Sub-theme 65: Family Firms Growth and Development: The Role of Interorganizational Networks

Marcello Martinez
Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli, Italy
Claudio Giannotti
LUM University Jean Monet of Casamassima, Italy
Doris Neuberger
University of Rostock, Germany

Call for Papers

The small size of companies represents one of the most important obstacles to the competitiveness of industrial systems, particularly in the innovative sectors. At the same time, in management literature a growing interest towards topics on design of those types of inter-organizational coordination finalized towards the creation of value through product and process innovation development. A gradual refocusing of research on factors external to the organizations (instead of the internal ones) can be noticed by analyzing the most recent contributions to the literature on the key elements of the different types of organizational innovation, ascribable to the development of network studies and more specifically, those on network/clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to this approach, the creation and the governance of organizational networks and the inter-organizational coordination are interpreted as the key elements for innovation development.

The main aim of this sub-theme is to investigate the network configuration and inter-organizational coordination mechanisms adopted (within the network) as antecedents of innovation processes in small and medium-sized family firms. From a configurational perspective a promising area of research is the analysis of how certain inter-organizational configurations and coordination mechanisms may promote or limit the range of opportunities that be effectively pursued by. On the basis of a review of network research, we have gained that different combinations of coordination mechanisms, associated with separate ownership structures, can describe and account for a good part of the variety of network forms; as much as different combinations of the same mechanisms, have been capable of explaining processes of innovation, internationalization and growth. Among others, results of the recent meta-analysis by Stam et al. (2013) suggest that, in order to asses the main effects of entrepreneurs' social capital on small firm performance, the current focus on relational and structural network properties in extant literature must be complemented with research that considers the quality of resources held by entrepreneurs' network contacts and the mechanisms through which they can be accessed and leveraged. Moreover, studies highlight that small firms’ network requirements change over time as well as the optimal configuration of entrepreneurs’ social capital that evolves while small firms grow older.

Family businesses are characterized by a modus operandi that pays special attention to employees (often along with their families), the relationship with suppliers (often also funding the supply chain), and more generally, to the community to which they belong. An important aspect is that family businesses may be less inclined to fire employees (e.g., D'Aurizio & Romano, 2013). In other words, a family business enhances ties with stakeholders by its own constitution, naturally (Cennamo et al., 2012; Mitchell et al., 2011). Therefore, it produces a societal surplus value that goes beyond its financial statements and losing a family business involves losing that surplus to its community of reference (Ferri and Mariani, 2013).

Family businesses are usually micro or small enterprises which need bank loans to finance investments and grow. Due to their opaqueness they tend to profit from intense or long-term relationships to one bank, which accumulates soft information about the business through time (Neuberger & Räthke, 2009; D'Aurizio et al., 2012). This relationship lending may reduce credit risk and loan rates (Neuberger & Räthke-Döppner, 2015).

The focus of our sub-theme will be driven by the following research questions:

  • Which are the most successful business models that lead small and medium-sized family firms to innovation development?
  • Which are the most successful network configurations that small and medium-sized family firms to innovation development?
  • What about the inter-organizational coordination mechanisms adopted?
  • Which are the configurations of networks able to ensure long term survival for small and medium-sized family firms?
  • Which are the main organizational characteristics of small and medium-sized family firms that allow them to maximize an effective partnership?
  • Can the relational dynamics that develops naturally in a family business be a strength to create high value-added relationships with financial institutions and especially with banks and investors?
  • Which are the economic and social conditions where bank lending to family businesses can follow a model of relationship banking?
  • Is there an economic space for corporate and investment banking services to family businesses?
  • Are the particular characteristics of family businesses an obstacle or an opportunity for investors in bonds and equity?




  • Batjargal, B., Hitt, M.A., Tsui, A.S., Arregle, J.L., Webb, J.W., & Miller, T.L. (2013): "Institutional polycentrism, entrepreneurs' social networks, and new venture growth." Academy of Management Journal, 56 (4), 1024–1049.
  • Cennamo, O., Berrone, P., Cruz, C., & Gomez-Mejia, L.R. (2012): "Socioemotional Wealth and Proactive Stakeholder Engagement: Why Family-Controlled Firms Care More About Their Stakeholders." Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, 36 (6), 1153–1173.
  • D’Aurizio L., Oliviero T., & Romano L. (2012): Family Firms and the Agency Cost of Debt. The Role of Soft Information During a Crisis. ECO Working Papers, 2012/22. European University Institute, Department of Economics, Florence.
  • D'Aurizio, L., & Romano, L. (2013): Family Firms and the Great Recession: Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Working paper no. 905. Banca d'Italia, Rome.
  • Feldman, J.M., & Klofsten, M. (2000): "Medium-Sized Firms and the Limits to Growth: A Case Study in the Evolution of a Spin-Off Firm." European Planning Studies, 8 (5), 631–650.
  • Ferri G., & Mariani A. (eds.) (2013): L'impresa di famiglia nell'economia italiana. Atti del Convegno LUMSA, Fondazione Telos, Rome.
  • Fernández, Z., & Nieto, M.J. (2005): "Internationalization Strategy of Small and Medium-Sized Family Businesses: Some Influential Factors." Family Business Review, 18 (1), 77–89.
  • Fletcher, D. (2002): "A network perspective of cultural organising and 'professional management' in the small, family business." Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 9 (4), 400–415.
  • Mitchell, R.K., Agle, B.R., Chrisman, J.J., & Spence, L.J. (2011): "Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Salience in Family Firnis." Business Ethics Quartery, 21 (2), 235–255.
  • Neuberger, D., & Räthke-Döppner, S. (2015): "The Role of Demographics in Small Business Loan Pricing." Small Business Economics, 44 (2), 411–424.
  • Neuberger, D., & Räthke, S. (2009): "Microenterprises and Multiple Bank Relationships: The Case of Professionals." Small Business Economics, 32 (2), 207–229.
  • Ward, J.L. (1998): "Growing the Family Business: Special Challenges and best Practices." Family Business Review, 10 (4), 323–337.
  • Wu, L.Y., Wang, C.J., Chen, C.P., & Pan, L.Y. (2008): "Internal Resources, External Network, and Competitiveness During the Growth Stage: A Study of Taiwanese High-Tech Ventures." Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 32 (3), 529–549.
  • Zhao, X.-Y., Frese, M., & Giardini, A. (2010): "Business Owners' Network Size and Business Growth in China: The Role of Comprehensive Social Competency." Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 22 (7–8), 675–705.


Marcello Martinez is Professor of Organization Studies at the Department of Economics, Seconda Università di Napoli, Italy, President of ASSIOA Italian Association for Organization Studies, and Vice-President of the AIS Italian branch of Association for Information Systems. Furthermore, he is a Co-Chair of the EGOS Colloquium 2016 in Naples.
Claudio Giannotti is Professor of Economics & Management of Financial Intermediation at LUM University Jean Monnet of Casamassima, Bari, Italy. Furthermore, he is a CERBE foundation member, Director of the Laboratory of Real Estate Finance of University of Rome "Tor Vergata", and a European Real Estate Society (ERES) board member.
Doris Neuberger is the Head of the Chair of Money and Credit, Department of Economics, University of Rostock, Germany. Since 2008, she is Research Professor at DIW (German Institute for Economic Research) Berlin; since 2011 Research Director for Economics at iff (Institut für Finanzdienstleistungen) Hamburg and Research Group Leader at the Rostocker Zentrum zur Erforschung des Demografischen Wandels; and since 2014 Managing Board member at CERBE (Center for Relationship Banking and Economics) Rome.