Although family businesses are the predominant type of company in most countries in the world, they have not yet been the focus of scientific research. The Foundation for Family Businesses has made this its task, namely to examine the role of family businesses from a scientific perspective. In addition, the foundation provides family businesses with important advice on legal, tax and economic matters as well as on political and social issues. Though the Foundation for Family Businesses does not undertake any studies itself, it does commission studies by scientific institutes such as the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim or the Ifo Institute in Munich.
“A positive trend is emerging: even universities with a long tradition are devoting attention to the most significant corporate form – the archetype of business activity.”
Prof. Brun-Hagen Hennerkes, Chairman of the Foundation for Family Businesses
The Foundation for Family Businesses first evaluated the economic weight of family businesses in Germany in 2006. Since then, the contribution of family businesses to the Germany economy has been examined in terms of revenue and employment, while the 500 largest family businesses have also been compared with non-family-owned DAX companies.
Entitled “The Economic Significance of Family Businesses”, the study is widely cited in academic literature and in the media.
The economic importance of family businesses in Germany
The results of the study conducted by ZEW Mannheim are not only cited in scientific literature, but have also been included in reports on family businesses. German daily FAZ detailed the results of the most recent update of the study, entitling their feature article “Jobs for Germany – family businesses beat the DAX.”
The "Family Business Country Index”, which the Foundation for Family Businesses has regularly commissioned since 2006, is another contribution to basic research. In this study, the ZEW compares location factors for family businesses across 18 OECD countries. Based on hard facts in fields such as education, taxation, finance and infrastructure, this comprehensive analysis provides a compass for businesses as well as key benchmarks for governments interested in promoting family businesses. The country index is released every two years, with the latest version appearing this year.
The map compares how attractive the countries surveyed are as a locations for family businesses. A country’s rank is shown under its country code.
Another study initiated by the foundation is concerned with the question of how family businesses are perceived as potential employers by the very competitive group of highly skilled specialists and managers.
The study was based on supervised interviews conducted at the Family-Business Careers Day. Most recently carried out in 2014 by the Technical University of Munich, this survey is among the most in-depth in the German-speaking countries due to the large sample of 1,466 respondents and the long time period it covers.
Family businesses rank better than non-family businesses in ten out of the 14 survey criteria in terms of career prospects and the expectations of young professionals. This is the case, for example, with the criteria “good working environment”, “ability to work independently” and “flat hierarchies”. In the opinion of the applicants, family businesses compare less favourably in criteria such as “international reach” and “location”. “However, large family businesses offer greater international career opportunities than major corporations with a widespread public presence,” said Stefan Heidbreder, Managing Director of the Foundation for Family Businesses, during his presentation of the results. “In future, family enterprises should direct job applicants’ attention to this fact much more clearly than they have in the past.”
Criteria for choosing an employer:
comparison of family/non-family businesses in 2014/2015
Business succession is inseparably connected to the development of a family business. In the process, the opinions and values of potential successors play a decisive role. Thus for many years now, Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen has been researching how “Germany’s next generation of business owners” thinks and acts. This is the title of the largest empirical study of its kind, which was initiated with the support of the Foundation for Family Businesses. The study analyses opinions and attitudes of the generation that is likely, during the coming years, to take on responsibility as shareholders and managing directors of family businesses. The fourth update to this study has been available since December 2017.
The Advisory Board of the Foundation for Family Businesses currently consists of five members, and advises the foundation in the orientation of its work. Prof. Rainer Kirchdörfer, a member of the foundation’s Executive Board, leads the Advisory Board. The other members are:
The foundation not only promotes individual research projects, but has also initiated the establishment of teaching and research institutions at which scientists can focus on family businesses as a defined enterprise group.
Such institutions include:
Friedrichshafen Institute for Family Businesses (FIF)
In summer 2008, work began to establish the at Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen. At the forefront of the institute’s activities are interdisciplinary research and training that is specifically geared to the needs of both family businesses and future successors. In practice, this means that business leaders and their successors can continue to qualify themselves for their (future) roles. Friedrichshafen Institute for Family Businesses (FIF)
The Witten Institute for Family Businesses (WIFU)
The , at located at Witten-Herdecke University, has been funded by the Foundation for Family Businesses and a circle of leading family businesspeople since 2005. The institute takes an interdisciplinary approach: The Business Chair is focused on the specific business issues of family companies, the Legal Chair concentrates more on corporate law issues, while the Psychology-Sociology Chair focuses primarily on interaction between families and their businesses that is critical to success. Witten Institute for Family Businesses (WIFU)
“More than any other academic institution in Germany, this institute has succeeded in giving scope not only to the economic analysis of the success factors of this type of company, but also to the second main factor on which its success hinges – namely the family.”
The Research Centre for Family Enterprises (FoFamU) at the University of Bayreuth
In May 2012, the Research Centre for Family Enterprises was established at the University of Bayreuth, becoming the first such institute in Germany to be located at a public university. Seven chairs in law and seven in economics collaborate at FoFamU. With a total of 50 professors and academic staff, the research centre is truly interdisciplinary, and works together with other research institutions of the University of Bayreuth. In addition to advising family businesses on corporate law and management, FoFamU offers workshops on important legal and economic topics and organises conferences on current and fundamental issues facing family businesses.
The University of Bayreuth’s academic expertise in family businesses has been further boosted by a professorship for family business law, also sponsored by the Foundation for Family Businesses. The contract was signed with the Foundation in October 2017 and presented to the responsible ministry for approval. The academic focus will be on little researched legal issues that arise from the conjunction of family and business.
Institute for Family Businesses – Eastern Westphalia-Lippe (IFIN)
The Institute for Family Businesses – Eastern Westphalia-Lippe (IFIN) and its endowed chair in the Management of Family Businesses was established in 2012 on the initiative of the curator of the Foundation for Family Businesses, Ortwin Goldbeck, and will be funded for an initial period of ten years by the foundation and a number of large family businesses and institutions located in Eastern Westphalia. After that, the University of Bielefeld will take over the financing. The facility is located in the Faculty of Economics under the direction of Prof. Fred G. Becker.
The Institute for Family Businesses operates across faculties and disciplines. A central part of its work is to facilitate the transfer of scientific knowledge to the regional economy in cooperation with the donors. In winter semester 2015/2016, Prof. Dr. Christina Hoon took over the endowed professorship position. The main focus of the professorship falls on the recruitment of junior business leaders, employer branding as well as other topics related to corporate and personnel management at family businesses.
The foundation also supports students doing theses or dissertations on selected topics in the field of research surrounding family businesses.