Research Newsletter - Issue 82: Spotlight


Family firms are the heartbeat of our economy, representing 64% of all firms in the Republic of Ireland and employing more than 938,000 people across Ireland.


Like all businesses, family firms must adapt to ever-changing operating environments and consumer demands, focusing on issues from sustainability to digital transformation to future-proof their business. Family businesses also face distinct internal challenges to their success and longevity that arise when family and work dynamics combine. Unique considerations for family firms include generational succession, family governance, inheritance and estate planning, nurturing of family talent, and the integration of non-family executives. Of these challenges, intergenerational succession remains the largest threat to business survival, with research showing that just 30% survive beyond the first generation, about 12% survive to the third and an expected 4% survive to the fourth.

Given the particular challenges faced by family firms, it is crucial to provide research and evidence-based advice to family businesses that addresses their unique circumstances, and support them to adapt, survive and thrive for generations to come.


The National Centre for Family Business (NCFB): About Us

Since its establishment in 2013, the NCFB has developed an unrivalled expertise in, and knowledge of, the local and global challenges facing family businesses through international research collaborations, major national studies and an extensive history of industry engagement.

The NCFB has a strong track record of publishing high-impact research. This is evidenced through our success in publishing in Financial Times' Top 50 Journals and ABS 3 and 4 star peer-reviewed journals and presenting at leading conferences. Members of the research team serve on the editorial boards of prestigious journals in the management field. Our work has been profiled through major media outlets, including BBC, RTÉ, The Irish Times, and NewsTalk. NCFB activities are governed by a world-class Scientific Committee, a family-focused Board of Advisors and DCU Business School Professors and Core Staff.


10 Years at the Forefront of Family Business and Entrepreneurship Research

The centre produces cutting-edge research from which best-practice solutions to sustain entrepreneurial families across generations are derived and disseminated. Our research publications accommodate several interconnected themes on the topic of family business entrepreneurship. At times these themes are either distinct, overlap or merge into macro research themes and include:

  1. Transgenerational Learning - Exploring the transmission of entrepreneurial behaviours and learning across family business generations
  2. Entrepreneurship and Family Business - Advancing our understanding of entrepreneurial drive, innovation, finance and growth in family businesses 
  3. Gender and Family Business - Unravelling the role that gender plays in family technological innovation, leadership performance and succession
  4. Resilience and Family Business - Investigating what makes family businesses more successful at embracing change and uncertainty, than their competitors


Transgenerational Learning: The Transmission of Entrepreneurial Behaviours and Learning Across Family Business Generations

Transgenerational learning, the transmission of entrepreneurial behaviours and learning across family business generations, is a major cross-cutting theme for academic staff at the NCFB. Below we summarise a selection of recently published works by members of DCU Centre for Family Business connected to this important topic.


Sensemaking Approaches Reconcile Multi-Generational Goal Tensions 

Former PhD Student at DCUBS Prof Vanessa Diaz-Moriana, NCFB Director Dr Eric Clinton, and their co-author Prof Nadine Kammerlander (WHU, Germany) recently published groundbreaking research on how family businesses negotiate economic and non-economic goals in the ABS 4 Journal of Management Studies. Their paper titled ‘Untangling Goal Tensions in Family Firms: A Sensemaking Approach’ reveals how long-lived family firms manage competing economic and non-economic goals to improve performance and ultimately learn how to be successful across generations. Non-economic goals such as family harmony, family identity, reputation or perpetuation of family values, sometimes conflict with the economic goals of positive performance and business growth.


Journal of Management Studies Cover

Journal of Management Studies

Using in-depth interviews, observation and archival data, their analysis contends that families manage goal tensions via a sensemaking-sensegiving approach rather than an either or objective. 

So vital are the findings to the field of family business research and the wider sphere of management studies, that the Journal of Management Studies selected their publication for a feature blog article ‘We are family: Understanding how long-lived family firms manage competing economic and non-economic goals’. 

Read more here or view the original journal article.

Operating as a Social System Promotes Learning Across Generations 

A collaboration published in the ABS 3 Entrepreneurship and Regional Development Journal, ‘Entrepreneurial learning: The transmitting and embedding of entrepreneurial behaviours within the transgenerational entrepreneurial family', authored by NCFB Director Eric Clinton, Professor Maura McAdam, Dr Jordan Gamble (University of Liverpool) and Martina Brophy (Technological University Dublin) asks: how does the family operate as a social system of learning within a business? Winning the journal’s highly-commended award, the paper identifies how business venture passes from one generation to the next via the lens of entrepreneurial learning. They identify transgenerational entrepreneurship as the processes through which families develop and implement entrepreneurial mind-sets across generations to produce entrepreneurial, financial, and social value.

NCFB Chart

Transgenerational Entrepreneurship


Their model focuses on critical incidents in the family business history – which are defined as episodes that represent key successes or failures, the findings illuminate: 

  • how critical incidents drive transgenerational entrepreneurial families and have an enduring effect on the entrepreneurial learning embedded and sustained across generations 
  • learning processes in transgenerational entrepreneurial families are bidirectional and multi-generational, involving multiple layers of co-participation from family members, demonstrating the mutually influential relationship between individual and familial entrepreneurial behaviours
  • transgenerational entrepreneurial families must paradoxically engage in unlearning processes to remain entrepreneurial to avoid perpetuating failures of the past.

Read more here to learn how long-term thinking can develop a repository of learning or hub of entrepreneurial behaviours, from which they draw strength time and time again.


Learning Through Intermarriage Fosters Transgenerational Resilience

A recent paper published in the ABS 3 Family Business Review, authored by Professor Maura McAdam, Director Dr Eric Clinton, Professor Ellie Hamilton (Lancaster University, UK) and Professor William Gartner (Babson College, USA)  explores intermarriage as a form of learning.


They show how the intermarriage of two business families was a key factor in how one business family learned to change their way of behaving based on intimate observations of the failures of the business family they intermarried with.

You can read the original journal article here.



STEP Project - Global Partner for Ireland


Global Family Business Report

Global Family Business Report

Dr Catherine Faherty, together with international colleagues, partnered to oversee the Irish report for the international family business monitor – the STEP Project Global Consortium.

This year's report reflects the responses of 2,439 family business leaders from 70 countries revealing how they remain resilient, stay a step ahead of their competition and continue to grow their businesses across the decades and from one generation to the next. Read here to learn about the unique trends shaping transgenerational entrepreneurship in Ireland.


Contact Us

Please visit the DCU National Centre for Family Business for further information, news, and event details.

If you would like to be involved in DCU Family Business Research, please contact us.

NCFB Director Dr Eric Clinton:

NCFB Executive Director: