Innovation in Family Firms

The first “Innovation in Family Firms” workshop was organised by Dr Udeni Salmon from the Mercia Centre for Innovation Leadership at Keele Hall on May 1st 2018. The workshop was organised in conjunction with the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Special Interest Group for Family Business. ISBE is a joint academic and business network which brings academic insight to real-world small business and entrepreneurship practice.

The workshop consisted of three research-informed sessions, which brought lessons learned from academic research to the family firm owners and managers who attended the session.

Dr Udeni Salmon led a self-exploratory session where family firm owners were asked to identify their “Innovation Type”. Based on her PhD research, Dr Salmon has developed a taxonomy of five types of family firm innovator: the – Spontaneous Radical; the Statist Altruist; the Patient Opportunist; the Curious Traveller and the Cautious Conservative. Family firm owners were given advice as how best to make the most of the innovator type so that they can progress both radical and incremental innovation in a sustainable and collaborative way. Family firm owners were quick to recognise not only their “innovator type”, but also those of their family members who had founded the firm.

Professor Claire Seaman then shared her insights from Scotland, including the practical steps that she has taken to develop family firm innovation, such as connecting family firms with academics, policy-makers and communities. Professor Seaman shared her research for the family business networking group Family Business United Scotland. Professor Seaman is currently developing Scotland’s top 100 family businesses. These firms make a huge contribution to the economy by generating £1billion in profit before tax, creating 11% of onshore GDP and by employing 100,000 people.  The participants noted the similarities between Scotland’s rural and small-town family firms, and their firms, based in Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire. Family firm owners suggested that a similar family firm networking club for local businesses in Stoke and Staffordshire would be most helpful.

Dr Natalia Vershinia then discussed her research into the role played by gender in family firms. Family firm owners were able to discuss the ways in which women in their family firms were either empowered to speak their minds, or were silenced. The role of gender in innovation was also discussed including the way that women in family firms were allowed to make and implement suggestions for new products and processes in the firm.

Finally, Dani Saveker, founder of Families in Business and member of a family firm introduced her Global Life Alignment System. The GLAS system can help individuals, including family firm owners, to balance their life and their work. The participants agreed that the pressure of running a family firm can create a life that feels out of balance. Dani was able to share some practical suggestions for how they could use the GLAS system to bring their world back into harmony.

group photo
Family Firm Leaders and Researchers share insights and solve problems

Comments from participants on the day were highly positive:

“I am definitely going to share details of the innovator type with my sister.”

“I found it really helpful to learn that the challenges my family’s business face are not unique to us.”

“I need to find my “Why”. Why am I working so hard? What is my journey all about?”

“I’m going to take a concrete action to connect with the other people from the workshop.”

“I feel energised! I’ve definitely increased my knowledge.”

In summary, there is an appetite from family firm leaders for research-informed learning to help them with the challenges of innovation in a family firm.