Isabelle Mari (2018)

Developing Trust among Family Owners in Multiple Branches Family Firms

This dissertation studies trust in Multiple Branches Family Firms. It focuses on a form of trust that has received little attention: collective trust (Kramer 2010). Drawing on self-categorization theory (Tajfel and Turner 1986; 1987), the relational models of procedural justice (Blader and Tyler 2015), and the Economies of Worth (Boltanski and Thévenot 1986, 1991), this dissertation provides a framework for understanding how collective trust evolves when groups branch out. It sheds light on the role of the leader(s) in this process. This study investigates how changes in identity perception – due to changes in group’s structure – can erode collective trust, and the procedures the leader(s) can create to maintain identification with the group, as well as collective trust. Empirically, the study is based on in-depth and interpretive case studies of collective trust erosion and maintenance in four family firms. The evolution of the relationships between family members in the family and business contexts is apprehended through in-depth interviews. When the family branches out, family leaders tend to develop formalities to maintain collective trust. These formalities aim to reduce family members’ perception of vulnerability, and address the changes in identity that family members experience over time. As the family evolves, family members develop varying identifications, moving from Family to Branch identification. Over the years, Family identification tends to decline leading to Family collective trust erosion. Family leaders can create procedures to maintain superordinate group (SOG) identification, and collective trust. Three forms of identification emerged: The Family SOG, The Professionalized Family SOG, and The Family Owners SOG.

This study offers a new perspective on trust erosion and maintenance with a consideration for the group level as a source and object of trust. Two distinct forms of trust erosion emerged: one deriving from a perception of leaders’ unfair treatment towards group members, and the other one from gradual changes in group members’ identity perception of one another. In these processes of trust erosion, I identified two triggers: the denunciation of the familial nature of the family leaders’ procedures in business situations, and the denunciation of family leaders’ illegitimate ways of qualifying family members. They result from family members’ changes in identification when the family branches out. Family leaders can avoid that trust erodes through the generation of new salient superordinate group identifications that address family members’ changes in identity perception.