9.2 Running the family business: Stakeholders, values and reputation

Project info

This project investigates the dramatic shift in appreciation for family enterprise in The Netherlands and how this shift has contributed to the current popularity of the family enterprise with policy makers, advisers and the business community. It furthermore aims to show how narratives on business types - especially family enterprise - can be used or concealed in different spheres by businesses to further their aims.
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
- other
Utrecht University
  • Economics
  • Governmental policymakers
  • Sociology
Work package
  • Work
Sustainability threat
  • Feedback Cycles
  • Reconciling stakeholder interests
Theoretical background
Family firms are popular. They are seen as cornerstones of developed economies, that drive growth and job creation. This frequently leads to family business being presented as important and maybe even beneficial to society. Their purported long-term orientation, combined with the close involvement of family, signifies that these companies are in it for the long-run, contributing to sustainable economies and stable societies. The image of a founding or owning family with roots in local communities, in it for the long run, who look after their employees as their own children, contrasts sharply with anonymous multinationals that disregard local economies and consider labour as just one of many resources. Especially after the global financial crisis of 2008, policy makers and politicians have turned towards family enterprises as an organisational form that can offset the consequences of unbridled capitalism. In academia the family enterprise has also become a popular object of research especially in comparison with its nonfamily counterpart. The current popularity of the family business however contrasts sharply with much of its 20th century history. Regarded as backward organisations fostering nepotism and hampering economic growth, they were thought to have no place in modern economies and democratic societies. In my thesis I focus on this dramatic shift in appreciation for family enterprise in the Netherlands. Starting with a discussion of the epistemological quagmire of defining family enterprise and the consequences for comparative research between family and nonfamily businesses, I explore the use of narratives on family enterprise in the Netherlands throughout the 20th century. Using parliamentary debates and family business advertisements, I investigate the shift from negative towards positive narratives and the influence this had on (tax) policy. This research can be a starting point to go beyond hampered comparisons between family and nonfamily businesses that purport advantages or disadvantages and instead investigate family enterprise as a business that may have a specific structure but still remains a business with specific interests and aims.
Research design
This project investigates a shift in the appreciation for family enterprise in The Netherlands between 1950-2019. Using archives from the Dutch parliament, newspapers, as well as other documents, I lay out used and changing narratives on family enterprise over time.
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