Interview with Prof. Mattias Nordqvist, CeFEO, Jönköping International Business School, Sweden

Located in the south of Sweden is the Centre for Family Enterprise and Ownership (CeFEO), one of the most prestigious family business research centres in the world. Established in 2005 at the Jönköping International Business School, the CeFEO is one of the only Scandinavian centres specialised in family business. The centre, globally known for its innovative educators and published works, strongly focuses on advancing family business research. Tharawat sat down with Mattias Nordqvist, professor of management with a focus on family business and entrepreneurship, to discuss what brought him to the field, the state of family business education in Scandinavia is, and why more research-based knowledge is needed.

When did you join the family business field?

I have been in the field for 16 years. My parents had a business, so I guess it was meant to be. I have always liked this topic because you deal with businesses that look ahead.

Why is it important now, more than ever, to talk about family business in education?
Over the years I have seen the importance of this topic increase. Many ownership transitions are currently happening in Europe, which is one reason the family business topic is on the table. It is mostly family businesses that are facing succession. The preferred current trend is to transfer ownership to family members. A few years ago families were more inclined to sell the business by the time the managing generations were ready to retire.

Another reason why family business is on people’s minds is due to the increased emphasis on social responsibility. Corporations are under great scrutiny when it comes to responsible action. There is increased pressure on family firms to be transparent and show accountability, which requires increased knowledge in and surrounding the topic. We are also learning more about how business is conducted in emerging economies.

What do you think of the state of family business education?

The field has grown globally. There are more and more education programs emerging, and more and more courses taught by experts with research backgrounds. I find this trend positive. As the world becomes increasingly complex, knowledge needs to be more based on research and proven practice. What is taught should be based on scientific foundations. We have to legitimise what we teach as much as possible, as has been the case over the past few years.

The recognition of the importance of family business has not been equal across the board however. For instance, here in Scandinavia, we are pretty much the only business school with a family business centre. Unfortunately, I think that in the past business education in our region has concentrated on teaching students how to be good employees for big multinationals. We also have a large public sector and many graduates end up working in it. There has also been a lot of focus on start-up entrepreneurship. The lack of emphasis on family businesses as employers, or even as non-family managers, is surprising. About 60% of the Swedish economy is composed of family owned companies and yet we are not preparing students to consider this as a potential career path.