Research on family business achieved a considerable development over the last decades and knowledge increased on the most critical and pervasive topics related to family firms. Nevertheless, studies suffer a lack of a shared theoretical framework (Lindblom & Cohen, 1979) with consequent limitations on empirical research. Family business has been considered, for a long time, a distinct field from mainstream business research and it has been noticed that a generally accepted, rigorous and empirically supported explanation for why family firms exist is still absent (Chua, Chrisman & Chang, 2004). There is not a widely accepted framework for a systematic integration of the different approaches, such as strategic management, organizational theory, sociology, psychology and other disciplines that can contribute to understanding family business (Chrisman, Chua and Sharma, 2005). Recently, relevant efforts have been made to increase the theoretical foundations of the field to overcome limitations shown in previous studies. A main topic is to come through controversy in the definition of a family business (Chrisman, Chua and Sharma, 2003). The absence of common basic theories results in a considerable lack of consistency in family business definition which becomes even more evident if the concept is needed for empirical research. There are, therefore, relevant limitations comparing and generalizing findings across studies, in absence of widely accepted instruments to select samples of homogeneous businesses (Smyrnios, Tanewski and Romano, 1998). The theoretical approach adopted in our analysis is consistent with Lansberg (1983) recently developed by Chua, Chrisman e Sharma (2004), according to the perspective that a family business is a way of being. The family presence influences strategies, firm structures and the ways with which these are realized and implemented, making them different from those of other firms lacking in a family presence. This conceptual framework allows to overcome the lack in clarity between the theoretical explanation of the phenomenon and its observable components, which has been recognized as one of the main limits in previous studies.Although a function of a theoretical definition is to point out the fundamental characters of an observed phenomenon, mainly as an entity or an object, at an operational level a sound definition effectively supports the analysis when it clearly identifies inferential qualities such as measurability, objectivity, and the easiness with which they can be found. The evolutionary path of the family business definition can be explained as a progressive and sometimes indirect process towards the formulation and the identification of two distinct levels: a theoretical one able to capture and to synthesize the core of the phenomenon and the operational one whose objective characteristics are identified in a more precise way up to be measurable. The debate has been recently enriched by the introduction of the F-PEC Scale of Family Influence (Astrachan, Klein and Smyrnios, 2002; Klein, Astrachan and Smyrnios, 2005) where Power, Experience and Culture are considered the prevailing dimensions of the family involvement in and influence on a firm. This model provides an useful instrument to measure the family influence on a business, but not all the matters are undoubtedly solved. The persistent adoption of subjective measures, especially when referring to attitudes, may reproduce ambiguity and risks of tautological definitions where family business is that one which professes itself as such.The purpose of the paper is twofold. The first one is to propose a systematic literature review by the analysis of the theoretical background of the family business definition, according to an evolutionary perspective. It highlights the promising contribution of recent perspectives towards a theoretical framework able to support empirical research. However, even these recent approaches show some “dark shadows” in terms of trade-off between objective characteristics and the intangible ones more difficult to measure. The second goal, therefore, is to contribute to overcome the “family business dilemma” exploring the more ambiguous dimensions of the family business definitions in search of measurable and objective items. Referring to the F-PEC model, the cultural dimension is discussed, adopting an organizational culture perspective.
DI TOMA, Paolo e Stefano, Montanari. "The evolutionary path of the family business definition" Working paper, Dipartimento di Economia Aziendale - Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia, 2009.