“Business schools tend to avoid talking about family-run businesses, or they screen out the family influence in family firms,” says Frank Hoy, Paul R. Beswick Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the WPI Foisie Business School. “They try to focus on rational decision making, and they don’t view family businesses as rational enterprises.”
Hoy is a pioneer in the relatively young field of scholarship on family-owned businesses. Through several books, including Entrepreneurial Family Firms (2010) and Small Business Management (2012), dozens of articles, and collaborations with colleagues around the world, Hoy has explored how family businesses sustain themselves and thrive, and how they manage the transition from one generation to the next. He says this research is more than academic.
“Some of the world’s most successful companies are family-owned,” Hoy says. “Among them are 30 percent of the Fortune 500 firms, including Fidelity, Marriott, and Wal-Mart. Business giants like Ford and IBM trace their roots back to family enterprises. As business scholars, we should be asking what these companies are doing that helps them prosper.”
In 2011, WPI was offered an extraordinary opportunity to begin asking that question on a global scale. Thanks, in large part, to Hoy’s reputation, the university was invited to become one of 10 North American universities to join the Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP) project headquartered at Babson College. Through STEP, research teams from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and North America are creating a shared database that currently includes more than 95 case studies of multigenerational family-owned businesses worldwide.
In addition to Hoy, the STEP team at WPI includes fellow Foise School of Business faculty members Chickery “Chick” Kasouf, associate professor of marketing, and Adrienne Hall Phillips, assistant professor of marketing; Hansong Pu, a visiting lecturer who also directs an entrepreneurship and business center at China’s Hangzhou University; and Kimberly Eddleston, associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation in Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration.