Because of donors, family firms survive and thrive

3 December 2018

When Lloyd Steier, '85 PhD, visits a family restaurant, mom-and-pop shop or multigenerational farm, he sees beyond the stereotypes some have about family businesses: quaint, rife with domestic friction, or small and insignificant.

"There's all kinds of unrealized potential in family firms," says Steier, academic director of the donor-endowed Centre for Entrepreneurship & Family Enterprise. He points out that most of the world's big firms started out as small family enterprises - from multinational powerhouses like Walmart and SC Johnson, to Canadian behemoths like Rogers. In interview after interview, Steier has uncovered that relatives frequently play a role in the success of business leaders.

"At the core, entrepreneurship is about leveraging and mobilizing resources in creative ways. There's all kinds of unrealized potential in family firms."
- Lloyd Steier, '85 PhD, academic director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship & Family Enterprise

However, Steier says the success of family firms is not widely acknowledged. As he points out, "We celebrate individual action, not collective action. But for some business leaders, family had more skin in the game than they themselves reported."

Part of Steier's research is to harvest lessons from successful family businesses for the larger economy. Long-standing family farms are a particular wealth of wisdom. "They're doing something phenomenal," Steier says. "Each farm creates the model on their own, often with very little help."

Steier's research - and that of his colleagues - has helped existing family businesses survive hard times and thrive.