AOM 2019 Symposium – Identity in and around Entrepreneurial Families – August 13th from 8:00 – 9:30am in the Grand Ballroom Salon I at the Boston Marriott Copley Place

AOM 2019 Presenter Symposium – Identity in and around Entrepreneurial Families

Tuesday, August 13th from 8:00 – 9:30am in the Grand Ballroom Salon I at the Boston Marriott Copley Place.


Eliana Crosina – Babson College


William Gartner – Babson College

Presenters (*) and Co-authors:

From a Family to a Family Business? On the Role of Identity Anchors in the Construction of a Family Business
Eliana Crosina* – Babson College

How Psychological Needs Motivate Family Firm Identifications and Identifiers: A Framework and Future Research Agenda
Kimberly Elsbach* – University of California, Davis
Torsten Pieper – University of North Carolina, Charlotte

The Hitching Post: How Can Amish Entrepreneurs Achieve Optimal Distinctiveness in a Modern, Technology-Driven Society?
Blake Mathias* – Indiana University
Trent Williams – Indiana University

Entrepreneurial legacy: Images of Facilitating or Inhibiting Successor Entrepreneurial Identity
Miruna Radu-Lefebvre* – Audencia University
Vincent Lefebvre – Audencia University
Jean Clarke  – EMLYON Business School
William Gartner – Babson College

A Novel (’s) Perspective on Identity in the Entrepreneurial Family
Mattias Nordqvist* – Jönköping University

(*) Indicates Presenter.


Psychologists and sociologists have long recognized the power of identity in shaping individuals’ thoughts and actions (e.g., Tajfel & Turner 1979; Stryker & Serpe, 1982). More recently, management and entrepreneurship researchers have also invoked identity to explain individuals’ cognitions and behaviors in the work place (see Ashforth, Harrison & Corley, 2008 for review). For example, management scholars suggest that identity can influence organizational members’ motivation and task performance (e.g., van Knippenberg, 2000), their turnover intentions (e.g., Mael & Ashforth, 1995; van Dick et al., 2004), commitment (Haslam et al., 2006), as well as their sharing of information (e.g., Tyler, 1999; Grice et al., 2006). Entrepreneurship researchers recognize the power of identity in the entrepreneurial process (e.g., Hoang & Gimeno, 2010; Fauchart & Gruber, 2011; Navis & Glynn, 2011; Powell & Baker, 2014). To illustrate, Fauchart and Gruber (2011) found that founders1’ social identities shape their markets in which entrepreneurs operate, as well as the resources they leverage to bring their ideas to fruition. Similarly, Cardon and colleagues (2009) argued that founders’ self-defining roles influence how they create their businesses; and Powell and Baker (2014) cast identity as central even to how entrepreneurs respond to adversity.
Issues of identity are especially relevant in the context of family businesses – organizations “held by a dominant coalition controlled by members of the same family or a small number of families in a manner that is potentially sustainable across generations of the family or families” (Chua, Chrisman, & Sharma, 1999). Notably, unlike other types of entrepreneurial ventures, family-run enterprises generally revolve around multiple, intersecting, personal and work-related identities held by members both individually and, more collectively, at the level of the family and of the business (Shepherd & Haynie, 2009).
On the one hand, entrepreneurship and family business researchers indicate that such identities are very important as they anchor the business, but that they also constitute a central source of conflict among family members (Shepherd & Haynie, 2009). On the other hand, identity scholars (e.g., Pratt & Foreman, 2000) suggest that individuals can find productive ways to manage multiple salient conflicting identities. However, the dearth of empirical research in this specific domain – that is, identity in/around family businesses, makes it unclear how and why family members might differentially manage their multiple identities, and with what possible implications for their well-being, and their family firms.
Unique in family businesses or in entrepreneurial families – terms we use here to denote both mature multi-generational family enterprises, as well as nascent family-run organizations based on kinship and/or on socially constructed family-like relationships – is the chronological ordering and interdependence of multiple salient identities. Indeed, in most cases, one’s membership in, and role as a family member precedes one’s membership in and role as a member of the business. Further, expectations around family role/membership often influence those of role/membership in the business (e.g., Rothbard, 2001; Rothbard & Edwards, 2003; Shepherd & Haynie, 2009). Taken together, these characteristics of entrepreneurial families make them an ideal site to explore issues of identity, including its construction and upkeep, as well as multiple identity management strategies (e.g., Pratt & Foreman, 2000).
Indeed, scholars have pleaded for additional research in this area. Specifically, they have invited methodological plurality, including the deployment of qualitative and interdisciplinary research (e.g., De Massis & Kotlar, 2014; Chrisman et al., 2008), and more specifically “different extensions or applications of grounded theory and intensive qualitative research such as ethnography.” (Velasco, Garcia, & Parra, 2013: 46)
Each one of the five papers in this symposium allows us to explore different facets of identity in/around entrepreneurial families, to consider new influences, mechanisms, and understandings of identity alongside family, and ultimately to raise new questions for future research. In particular, the first and last presentations by Crosina and Nordqvist examine the dynamic formation and maintenance of identity in the context of a newly formed, and in that of a more mature, family business. The second presentation by Elsbach and Pieper explores motives for invoking identity as basis for self-definition in family firms. More specifically, it provides a conceptual framework to understand why family members may identify with their family firm, and with what consequences. The third presentation by Mathias and Trent explores a different side of identification in entrepreneurial families, unveiling various loci of identification among Amish entrepreneurs. In doing so, Mathias and Trent expand traditional understandings of “family” beyond kinship, to encompass “family” as socially constructed. Finally, Radu-Lefebvre and colleagues address issues of succession and identity in multi-generational organizations, suggesting innovative ways to surface the paradox of preserving the past while innovating for the future.
More specifically, in the first presentation, Crosina shares preliminary findings from an ongoing, longitudinal, field study that explores the formation of a family business. Through a combination of data from MediaCo and its three co-founders, she theorizes the dynamic co-evolution of the organization’s activities and identity. Notably, she finds that MediaCo’s identity emerges in relation to: (1) the types of clients MediaCo secures; (2) the creative work that the company produces; as well as (3) the changing familial dynamics among co-founders.
In the second presentation, Elsbach and Pieper theorize a number of different psychological needs and motives (e.g., for self-esteem, continuity, distinctiveness, belonging) that motivate identification with family firms. Based on a framework of these motives, their specific influence on, as well as outcomes of family firm identification, the authors propose promising avenues for future research.
In the third presentation, Mathias and Trent present preliminary insights from their ongoing qualitative study of Amish entrepreneurs. Among others, they explore the unique social identity of such entrepreneurs, including how the Amish strive to maintain central aspects of their identity (e.g., family, community and craftsmanship) while restricting/rejecting others (e.g., technology).
In the fourth presentation, Radu-Lefebvre and colleagues leverage drawings and accompanying narratives from successors of high-profile French companies that depict the family firm – including its origins, current state, and successors’ vision for the organization’s future. In doing so, they theorize how successors differentially create prospective organizational identities as they manage the paradox of preserving the family legacy while seeking to “evolve and diverge” from the past (Hammond, Pearson & Holt, 2006: 1220).
To conclude, Nordqvist proposes a parallel between identity dynamics in the family context and the Swedish novel The Head of the Firm. Drawing from this novel, the author suggests that the identity of a family entrepreneur morphs in relation to conflicting family, business, societal norms and expectations. In doing so, Nordqvist brings to the fore the dynamic construction of identity (including triggers for identity work) in the context of a family business, and models a novel methodological approach to study identity in family firms.

1 Throughout this submission, we use “founder” interchangeably with “entrepreneur.”