business research.

Dr. Jan-Philipp Ahrens (
Marc Kowalzick (
Baris Istipliler (




  1. Ahrens, J.-P., Calabrò, A., Huybrechts, J., Woywode, M. (2019). The enigma of the family successor–firm performance relationship: A methodological reflection and reconciliation attempt. Entrepreneurship, Theory & Practice, (forthcoming).
  2. Anderson, R. C., & Reeb, D. M. (2003). Founding‐family ownership and firm performance: evidence from the S&P 500. The Journal of Finance, 58(3), 1301-1328.
  3. Chua, J. H., Chrisman, J. J., & Sharma, P. (1999). Defining the family business by behavior. Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice23(4), 19-39.
  4. Daspit, J. J., Holt, D. T., Chrisman, J. J., & Long, R. G. (2016). Examining family firm succession from a social exchange perspective: A multiphase, multistakeholder review. Family Business Review29(1), 44-64.
  5. Feldman, E. R., Amit, R., & Villalonga, B. (2019) Family firms and the stock market performance of acquisitions and divestitures. Strategic Management Journal, forthcoming.
  6. Miller, D., & Le Breton-Miller, I. (2011). Governance, social identity, and entrepreneurial orientation in closely held public companies. Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, 35(5), 1051-1076.
  7. Schmid, T., Achleitner, A. K., Ampenberger, M., & Kaserer, C. (2014). Family firms and R&D behavior–New evidence from a large-scale survey. Research Policy, 43(1), 233-244.
  8. Villalonga, B., & Amit, R. (2006). How do family ownership, control and management affect firm value?. Journal of Financial Economics, 80(2), 385-417.



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