Tarja Niemelä is a Research Fellow, University of Jyväskylä, School of Business and Economics. Matti Koiranen is Professor, University of Jyväskylä, School of Business and Economics.
Family business is the engine of the Finnish economy and academic research into the subject is on the rise as its importance in the success of such businesses is recognised
Academic interest in family business has been on the rise since the late 1940s in Finland. In 1948 professor Kyosti Jarvinen wrote a textbook Entrepreneurial Calling Throughout the Years. Most of his examples were of family entrepreneurs (founders) or established family businesses in their second to fourth generations.
Other pioneers include professors Waldemar Buhler and Matti Peltonen who, in the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, enhanced entrepreneurship in Finland. The former was a strong and charismatic leader of the Association of Finnish Entrepreneurs, and the latter ended his career as the Head of Education Affairs of Finnish Employers' Association. They endeavoured to link empirical material with theoretical thinking. However, the family perspective was less obvious, as they concentrated mainly on small business and entrepreneurship in general.
In the 1980s and 1990s, several researchers and writers left their mark on family business. Jyrki Veranen's doctoral dissertation in the late 1980s dealt with ownership as a success factor in business. And in 1984 Timo Kirkko-Jaakkola and Reijo Kujansuu wrote the first textbook on succession in family business, which was strongly dominated by an accounting perspective. One year later, in 1985, professor Pertti Kettunen published Book of Entrepreneurs. At the beginning of the 1990s, professor Antti Paasio and Dr Jarna Heinonen (1993) wrote a descriptive and analytical textbook called Family Business in Finland, but unfortunately they did not make a clear conceptual distinction between SME's and family enterprises.
Professor Reijo Luostarinen of the Helsinki School of Business and Economics, together with his research group, published an often-quoted article The Process of Internationalizing Finnish Family Firms (1993), and Seppo Laukkanen's 1994 thesis, Succession in Family Business – A Human Perspective, was the first study of its type.
Today, the University of Jyväskylä with its School of Business and Economics sits in the driver's seat in the family business arena, as it is the only university in Finland committed to this field of study. It has focused on family business research since 1996 and houses the National Family Research Centre. It is an autonomous research centre, but works in cooperation with the university's Entrepreneurship and Family Business programme, as well as the Faculty of Social Sciences. The behavioural dimension of the research is encouraged due to the natural feature of "softer" matters in family business.
In Finland, an active group of entrepreneurship researchers focuses on family business. This group includes doctoral students from not only Finland, but other countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic. In addition to the University of Jyväskylä, family business research is also on the rise in other Finnish and Scandanavian universities.
The Swedish School of Business and Economics has been involved in both research and training, and the Turku School of Business and Economics has been active in the area of advanced education in family business. The Universities of Helsinki, Vaasa, Tampere and Lappeenranta have some researchers who are active in family business research, and some academics at the Universities of Lapland (located in the city of Rovaniemi at the Arctic Circle) and Joensuu come close to the area of family business.
Recently, Family Business Network Finland (FBN Finland) organised its first national workshop seminar for family business researchers in March 2002. The purpose was to gain deeper insight into the ongoing research in the field of family business, and to not only shed more light on challenging topics, themes, methodologies, approaches and practices, but also to enhance cooperation between universities, research centres, economic institutions and individuals.
The meeting also pointed out that what is often called "family business research" can be carried out and interpreted in several ways. There are many variations when it comes to topics and themes of family business research.
The themes that today's Finnish doctoral students are undertaking illustrate this point. These include succession, ownership and owning relationships, corporate governance, competitive advantage, human relationships, mentoring, entrepreneurship education, next generation issues, inter-firm cooperation networking and learning in networks, franchising, acquisition, co-preneuring or entrepreneurial married couples as co-preneurs, ethos and paradoxes of family entrepreneuring, and the joys of work, family life and owning a business.
Despite this recent focus on family business, the number of active researchers in the field is still limited. At the national level, there are altogether only 25-30 active researchers contributing to this field. The assistance of FBN Finland has been helpful in order to find funding and other resources for research and teaching.
International cooperation is also important, as it strengthens the profile of the discipline and also enhances the knowledge and skills of research staff and doctoral students. The international cooperation in academic research can be divided into five categories:
- Europe (FBN, IFERA, GEEF, researchers' own networks);
- USA (FFI, researchers' own networks);
- Visiting professors (training and education);
- Postgraduate schools;
- Conferences around the world.
Finland aims to be innovative in finding new research areas and brave enough to use new types of research methods. The vision is that by 2003-2005 Finns will have a distinct and innovative profile among family business researchers and be able to contribute to the Family Business Review and international conferences such as FBN, IFERA and FFI.
To earn that position, more qualitative and quantitative research is needed. In particular, more longitudinal case studies are needed in order to gain insights into the complex system of family firms. All this calls for commitment to long-term research training and education, and the capability to cooperate with well-advanced research units and experts.