Strategic reference points in family firms
De Massis A
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Family firms are classically seen as risk averse organizations, and this is evident in their generally lower R&D investments compared to non-family firms. Recent research, however, challenges this predominant view and suggests that family firms can embrace higher strategic risk when faced with threats to their family-centered goals. Still, the internal and external conditions that drive variations in the strategic risk taking behaviors of family firms are little known and understood. This article adds to this literature by developing and testing a conceptual model of strategic risk taking that incorporates behavioral theory, family business literature, and the logic of the strategic reference point theory. With recognition that the interplay between family and economic goals determines heterogeneity in strategic actions of family firms, this model suggests that family managers respond differentially to the feedback information regarding internal and external reference points, and consequently identifies key drivers of variation in the R&D investment behavior of family firms. By examining the pattern in R&D investments of 437 Spanish private manufacturing firms from 2000 to 2006, this study shows how strategic inputs, strategic outputs, and external benchmarks produce variations in strategic decisions about R&D investments in family and non-family firms. The findings offer insights into how internal and external reference points are considered in family firms’ decision making, thereby contributing a deeper understanding into the circumstances under which family goals cope or collide with the economic goals of the firm, and how this influences strategic risk decisions in family firms. © 2014, Springer Science+Business Media New York.
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