Abstract

Innovation is crucial to the development and long-term survival of firms. Many of the longest surviving firms are family owned or controlled and have prospered for many generations. The interplay between continuities of past and the need for change lie at the heart of family business. Succession has the potential for change and regeneration of the firm. Decisions to innovate and change are every bit as entrepreneurial as the original decision to found the business. Discontinuity and difference are as much a part of succession as continuity.

This study examines how some family firms maintain high levels of innovation across generations. It takes a business history perspective to examine the path dependency of innovation in individual family firms. The family firm is embedded within a particular array of values, attitudes, laws and business practices, which vary precisely because of being moulded by differing historical experience. Shared family experience leads to shared understandings and perceptions which shape the evolution of the firm. History matters in the change and innovation process, as it affects choices and informs development. Without an understanding of history, the variation in capabilities and peculiarities of family firms is hard to appreciate.

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