Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667 – 687 Predictors of satisfaction with the succession process in family firms Pramodita Sharmaa,*, James J. Chrismanb,c, Jess H. Chuac, 1 a School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3C5 b Department of Management and Information Systems, College of Business and Industry, Mississippi State University, Mississippi, MS, USA c Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive, NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4Abstract Recent theoretical developments suggest that satisfaction with the succession process in familyfirms is enhanced by the incumbent’s propensity to step aside, the successor’s willingness to take over,agreement among family members to maintain family involvement in the business, acceptance ofindividual roles, and succession planning. Data from incumbent leaders and successors provide strongsupport for these relationships. Incumbents and successors disagree, however, about the importance ofeach other’s role. This implies a need to align these strategic stakeholders’ perceptions in the familyfirm. Our research methodology also highlights the importance of considering multiple stakeholdergroups in conducting family firm research.D 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.Keywords: Family business; Succession; Stakeholders1. Executive summary In a recent study, Sharma et al. (2001) developed a model on satisfaction with thesuccession process in family firms by drawing on the premises of stakeholder theory as wellas various aspects of organizational, behavioural, and economic theories. Their model * Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-519-884-0710; fax: +1-519-884-0201. E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (P. Sharma), email@example.com (J.H. Chua). 1 Tel.: +1-403-220-6331; fax: +1-403-282-0095.0883-9026/03/$ – see front matter D 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/S0883-9026(03)00015-6
668 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687proposes that satisfaction with the succession process is directly affected by (1) propensity ofthe incumbent to step aside, (2) the successor’s willingness to take over, (3) agreement amongfamily members to maintain family involvement in the business, (4) acceptance of individualroles, and (5) succession planning. We test these relationships using data collected fromincumbent presidents and successors of a sample of family firms. Univariate results show that incumbents and successors disagreed on important aspects ofthe succession process and family firm attributes. The incumbents were more satisfied withthe process and believed more strongly that they were ready to step aside and succession wasplanned. This suggests a misalignment of perception. The incumbents may not havecommunicated their propensity to step aside and may have been planning the successionwithout consulting or communicating with the successors. Regression results show that the two respondent groups agree on the importance ofsuccession planning and acceptance of individual roles in the business in determiningtheir satisfaction with the process. They also indicate that agreement among familymembers to maintain family involvement in the business was not important in determiningsatisfaction. They differ, however, in terms of whose attitude is important in determining theirsatisfaction. Incumbents indicate that their satisfaction is influenced by the successors’willingness to take over but not by their own propensity to step aside. Successors, on theother hand, indicate the reverse—their satisfaction is influenced by the incumbent’spropensity to step aside but not their own willingness to take over. This is unique evidenceabout the importance of the relationship between the perceptions of incumbent andsuccessor. This article makes several contributions to the study of family business management.First, it confirms hypotheses from the literature that were integrated in Sharma et al. (2001).These hypotheses have not been tested together before. Second, the results suggest an urgentneed to align the perceptions of incumbents and successors in order to increase theprobability of a satisfactory succession process. Third, it highlights the interactive rolesplayed by incumbents and successors. Fourth, in terms of methodology, the results indicatethat empirical research on family business must take into account the possibility thatdifferent stakeholders in the family business may have very different perceptions about theissues or topics under investigation. This is one of the first empirical studies of familybusiness of which we are aware that analysed an issue from more than one stakeholdergroup’s point of view.2. Introduction Demographic trends suggest that a large majority of family business leaders will retire inthe next decade (US Census Bureau, 2000). Therefore, family business researchers’preoccupation with leadership succession should not be a surprise (Sharma et al., 1996).Scholars have been concerned with finding ways to preserve successful ventures, many ofwhich are or become family firms, beyond the tenure of their founders. To contribute to this
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 669aim, this article describes a study that investigates factors influencing satisfaction with thesuccession process in family firms. In the family business literature, succession means the transfer of leadership from onefamily member to another—a goal shared by a majority of family firms (American FamilyBusiness Survey, 1997).2 A successful succession can help a family firm achieve or sustain its ´competitive advantage over non-family firms (Cabrera-Suarez et al., 2001) by preserving the‘‘idiosyncratic knowledge of family character’’ (Bjuggren and Sund, 2001, p. 11) or‘‘familiness’’ (Habbershon and Williams, 1999, p. 1). Family firms have subjective and objective performance goals (e.g., Lee and Rogoff, 1996;Stafford et al., 1999; Tagiuri and Davis, 1992). Thus, family firms cannot be thoroughlyunderstood unless researchers investigate the factors that influence performance in terms ofboth types of goals. Succession is no exception, and its success has two interactivedimensions—satisfaction with the process and effectiveness of succession (Handler, 1989;Morris et al., 1997). The former is a subjective assessment of the process and decision and thelatter an objective determination of the impact of the decision on firm performance. Recently, Sharma et al. (2001) presented a model on satisfaction with the successionprocess that draws on the premises of stakeholder theory as well as various aspects oforganizational, behavioural, and economic theories. Aside from helping to distinguishbetween the two interactive dimensions of success in succession, it proposes a compre-hensive model of the factors and interactions that influence initial satisfaction with thesuccession process in family firms. The model indicates that the complex interactions of fivefactors and their antecedents affect satisfaction with the succession process. This study teststhe direct influences of the five factors: (1) propensity of the incumbent to step aside, (2) thesuccessor’s willingness to take over, (3) agreement among family members to maintainfamily involvement in the business, (4) acceptance of individual roles, and (5) successionplanning. The study makes several contributions to research on family business management. First, itconfirms hypotheses that arise from the literature and were integrated in Sharma et al. (2001).These hypotheses have not been tested together before. Second, the results show an urgentneed to align the perceptions of incumbents and successors in order to increase the probabilityof a satisfactory succession process. Third, the study highlights the interactive roles played bythe incumbent and the successor. Fourth, the results indicate that empirical research on familybusiness must take into account the possibility that different stakeholders in the familybusiness may have very different perceptions about the issues or topics under investigation.This is one of the first empirical studies of family business of which we are aware thatanalysed an issue from more than one stakeholder group’s point of view. 2 Consistent with previous discussions in the literature (e.g., Fredrickson et al., 1988; Pitcher et al., 2000;Sharma et al., 2001), we focus on voluntary successions where the incumbent has control over the successionprocess, as opposed to successions due to death or illness or dismissals by boards or other stockholders withsufficient ownership rights. Succession due to death or illness is out of the firm’s control, while dismissals are rarebecause the incumbent tends to have ownership control. Brown (1993) discusses how to deal with the issuesarising from death or illness in the family firm.
670 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 In the next section, we briefly state our hypotheses. Following that, we describe the dataand analyses. Then, we present and discuss the empirical results. We make our conclusions inthe last section.3. The conceptual model Stakeholders are those ‘‘who can affect or be affected by’’ the achievement and nature oforganizational decisions (Freeman, 1984, p. vi). In family firms, all family members arestakeholders in the succession process as they can, to varying extents, affect or be affected byleadership transitions (Sharma, 2001).3 Consistent with the underpinnings of systems theory,this view necessitates developing an understanding of the succession process from theperspective of all stakeholder groups (Heck and Trent, 1999; Stafford et al., 1999). The extentto which each stakeholder group can influence the succession process and succession decisionis clearly a function of the stakeholder group’s salience in terms of power, legitimacy, andurgency (Mitchell et al., 1997). Based on the premises of stakeholder theory as well as various aspects of organizational,behavioral, and economic theories, Sharma et al. (2001) presented a model describing howsatisfaction with the succession process is affected by interactions among all of the stake-holders of the family firm. In the model, satisfaction is influenced positively by theinteractions among five factors and their antecedents. The five factors are (1) the incumbent’spropensity to step aside, (2) the successor’s willingness to take over the business, (3) extent ofsuccession planning, (4) family members’ agreement to maintain family involvement in thebusiness, and (5) acceptance of individual roles.4 Our test of the model is limited to the direct influences of the five factors and focuses on theincumbent and the successor—the two key stakeholders without whose cooperation the transferof leadership cannot be effected (Handler, 1989). Thus, we modify the model and hypothesesproposed by Sharma et al. (2001) to focus on the perspectives of these two groups ofstakeholders. Fig. 1 shows our simplified model. Our hypotheses are briefly discussed below. The incumbent leaders of family firms often have significant financial and emotionalinvestment in the firm, providing them with legitimacy and power (Bjuggren and Sund, 2001;Cannella and Shen, 2001) to control the succession decision and process (e.g., Lansberg, 3 It is the nature of family firms that family and business interests and issues are often confounded. Therefore,even family members who are neither owners nor employees may affect or be affected by the succession process.For example, their influence on the family can affect family dynamics and issues that, in turn, can affect thesuccession process. For another example, family members also have the tendency to share resources. Therefore,family members who are neither owners nor employees may, nevertheless, be affected by the succession decisionin terms of the resources available to be shared with them. If they can affect or be affected by succession in thefamily firm, then they are stakeholders per Freeman’s (1984) definition of the term. For a thorough discussionabout why all family members must be considered stakeholders, see Heck and Trent (1999). 4 The antecedents are (1) perceived family harmony, (2) fit between successor’s career interests and thebusiness, (3) trust in the successor’s abilities and intentions, (4) incumbent’s interests outside the business, (5)expected payoffs from the business, and (6) presence of an active board. For detailed development of the fullmodel and hypotheses regarding succession satisfaction, please refer to Sharma et al. (2001).
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 671Fig. 1. Determinants of satisfaction with the succession process in the family firm. (I) indicates that the hypothesisis supported by incumbents and (S) indicates support by successors. *P<.05, **P<.01, ***P<.001.1999; Schulze et al., 2001). Many of these incumbents have devoted a large portion of theirlives and careers to building up their firms and some of them may find stepping asidechallenging or even frightening because they fear the loss of power, status, or personalidentity.5 Consequently, the incumbent’s propensity to step aside should directly influence theincumbent’s satisfaction with the succession process. Since a dissatisfied incumbent couldpotentially cause the process to falter or create discord within the family, the incumbent’spropensity to step aside should also affect the successor’s satisfaction level. Perception will be individualistic; the incumbent and the successor may have differentperceptions about the incumbent’s propensity to step aside. As a direct effect, each stake-holder’s perception will affect that particular stakeholder’s satisfaction.6Hypothesis 1a: There is a positive relationship between the incumbent’s perception about theincumbent’s propensity to step aside and the incumbent’s satisfaction with the successionprocess.Hypothesis 1b: There is a positive relationship between the successor’s perception about theincumbent’s propensity to step aside and the successor’s satisfaction with the successionprocess. 5 Of course, others may view retirement as a new beginning and desirable outcome (Kets de Vries, 1985;Lansberg, 1988). 6 Through interactions, as discussed in Sharma et al. (2001), each party’s perception has the potential to affectthe other party’s satisfaction. As discussed before, this study is limited to testing the direct effects.
672 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 Without a successor willing to take over the family business, the family may have to sellthe business. At best, succession will have to proceed with the reluctant acquiescence of orresistance by the successor. Therefore, the process will not proceed smoothly, andsatisfaction with the process will be negatively affected (Handler, 1992; Shepherd andZacharakis, 2000). On the other hand, once families or incumbents decide to retainleadership of the firm within the family, the willing successor acquires legitimacy andpower to influence the succession process. Thus, the successor’s willingness to take over(H2a and H2b) must also influence satisfaction with the succession process for bothincumbents and successors.7Hypothesis 2a: There is a positive relationship between the incumbent’s perception about thesuccessor’s willingness to take over the leadership of the family business and the incumbent’ssatisfaction with the succession process.Hypothesis 2b: There is a positive relationship between the successor’s perception about thesuccessor’s willingness to take over the leadership of the family business and the successor’ssatisfaction with the succession process. When financial and emotional assets of other family members are closely tied to the firm,the succession decision will have a significant impact on these assets. Although the incumbentand the successor are the key stakeholders in the succession process, these other familymembers may influence the process through their combined power, legitimacy, and urgency. Two primary ways by which these family members may influence the succession processare through their agreement to maintain family involvement in the business (H3a and H3b)and their acceptance of mutual roles related to the business (H4a and H4b). The first variableindicates how these salient stakeholders view the attractiveness of their future stakes in thefamily business, while the second indicates whether their roles in the business will enablethem to achieve their goals within the firm. Thus, these variables help determine whetherfamily members will use their positions in the family and/or firm to hinder or help thesuccession process. Put differently, if there is no commitment by other family members to thegoal of succession and no agreement with respect to their future relationships with thesuccessor, other family members are more likely to attempt to undermine the process ofredistributing company shares, assets, and/or power (cf. Stevenson et al., 1985). Thisdiscordance might delay or stop the succession process (Dyer, 1986; Poza and Messer,2001). Such disruption is likely to diminish the satisfaction experienced by the incumbent andsuccessor with respect to the succession process.Hypothesis 3a: There is a positive relationship between the degree to which family membersagree to maintain family involvement in the business and the satisfaction experienced by theincumbent of the family firm with respect to the succession process. 7 Similar to the discussion in footnote 5, through interactions, one party’s perception may affect another party’ssatisfaction. This study does not test interactive effects.
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 673Hypothesis 3b: There is a positive relationship between the degree to which family membersagree to maintain family involvement in the business and the satisfaction experienced by thesuccessor of the family firm with respect to the succession process.Hypothesis 4a: There is a positive relationship between the degree to which family membersaccept each other’s role in the business and the satisfaction experienced by the incumbent ofthe family firm with respect to the succession process.Hypothesis 4b: There is a positive relationship between the degree to which family membersaccept each other’s role in the business and the satisfaction experienced by the successor ofthe family firm with respect to the succession process. Succession does not happen spontaneously; a process, not necessarily formal, must be putin place to transfer leadership from one individual to another. Since leadership succession infamily firms is an emotion-bound issue, it can sometimes raise unpleasant issues for familymembers. However, thoughtfully developed succession plans can increase the likelihood ofcooperation among stakeholders in the business and enhance satisfaction with the successionprocess (e.g., Dyck et al., 2002). Thus, we contend that, in general, a formal process in theform of succession planning is preferable to no succession planning because it allows for theviews of the salient stakeholders to be considered and, in varying degrees, to be incorporatedinto the process itself. This contention is consistent with the importance accorded tosuccession planning in the literature (e.g., Lansberg and Astrachan, 1994; Ward, 1987).Consequently, we hypothesize thatHypothesis 5a: There is a positive relationship between the extent to which a firm engages insuccession planning and the satisfaction experienced by the incumbent of the family firm withrespect to the succession process.Hypothesis 5b: There is a positive relationship between the extent to which a firm engages insuccession planning and the satisfaction experienced by the successor of the family firm withrespect to the succession process.4. Data and analysis There is no national list of family firms in Canada. Thus, following other empirical studiesin family business research, we chose a convenience sample. The study used the 604 memberfirms of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFE), which is the only nation-wide nonprofit association of family firms in Canada. A previous study (Chua et al., 1999)found CAFE members to be older and larger than non-CAFE firms.8 It is difficult to imaginethat family firms within a nation would face different succession issues simply because of 8 In the previous study, the list of nonmembers was obtained from a consulting firm. This study did not havethe cooperation of the consulting firm. We did, however, control for size and generation/age in our regressionanalysis.
674 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687membership in an association. After all, nonmembers can easily become members by simplypaying the membership dues. Nevertheless, self-selection bias cannot be completely ruledout. For example, even if the succession issues are similar, members may be more willing toseek help. As a result of effective outside assistance, they may have higher levels ofsatisfaction with their succession processes.9 Rich qualitative studies conducted on succession have all observed that the process islengthy (Dyck et al., 2002; Handler, 1989; Vancil, 1987) and may take 15–20 years (Ward,1990). Therefore, it is not possible to pinpoint the exact time at which a family firm begins orends the succession process. To make allowance for this ambiguity, we screened the samplefor firms that expected the succession event within the ensuing 5 years and those for whichthe event has occurred within the preceding 5 years. The first screening criterion assumes thatif succession is expected to occur within the subsequent 5 years, the process should havestarted. The second assumes that the process may still be continuing or, at least, given theimportance of succession, memories will be relatively fresh in the minds of key stakeholdersand their responses will be accurate. Based on these criteria, 509 firms were selected.10 Researchers suggest that the perceptions of incumbents and successors may differsignificantly (Poza et al., 1997). Therefore, we collected data from both incumbents andsuccessors, using two color-coded, pretested questionnaires. The basic questions asked werethe same, but each version of the questionnaire addressed the individual in more personalterms. Each respondent was provided stamped self-addressed return envelopes. Usableresponses were received from 177 firms yielding an overall response rate of 34.8%. A totalof 142 responses were received from successors (27.9%) and 118 from presidents (23.2%),but for only 76 firms (14.9%) did both the incumbent and successor respond. Among thesefirms, some incumbents or successors did not respond to all of the questions, reducing the setsof complete data available to test the hypotheses.11 Tests of nonresponse were conducted using Armstrong and Overton’s (1977) contentionthat late respondents are more likely than early respondents to be similar to nonrespondents.Data received were categorized into three batches based on the timing when they werereceived. MANOVA tests were conducted to examine differences in responses amongquestionnaires received at different times. No significant differences were found betweenearly and late respondents, suggesting that sample selection bias was not an issue in this study(Kanuk and Berenson, 1975; Oppenheim, 1966). Furthermore, t tests on the means for thedependent, independent, and control variables showed no statistically significant differencesbetween the matched and full samples for either incumbents or successors. 9 For a discussion about selection bias and its implications, see Heckman (1979). 10 The choice of 5 years before and 5 years after was arbitrary. More years would have given us a largersample at the expense of accuracy in memory recall in the case of those firms for which the event had taken placeand at the expense of information sufficiency in the case of those for which the event had not. Fewer years mayhave yielded too few observations to perform the analysis planned. 11 Analysis using the full data sets for incumbents and successors show similar results and are available fromthe authors. The results from the matched sample may have the advantage of controlling for variables that were notexplicitly included in our regression model with respect to conclusions drawn about differences in the responses ofincumbents and successors.
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 6754.1. Operationalizing the variables The dependent variable—satisfaction with the succession process—and the five independ-ent variables were measured with multiple indicators using a 5-point Likert-type rating scale.In the questionnaire used to collect data on these indicators, each anchor on the scale wasnamed in order to help the respondents make their choices and, hopefully, to enhanceconsistency in interpretation. Although an attempt was made to use established scales wherepossible, given the early developmental stage of empirical research on family firms, many ofthe scales used were either modified from those used in previous studies (e.g., Handler, 1989;Malone, 1989; Lansberg and Astrachan, 1994) or developed specifically for this study. Thedefinition for each variable and the indicators used are presented in the Appendix A.12 The dependent variable was a construct calculated as an equally weighted average of 12relevant indicators. Each independent variable was also a construct calculated as an equallyweighted average of the relevant indicators. The alpha values for these constructs ranged from.68 to .93. All constructs except that for incumbent’s propensity to step aside had reliabilitycoefficients greater than the conventionally accepted guideline of .70. This suggests thatresults related to this variable need to be interpreted with caution and attempts should bemade in future research to improve upon this scale. In addition to the variables related to the hypotheses, we included four control variablesthat researchers believe affect the succession process. Christensen (1953) suggests thatsuccession from founder to the next generation is very different from that occurring in latergenerations as the process becomes institutionalised. Therefore, we created a dummy variablefor the generation of the incumbent, starting with zero for the founder.13 Research (e.g., Dumas, 1989; Harveston et al., 1997) suggests that successions involvingan incumbent–successor pair of the same gender are different from those where the two are ofdifferent genders. To take this into account, we created a dummy variable for gender mix,with a value of zero indicating a same gender succession and a value of one indicating across-gender succession. Wong et al. (1992) and the American Family Business Survey (1997) suggest that there is apositive relationship between firm size and successful transfers to the next generation. Thus,we included firm revenue as the third control variable. Finally, there could be systematic differences in the responses of the two groups of familyfirms in terms of their succession timing status. Therefore, we included a dummy variable toindicate whether succession had taken place or was still anticipated. Inclusion of this variablealso serves as a test for timing bias. In summary, the four control variables used in this study 12 An anonymous reviewer pointed out that the named anchors on the questionnaire aggregate those who werebarely or just somewhat dissatisfied in the same (not at all satisfied) category. For those questions relating tosatisfaction with the succession process, anything less than some level of positive satisfaction (somewhat,moderately, fairly, completely) was relegated to 1 (not at all satisfied). This skews the scale. In addition, there is noneutral point on the scale. With the limited scale and reduced range of responses, our findings with respect to themean satisfaction level may be biased upward, the variances on the low side understated, and the coefficientsdownward biased. 13 Generation is also a surrogate measure of the age of the firm.
676 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687are generation of incumbent, gender mix, firm size, and whether succession had taken place orwas still anticipated.4.2. Data analysis Descriptive statistics for the sample firms and the dependent and independent variableswere obtained. A univariate comparison of the responses was conducted to test for differencesin the responses from the two groups of stakeholders. The hypotheses were tested by estimating separate ordinary least-squares regressionmodels for the two groups of stakeholders. Chow test was performed to ascertain significancein the overall differences of the two models. We used t tests to compare the coefficients of thetwo regression models to identify the independent variables causing the overall differencesbetween incumbents and successors.5. Results The median revenue for the firms in our sample was between $5 million and $10 million.Out of 76 firms, 7 (9%) had less than $1 million, 22 (29%) between $1 and $5 million, 13(17%) between $5 and $10 million, 26 (34%) between $10 and $50 million, and 8 (11%) over$50 million. Thirty-six firms (47%) had undergone succession in the preceding 5 years. Sixty-five (85%) involved same gender successions (62 male pairs). Forty-nine involved a foundertransferring leadership to the next generation.5.1. Descriptive statistics and univariate results Table 1 shows the means, standard deviations, correlations, and alphas for the variables inthe model. The independent variable ‘‘successor’s willingness to take over’’ has the highestmean value for both incumbents and successors. This suggests a shared perception that thenext generation was willing to take over the leadership role for our sample of family firms. Incumbents and successors differed significantly in their satisfaction with their families’succession processes. The mean for the former was 4.22 while that for the latter was 3.74. Bothmeans are significantly above 3.0, the midpoint of the scale.14 They also differed significantlyin their perceptions about four of the five independent variables, the exception beingperceptions on the extent to which their families agreed to maintain family involvement inthe business. The incumbents’ evaluations of their propensity to step aside, family members’acceptance of individual roles, and the extent of succession planning undertaken were allhigher than the successors’ evaluations. What is most interesting is that the incumbents’evaluation of the successors’ willingness to take over was also higher than the successors’ ownevaluation. It is impossible to tell whether this difference is a function of miscommunication(the successor communicated what he/she thought the incumbent wanted to hear) or 14 Please see footnote 11 for limitations in interpreting these results.
Table 1Descriptive statistics and correlationsVariables Mean Standard Deviation Cronbach’s 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Incumbents Successors Incumbents Successors alphaSatisfaction with 4.22*** 3.74 0.58 0.89 .93 À .01 À .03 .15 À .10 .36 .18 .07 .64 .71 succession P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 process (1)Firm size (2) 3.03 3.12 1.15 1.20 .33 À .12 .19 .12 .34** À .06 .04 .03 .00Gender mix (3) 0.16 0.17 0.36 0.37 .09 À .08 .02 .03 À .11 À .22* À .12 .04 À .10Generation (4) 0.35 0.32 0.48 0.47 .22 .33** À .14 À .19 .12 À .13 .01 .12 .19Succession 0.54 0.54 0.50 0.50 À .22 À .07 À .13 À .07 À .14 À .04 À .14 .05 À .13 timing (5)Propensity 3.70** 3.17 0.97 1.18 .68 .21 .10 À .17 .04 À .23 .06 À .02 .19 .27* of the incumbent to step aside (6)Willingness 4.38* 4.10 0.70 0.78 .70 .55** À .14 .10 .04 À .12 À .07 .18 .48** .24* of the successor to take over (7)Agreement to 3.89 3.92 0.89 0.85 .73 .24 .09 À .13 .15 À .24* .10 .09 .17 .14 maintain family involvement (8)Acceptance of 3.99* 3.70 0.80 0.90 .88 .66** .07 .10 .19 À .04 .12 .16 À .02 .46** individual roles (9)Extent of 3.30 ** 2.85 0.75 0.74 .85 .60** .24 À .04 À .03 .24 .27* .24* .19 .36** succession planning (10)Correlations below the diagonal are for incumbents. Those above the diagonal are for successors.Asterisks beside the means for incumbents indicate significant differences from those for successors. * P < .05. ** P < .01. 677 *** P < .001.
678 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687misinterpretation (the incumbent interpreted the communication in the way he or she wanted tohear it). Nevertheless, this result is consistent with the recurring pattern of differences in theperceptions of incumbents and successors regarding the succession process found in this study.5.2. Regression results The regression results are presented in Table 2 below. They indicate a highly significant fit;adjusted R2 are .55 for incumbents and .60 for successors. Tests of conformity with theassumptions of multiple regression using guidelines suggested by Fox (1991) indicated thatall regression assumptions were satisfied. Incumbents’ satisfaction with the succession process is significantly and positively relatedto the successor’s willingness to take over (confirming H2a), family members’ acceptance oftheir individual roles in the business (confirming H4a), and the extent of succession planning(confirming H5a). However, incumbents do not believe that their own propensity to step asideis a significant determinant of their satisfaction (rejecting H1a), nor that family agreement tomaintain family involvement is a factor (rejecting H3a). Successors are more satisfied if family members accept their individual roles (confirmingH4b) and if there is more succession planning (confirming H5b). They differ from theincumbents, however, in terms of whose attitude is more important to their satisfaction. TheyTable 2Results of regression analysisVariables Incumbents Successors Standardized t values Standardized t values betas betasPropensity of the 0.01 0.055 0.26 2.676* incumbent to step asideWillingness of the 0.39 3.046** 0.14 1.315 successor to take overAgreement to maintain 0.12 0.955 À 0.09 À 0.948 family involvementAcceptance of 0.28 1.942* 0.37 3.365*** individual rolesExtent of succession 0.31 2.599* 0.47 4.025*** planningFirm size À 0.10 À 0.865 À 0.07 À 0.789Gender dummy 0.06 0.482 À 0.03 À 0.010Generation dummy 0.16 1.312 0.18 0.006Succession timing dummy À 0.06 À 0.516 À 0.15 À 1.456Adjusted R2 .55 .64F 6.53*** 9.88***N 47 47 * P < .05. ** P < .01. *** P < .001.
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 679believe that the incumbent’s propensity to step aside is essential (confirming H1b), but theirown willingness to take over is not (rejecting H2b). Consistent with the perceptions ofincumbents, they do not believe that family agreement to maintain involvement is a factor(rejecting H3b). Finally, none of the control variables proved to have any significant influenceon the satisfaction levels of either incumbents or successors. Chow test shows that the two regression models are significantly different ( F = 1.80,P < .10). Tests for differences in the individual coefficients suggest that the two regressionmodels are different mainly due to the stakeholders’ varying responses to the incumbent’spropensity to step aside (H1a and H1b: t = 2.85, P < .01) and the extent to which successionhad been planned (H5a and H5b: t = 2.64, P < .02).6. Discussion6.1. Univariate results There are many possible conjectures to explain the differences in perceptions betweenincumbents and successors. For example, incumbents could have been more satisfied with thesuccession process because they were in control, and the process, as a result, was more consistentwith their views of how it should have been conducted than with the views of successors. Incumbents may have believed more strongly than successors about their own propensity tostep aside because they did not communicate those propensities to successors effectively.Similarly, incumbents may have believed that succession was planned to a greater extentbecause they had been doing it informally for a long time. Conversely, failure of familymembers to communicate their dissatisfaction with the succession process may explain whyincumbents were more sanguine about family member’ acceptance of their roles in the business. Furthermore, incumbents may have compared their own hesitation at the time they tookover with the behaviour of the successors and concluded that the successors were morewilling than the successors actually were. Finally, incumbents’ perspectives of theirbusinesses may simply have been quite different from those of successors who did not haveas long or as close an association with the firm (Lansberg, 1988). All of these conjectures areinteresting topics for future research. Whatever the reasons for the differences in perceptions, the most important conclusion tobe drawn from these results is that incumbents’ views of the business and relationshipsamong family members differs significantly from those of successors (Handler, 1989; Poza etal., 1997). For researchers, this means that empirical studies will have to be qualified if thedata are collected from only one group of family firm stakeholders. For empirical results to beinterpreted as representing family firms, some consensus among the dominant coalition offamily firm stakeholders (cf. Chua et al., 1999) with respect to the issue studied must bedemonstrated. For members of family firms, this could mean that there is an urgent need forcommunication and alignment of perceptions without which satisfaction with the successionprocess will likely be lower. This difference reinforces our previous observation that researchabout family business should reflect the views of more than one group of stakeholders.
680 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–6876.2. Regression results Results indicate that family members’ agreement to maintain family involvement did notaffect either incumbents’ or successors’ satisfaction with the succession process despitetheoretical reasons and previous research (e.g., Babicky, 1987) suggesting that this relation-ship should hold. A closer examination of the indicators used yields some conjectures for thisfinding. The use of the word ‘‘all’’ in the first indicator may have led the respondents tointerpret ‘‘agreement’’ as ‘‘unanimity.’’ If the succession had proceeded or was proceedingwithout unanimity, their responses would then show no relationship between this factor andsatisfaction. Future attempts to measure agreement to maintain family involvement shouldclarify this. Another conjecture arises from the central role of the incumbent president in twoof the indicators. If the impetus for succession came from the ensuing generation(s), despitethe incumbent’s control over the process, then this might have also introduced noise into therelationship. Thus, we believe that this relationship should be subjected to further testingbefore eliminating it from the theoretical model. The results show that succession planning improved the satisfaction with the successionprocess of both incumbents and successors. This justifies the preoccupation of familybusiness researchers with succession planning. Further research should try to establishwhether the various dimensions of succession planning—selecting the successor, trainingthe successor, communicating the succession decision, developing a strategy for the firm aftersuccession, and defining the post-succession role of the incumbent (Sharma et al., 2000)—have different impacts on satisfaction and, if so, the reasons behind the differences. Asidefrom satisfaction, future research should also investigate whether succession planningcontributes to success with respect to family firm performance after succession. The perceptions of both incumbents and successors with respect to family members’acceptance of each other’s roles significantly increased their satisfaction levels. This constructmainly measures the relative absence of conflicts and the family’s ability to deal with conflicts.Schulze et al. (2001) suggest that conflicts in family firms may be mitigated by altruism. Thisis an interesting direction for future research to pursue. They also suggest that altruism maycause actions that are unjustifiable on purely economic grounds. Research on the causes andconsequences of altruism in family firms is needed to better understand the trade-offs involvedin decisions, such as succession, when economic and noneconomic considerations may comeinto conflict. The most interesting findings from the regression analysis are with respect to H1a, H1b,H2a, and H2b. Both incumbents and successors believe that their satisfaction levels are morestrongly influenced by the other party’s attitude than by their own.15 This also means that they 15 The evidence related to the successors’ satisfaction level is stronger than that for the incumbents. Not onlywas the regression coefficient for the successors with respect to the incumbent’s propensity to step asidesignificantly different from zero, but the coefficients for the incumbents and the successors were significantlydifferent. While the coefficient for the incumbents with respect to the willingness of the successor to take over wassignificantly different from zero and that for the successors was not, the two coefficients were not significantlydifferent from each other.
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 681both assign heavier responsibility for their own dissatisfaction to the other. This could be aresult of the ‘‘fundamental attribution error’’—suggested by social psychologist Fritz Heider(1958). Heider argues that human beings have a tendency to excuse their own behavior byexplaining it in terms of circumstances, but hold others responsible for their behavior byattributing it to their inner dispositions. Further research is needed to determine themotivations and perceptions that underlie this difference. From a practical point of view, this difference highlights an important relationshipbetween the perceptions of incumbent and successor. The attitude of one affects the other’ssatisfaction with the succession process. If we add this insight to the observation that thesuccessors did not believe as strongly that the incumbents were ready to step aside, we havean explanation for why the successors were less satisfied with the succession processes theirfamily firms had undergone. The incumbents in our sample had a higher propensity to stepaside than what was believed by the successors. Unless the incumbents were not truthful intheir responses, there appears to be a communication problem between the two keystakeholder groups. This failure to communicate could by itself cause the failure of asuccession process. For example, if an incumbent does not convey that he or she is ready to step aside andto formulate a succession plan, or does not convey the plan effectively to other members ofthe family, then a potential successor could lose interest in the family firm. This, in turn,may reinforce the incumbent’s perception that the successor is not willing to take over thebusiness, causing the incumbent to delay the succession planning process and furtherstrengthen the successor’s perception that the incumbent is not ready to step aside.Furthermore, a successor who believes that the incumbent is less than eager to transferleadership may become resentful or lose confidence. A recent study has shown how suchattitudes may manifest themselves in certain post-succession strategies with particularly direperformance consequences (Miller et al., in press). Thus, research on how the commun-ication gap may affect the succession process and succession decision and how that gapmight be closed would be particularly valuable.7. Conclusions Successful succession has two dimensions in family firms. One is satisfaction with theprocess and the other is performance of the firm after succession. In this article, we presentedthe results of a partial test of a comprehensive model on satisfaction with the successionprocess developed by Sharma et al. (2001). The data show that incumbents and successorsdiffer significantly in their perceptions about each other and about relationships among familymembers. Researchers (e.g., Handler, 1989) have suggested that family members’ perceptionsmay be different, and this study confirms the existence of statistically significant differencesin the context of the succession process. This is an important contribution of the studybecause the results imply that empirical research on family business must prepare for differentperceptions and views. At the minimum, this requires empirical results to be qualifiedaccording to which particular family stakeholder group is studied.
682 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 Four out of the five hypotheses were supported or partially supported by the regressionresults. Incumbents and successors agree that succession planning and family members’acceptance of individual roles in the business contribute to their satisfaction with thesuccession process. They also agree that the decision by family members to continue thebusiness is not an important determinant of their satisfaction. They differ in terms of whose attitude is more important in determining their ownsatisfaction with the process. Incumbents believe that the willingness of successors totake over is a significant contributor to their satisfaction, but their own propensity to stepaside is not. Conversely, successors believe that the incumbent’s propensity to step asidestrongly affects their satisfaction and that their own willingness to take over has noeffect. The results empirically confirm some widely held beliefs, but they also point out aserious misalignment of perception among family members. Finally, they consistently pointout the importance of investigating more than one stakeholder group when studying familybusiness. This study assumes that the incumbent has control over the succession process. In allcases, the families did have majority ownership of the firms, but we did not verify whetherthe incumbent had ownership control or, at least, controlled the dominant familial coalition.We do not know how this may limit the generalizability of the conclusions. Thus, our studyshould be seen as a first step toward understanding satisfaction with the success processwithin family firms. Only additional studies on other samples will prove the extent to whichthe evidence gathered here can be generalized.Acknowledgements We thank Michael Hitt, William Schulze, the guest editors, and three anonymous reviewersfor their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. We also thank the Centre forFamily Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Calgary for fundingthe study. This paper is based substantially on the dissertation of P. Sharma.Appendix A. IndicatorsA.1. Satisfaction with the succession process [Alpha=.93] Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of their satisfaction with the following on a5-point scale where 1 = not at all satisfied, 2 = satisfied to some extent, 3 = moderatelysatisfied, 4 = fairly satisfied, and 5 = completely satisfied 1. The manner in which the succession process was managed. 2. The manner in which the choice of successor was communicated to family members actively involved in the business.
P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–687 683 3. The manner in which the choice of successor was communicated to family members not actively involved in the business. 4. The manner in which the choice of successor was communicated to key non-family managers. 5. The process used to determine the potential candidates for succession. 6. The criteria used to select the successor. 7. The process used to train the successor. 8. The process used to familiarize the successor with the business. 9. The process used to familiarize the successor with the employees of the business.10. The financial arrangements for the outgoing president of your firm upon him/her retirement.11. The criteria used for determining the distribution of ownership after the transfer of leadership to the successor.12. The suitability of the chosen successor.A.2. Propensity of the incumbent to step aside [Alpha=.68] Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of accuracy of the following statements on a5-point scale with 1 = not at all accurate, 2 = somewhat accurate, 3 = moderately accurate,4 = fairly accurate, and 5 = completely accurate1. * The outgoing president of our business did not want to let go of the leadership of the business.2. * The outgoing president of our business felt that his or her presence in the business was necessary to keep it running.A.3. Willingness of successor to take over [Alpha=.70] Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of accuracy of the following statements on a5-point scale with 1 = not at all accurate, 2 = somewhat accurate, 3 = moderately accurate,4 = fairly accurate, and 5 = completely accurate1. The successor had a great deal of confidence in his/her ability to run the business.2. The successor had a strong desire to take over the business.A.4. Agreement to maintain family involvement [Alpha=.73] Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of accuracy of the following statements on a5-point scale with 1 = not at all accurate, 2 = somewhat accurate, 3 = moderately accurate,4 = fairly accurate, and 5 = completely accurate1. All family members actively involved in our business were deeply committed to the company continuing as a family business.
684 P. Sharma et al. / Journal of Business Venturing 18 (2003) 667–6872. Members of our family who were not actively involved in our business were deeply committed to the company continuing as a family business.3. If none of the younger family members had joined our family firm, family members of the preceding generation would have been very disappointed.4. The outgoing president of our business was deeply committed to continuing the business as a family business.5. The outgoing president of our business wanted his/her children to enter the business.A.5. Acceptance of individual roles [Alpha=.88] Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of accuracy of the following statements on a5-point scale with 1 = not at all accurate, 2 = somewhat accurate, 3 = moderately accurate,4 = fairly accurate, and 5 = completely accurate1. Our family members accepted their roles and positions in the business.2. Our family members accepted their relative ownership stakes.3. Our family members understood their specific roles and responsibilities.4. Our family members acknowledged each other’s achievements in the context of the business.5. Our family members encouraged each other to give his/her best efforts.6. Members of our family actively involved in the business cooperated and worked as a team.7. Our family members freely expressed their opinion about day-to-day decisions in the business.8. * Our family members found it easier to discuss problems related to the business with people outside the family than with each other.A.6. Extent of succession planning [Alpha=.85] Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of accuracy of the following statements on a5-point scale with 1 = not at all accurate, 2 = somewhat accurate, 3 = moderately accurate,4 = fairly accurate, and 5 = completely accurate 1. We had an unwritten succession plan for transferring the management control of our business to the successor. 2. A list of potential successors was developed. 3. Explicit succession criteria were developed for identifying the best successor. 4. Explicit efforts were made to train potential successors for their future role in the business. 5. Explicit attention was given to familiarize the potential successors with business prior to the succession. 6. Explicit attention was given to familiarize the potential successors with the employees of the business prior to the succession.
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