Mastering Family Businesses

Universidade Católica Portuguesa

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Mastering Family Businesses

  • Host University

    Universidade Católica Portuguesa

  • Location

    Lisbon, Portugal

  • Area of Study

    Business Administration

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
    2.5 - 3
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course overview and objectives:
    Managing any business can be challenging these days especially with the increasing impact of factors such as technology, social media, and globalization. However, managing a family business can be especially challenging as family considerations add additional levels of complexity to the tasks of management.Often overlooked, in Europe, family firms represent over 80% of all companies and about 75% of employment (Wal-Mart, Fiat, Aldi, Ikea, Michelin, Louis Vuitton, Heineken and Porsche are just a few of some of the largest family firms around the world). It is well known that most of the family business do not make it to the second generation and a very small minority make it to the third. Stereotypes about family firms’ issues such as family scandals, nepotism, and conflicts, often receive the press headlines, but recent studies show that family businesses, on average, outperform and last longer than nonfamily businesses. The family is an important source of competitive advantage for many firms, but it can also cause fatal pitfalls to the business. We will explore the distinctive characteristics of family firms, the family as a source of unique strengths and competitive advantage.

    The course is directed towards those students who are currently considering entering their family’s business, as family members who work or do not work within the business; those who know that at some point in their professional lives, might work for a family firm; those who are interested in consulting, may work in or consult to family firms (as non-family employees with or without ownership interests, consultants, investment bankers, or in other roles); those who are interested in entrepreneurship which might originate a family business in the future; and those who are interested in learning about cool, successful stories about some of the largest family firms around the world.

    This course provides students with fundamental knowledge and basic tools to build an enlightened understanding of how to work entrepreneurially and professionally, in and with family firms, and manage the unique challenges and dilemmas faced by family businesses effectively.

    Course Content:
    The course is composed of 12 weeks of 3 hours each to allow for sufficient reflection, teamwork, discussion and guest lectures. Each week corresponds to an overall theme as follows:

    1 - Introduction
    Rules, deliverables, and course rules presentationTeam dynamics
    Warm up activity
    Introduction and overview
    Family business definition
    The first four generations
    Circle models of family influence
    Why do family firms need governance?
    2 - Governance
    Ownership stages
    Corporate governance
    Ownership Governance
    Wealth Governance
    Family governance
    The Family Assembly
    Family Councils
    Family Constitution 
    Exercise: “How Corporate Governance Helps in Decision Making: A case study.”
    Guest lecture: Consultant specialized in family firm’s advisory
    3 - Strategic management & Internationalization
    Socioemotional wealth (SEW) & Competitive advantages
    The agency perspective 
    Exercise: Case-Study: "How the Ford Family controls Ford Motor Company"
    The resource-based view
    The organizational identity perspective
    Exercise: Case-Study: "Branding and CSR at HiPP"
    Family Firms & Internationalization
    Governance of Family Firms & Internationalization
    4 - Succession
    Succession options
    Opportunities and challenges of succession options
    Sources of complexity in FB succession
    Successor willingness and ability
    Exercise: Case-Study: "Succession at Gardner Bakers"
    Planning the transition of responsibilities
    Entry paths for the successor
    Exit paths for the incumbent
    Retirement styles
    5 - Relationships & Conflicts
    McCain Family Feud
    A fundamental misunderstanding
    Types of conflict
    Conflict management strategies
    Exercise: Case-Study: "Reliance Industries"
    Trust and Family Businesses
    The Fredo Effect
    Exercise: Case-Study: Paul Newman
    6 - The Role of Non-Faily Members
    A delicate relationship
    Why Non-Family Executives want to work for a Family Firm
    What good non-family managers can do for your company
    Why non-family managers leave
    Making NFE a Part of your Team
    The Non-Family CEO
    Incentives for Key Non-Family Executives
    Guest lecture: Working in a Family Business as a Non-Family Member 
    7 – Innovation
    Innovation in family firms
    What research shows
    The level of innovation in family firms
    Founding generation vs later generations
    Exploitation vs Exploration
    Innovation through tradition
    Exercise: Case-Study: “Innovation through tradition: The Case of CUF”
    8 - Stewardship
    Stewardship Theory
    Stewardship Core Compass
    What Research Shows
    Boss vs. Leader vs. Steward Leader
    Exercise: Case-Study: “Boplaas”
    9 - Sustainability
    Sustainability and the FB's contribution to the UN SDG's goals
    Transforming Legacy in Sustainable Development
    Exercise: Case-Study: “The Case of Sogrape”
    10 – Resilience in FFs
    Resilience in Family Firms
    Guest lecture: Resilience in a Family Business 
    11 – Paradoxes in FFs
    What are paradoxes?
    Tensions and paradoxes in FB context
    How to deal ith tensions
    Exercise: The Vista Alegre Case-Study
    12 – Workgroup Workgroup Presentations

    The assessment reflects the hands-on approach of the course. It is a combination of the following elements:
    Class Presentations 5%: Class presentations of readings and cases for discussion.
    Peer Assessment 5%: Since this is a course where workgroup is a very strong component, you will grade and be graded by your team mates every month.
    Midterm Exam 25%:The midterm exam is mandatory and will take 1,5 hours. The exam format is largely Multiple-Choice Questions and some short answer format questions. The exam is comprehensive, meaning it will include material from class, including the slides, cases and pre- and in- class activities.
    Personal Reflection 5%: Reflection on the guest lectures about the main take aways (max. 2 pages) 
    Participation 5%: Participation grade is based on attendance, attitude, and added value. Students are not expected to have all the right answers in a discussion or to adopt a dominant attitude. They are expected to be well prepared, careful, non-judgmental, and constructive. 
    Advisory Report 20%: Each group will choose a family business to study (one FB that the group has real access to). Data collection includes interviews with family and non-family members, as well as a small survey. Teams will write a brief advisory report, describing their findings and practical recommendations.
    Advisory Report 10%:Discussion of the advisory report (individual). Each team will prepare a presentation (10-15 minutes) as if it were for a client (you can invite the company's representative to be present in the discussion). Prepare it well so that it can be lively and engaging. After the presentation, students will have to answer individual questions asked by the instructor. This will assess the individual knowledge of each student about the whole assignment, not only the presentation. Please keep in mind that the discussion is as important as the presentation.
    Final Exam 25%: The final exam is mandatory and will take 1,5 hours. The exam format is an essay where you are asked to reflect on your journey during the second part of the semester.

    You are required to have a minimum grade of 9.5 in EACH of the assessment tools to get final approval in the whole course.

    Zellweger, T. (2017). Managing the family business: Theory and practice. Edward Elgar Publishing.
    Optional reading materials:
    In case you want to deeply explore the topic of managing a family business, these are some additional readings that can be useful (NOTE: These materials will not be considered to determine your grade):
    • Schuman, A., Stutz, S., & Ward, J. L. (2010). Family business as paradox. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • Melin, L., Nordqvist, M., & Sharma, P. (Eds.). (2013). The SAGE handbook of family business. Sage.
    • Landes, D. (2008). Dynasties: Fortune and misfortune in the world's great family businesses. Penguin UK.
    • Cunha, F. (2017). Como liderar empresas familiares. Leya.
    • Jaffe, D. T. (2020). Borrowed from your grandchildren. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
    • Lauder, L. (2020). The Company I Keep: My life in beauty. Harper Collins Publishers

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits are converted to semester credits/quarter units differently among U.S. universities. Students should confirm the conversion scale used at their home university when determining credit transfer.


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