Lancaster Centre for Family Business Builds Bridges Between Academia and the Business Community

Research efforts in the family business field have been steadily increasing over the past few decades. Academics all over the world have made their contributions to the understanding of family-owned firms and their impact on the economy. Family business centres and degrees have sprung from universities everywhere dedicating their efforts to producing research and education in the field.

Last week we travelled to the North West of England to the idyllic city of Lancaster in Lancashire. This county town is home to one of Britain’s leading universities in existence for over 50 years and educating over 18’000 students. We visited the Centre for Family Business at Lancaster University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (IEED). The IEED has long been engaged in providing executive education and business support programs reaching out to the community and the Centre for Family Business is following suit in exemplary fashion.

The event we attended celebrated Lancaster University’s 50th anniversary, and 11 years of IEED. Under the new leadership of Prof. Alfredo De Massis, leading family business scholar and Director of the Centre for Family Business, the centre instated on this occasion a Research Advisory Board and a Business Advisory Board to guide research efforts in alignment with real life challenges faced by family businesses. The research advisory board composed of family business luminaries Prof. Frank Hoy (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, U.S), Prof. Mike Wright, Prof. Jess Chua (Chairman of the Research Advisory Board), Prof. Carole Howorth (Bradford University School of Management, UK), Prof. Alfredo De Massis and emerging scholars such as Dr. Josip Kotlar (Lecturer in Family Business, Lancaster) and Dr. Allan Discua Cruz (Lecturer in Entrepreneurship), outlined the most pressing research questions to be addressed in the family business field over the coming years. In a separate meeting the Business Advisory Board, which was composed of family business owners Alison Park (Owner, Low Sizergh Barn Ltd), Edwin Booth (Chairman, Booths Supermarket Ltd), Andrew Beale (Managing Director, Beales Hotels), Chris Cox (Managing Director, George Cox Ltd), Daniel McLaughlin (Enterprise Strategy, Department for Business Innovation and Skills), and Mark Evans (Managing Director, Coutts Institute), coordinated by Jacqueline Jackson (Lancaster University Management School) came together to determine what is foremost on their minds with regards to their family businesses.

During the later part of the day, the two boards gathered to compare notes. It was enlightening to hear the family business owners’ main concerns: “We want to be good businesses first. Independently of whether we are family-owned or not, it is crucial that we lead sustainable and transparent companies,” said Edwin Booth, Chairman of Booths Supermarket Ltd. “We also need to focus on the authenticity of our family business brands. We have to make sure that we keep producing authentic and innovative products and services that will stand the test of time,” added Andrew Beale, Managing Director of Beales Hotels. Prof. Jess Chua, Chairman of the Research Advisory Board, highlighted that family business research should no longer centre merely on the differences between family and non-family firms but focus on what extent the families are involved in the business and what the outcomes are. “We have to move on from asking the question ‘why’, to asking the question ‘how’,” he added, mentioning a special issue that he is editing on this topic with Prof. De Massis and three other scholars for the leading entrepreneurship journal Small Business Economics.

The second day of the event was dedicated to providing PhD students in the field entrepreneurship and family business with insights from journal editors and family business academics as to the future of the field. Prof. Gloria Barczak (Editor-in-Chief, JPIM), Prof. Mike Wright (Imperial College Business School), and Prof. Jess Chua (Chairman of the Research Advisory Board and Professor of Finance at Calgary University, Canada) and Prof. Frank Hoy (Worcester Polytechnic Institute, U.S) shared their expertise in submitting successful papers to academic journals, centring research around the right questions, and future directions of the family business field.

Prof. De Massis’ vision for the future of the Lancaster Centre for Family Business is to maintain a steady dialogue between academia and family businesses in order to continually align the centre’s focus to reality. This attempt at bridging the gap between research and business challenges promises exciting results and more insights for family firms around the world on how to make their legacies last.

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