As a young boy growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Torsten Pieper developed a personal interest in family business way before becoming a researcher. Now an accomplished family business scholar, Torsten came a long way and continues to express his commitment to the field with dedication, energy and elegance. His many contributions to the field include, but are not limited to, the editorship of JFBS, an intense research agenda and, of course, his long-term commitment to IFERA and his current role as the IFERA president. His ambitious vision and contagious passion are the inspiration behind IFERA’s recent developments and, perhaps even more importantly, behind the smile of all his collaborators.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Torsten Pieper:
Why Family Business?
There are three reasons primarily. First, family businesses are the most prevalent type of organization in the world. Yet, they remain hugely underrepresented in the academic literature. Think about it this way: upward of 90% of all businesses are family controlled. But less than 10% of articles published include family as a variable of interest. It’s gotten better over the years, but there still a huge imbalance. The better we understand family businesses, the more we can help them leverage their unique strengths and capabilities to maximize their effectiveness. Second, family businesses do a lot of good and expect very little in return. They often pursue goals other than mere profit and they usually do so in a sustainable fashion, as good stewards of their employees, customers, and the environment. These are laudable objectives, in my opinion, and I firmly believe the economy and society at large would be better off if more organizations and individuals embraced a similar attitude. Third, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My father started a company that evolved into a multinational business, and his ancestors owned a diversified construction and agriculture business in Eastern Europe for many generations. So I have a personal interest as well.
What is the best part of being the IFERA President?
Working with you, and with so many other talented, fun, and dedicated people, of course! IFERA has always been close to my heart. My first job was secretary to the board many years ago, and I had the unique opportunity to see IFERA and the field grow over the years. The dynamism is enormous and I know of few other fields that have experienced a similar growth pattern as family business has. From everything I know, there is no end in sight. You get to meet a lot of interesting people, and I greatly value the many wonderful friendships that have grown out of my affiliation with IFERA. It’s something I am very grateful for.
What is your big ambition for it?
To help IFERA become THE organization for family business academics and others interested in the subject in the world. We have a fantastic team of smart and energetic board members who are doing tremendous work. There are a lot of projects and new initiatives ongoing that shall add further value to what we are currently doing. For instance, one of our teams under the lead of Josip Kotlar is working on implementing a “buddy review” system where we offer friendly reviews for researchers on their work in progress. Through this initiative, we hope to provide additional support to researchers, especially when they are new to the field or do not have the resources or networks at their institutions yet to receive quality feedback and mentoring. I am very excited about this initiative, and it’s one example of the many exciting projects we have ongoing. I would also like to see us start fundraising for scholarship programs for doctoral students and researchers from developing countries or underprivileged circumstances.
Let’s get personal… by instinct:
Mintzberg or Ansoff?
What I really admire about the two are the very debates they had criticizing the heck out of each other’s work. Unfortunately, such debates are rare these days. Now, I would be curious to heart their respective perspectives on family business strategy (too bad it’s too late to ask Igor Ansoff).
Financial wealth or Socioemotional wealth?
Both. Financial and emotional values go hand in hand and they are best when they form a symbiotic relationship where one sustains the other (rather than one feeding off of the other).
Qualitative or quantitative?
Again, that would be both. I like to think of them as tools (and that’s surprising, because some people have criticized my abilities as a handyman). Depending on what you want to do, one will serve you better than the other. And it’s always better to have more tools than fewer in your toolbox.
AMJ or HBR?
I like both. As a matter of fact, I firmly believe that rigor and relevance are not mutually exclusive. It’s a tough act to balance, but family business in particular is such an applied science that we must maintain close connection and relevance with the firms and individuals that we study.
Public or private?
Private, hands down. You have much greater room to act independently and pursue the goals that you and your family envision. You are much more restricted in a public firm where quarterly earnings often enforce short-term thinking. With that said, there are many outstanding family-controlled public firms and as we know, they usually outperform their non-family cousins.
Favourite article ever?
There are so many that come to mind, it’s hard to single one out. I like the writings of Karl Weick, the stories are so powerful. I enjoy reading in diverse areas, too many to cover.
Biggest disruption for family firms today?
For any organization or living system, it’s critically important to keep your eyes on what’s going on outside, so you recognize opportunities and threats in the environment quickly and can act upon them rapidly. One frequent challenge that organizations – and family firms in particular – face is that they become preoccupied with internal issues (quarrels and conflicts consume a lot of time and energy that could be put to use otherwise). Research shows consistently that the more successful and long-lived business families develop strategies and mechanisms that enable them to maintain internal cohesion and manage conflicts effectively so that they can remain nimble and sensitive to changes around them.
Favourite theory ever?
The one I have yet to develop.
Favourite colour? (Just joking…)
My wife and daughters tell me I’m always wearing blue. So I guess that answers your question.
Do you have negative feelings for your interviewer after this?
Of course not! This has been great fun. Thanks for taking the time to listen.
There is something you would like to say to the IFERA Community?
Thank you for your tremendous contributions to IFERA and to the family business field. Your work is very important! Please continue to be involved with IFERA and tell us what we can do to serve you and the community even better. We look forward to hearing from you. Again, thank you for all that you do!