Mattias Nordqvist (2005)

Understanding the role of ownership in strategizing: a study of family firms

This dissertation deals with the role of ownership in strategizing in family firms. More closely, it examines how ownership is channeled through different actors and arenas in the everyday work on strategic issues. The study emanates from the increased interest in family firms and in the role of visible, active, and long term ownership in the strategic development of firms. The study is positioned in the growing approach in strategy research often referred to as strategizing. The strategizing perspective draws attention to micro processes of strategic work, such as who the actors involved in strategic work are and how, where, and when, i.e. in what arenas, they meet and interact. In line with basic assumptions in the strategizing approach, the role of ownership in this process is addressed from a symbolic interactionist perspective, where inspiration from psychological ownership is also used in order to introduce and elaborate on a notion of socio-symbolic ownership.

Empirically, the study is based on in-depth and interpretive case studies of strategizing in three family firms, where the everyday strategic work is followed in real time over a period of about fours years in two firms and one and a half years in one firm. The empirical work is based on in-depth interviews, detailed observations, and secondary documents in order to build rich case descriptions. Abbreviated versions of these case descriptions are presented in this dissertation.The empirical interpretations are integrated into a conceptual model with four ideal types of character of strategizing in terms of actors and arenas involved in this process in the three family firms, with the aim to also visualize how the process changes over time. Moving beyond this level of interpretation, a socio-symbolic understanding of the role of ownership in strategizing is outlined, where a central interpretive process labeled enacting ownership is especially elaborated on.

Enacting ownership is about how actors, both family and non-family, interpret, understand, and act on the guiding province of meaning related to the ownership in the different arenas of everyday strategic work. It is suggested that how and why actors enact ownership is shaped by especially three interrelated processes: channeling ownership through formal intentions and vision, channeling ownership through informal interaction, and channeling ownership through symbolic embodiment in the strategic work.Consideration is also given to what the socio-symbolic understanding of the role of ownership means for outcomes of strategizing, both at the micro level of social interaction and at the organizational level of the family firm. At the micro level, particular attention is paid to the performance of actors and arenas in strategizing. At the organizational level, there is a specific focus on how the strategic proximity and the strategic persistence of family ownership can be a source of strategic advantage as well as disadvantage in family firms.