By SOUGATA RAY, NUPUR PAVAN BANG, NAVNEET BHATNAGAR
Concentrated ownership of a firm in the hands of a family presents unique opportunities and challenges that impact its performance.
In India, family firms are a dominant force in the economy, contributing significantly to nation-building, the exchequer, creation of jobs and asset creation. Their footprints on the Indian economy are indelible. It is imperative for family firms to perform well, grow profitably, create value and contribute to economic progress if India has to realise its full potential.
Researchers have argued that family firms have better monitoring and lower agency costs than non-family firms, have incentives to take long-term views of maximising firm value, and are value-driven organisations. Yet, many of them are found to be plagued by rent-seeking behaviour, succession issues, lack of transparency and governance, lack of professionalisation, and family conflicts. Understandably, therefore, there is mixed evidence globally on whether family firms perform better than non-family firms.
Using a unique proprietary database of scientifically classified listed family and non-family firms, the team at the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise conducted a study on all listed firms in India over the past three decades. The analyses overwhelmingly reveal that on an average, family firms underperform non-family firms.
What are the reasons?
Lapses in overall strategic planning by family firms, conflicting intrinsic motivations of family members, lack of professionalisation and governance, and opposing utility functions of management (non-family professionals) and the promoting family could be responsible. Many a time, maintaining control and influence over the firm also pushes the family to take decisions independent of financial considerations. These idiosyncratic strategies and irrational choices, mainly due to the emotional ties that the family has with the firm, may overpower the advantages of being a family firm. The analysis also reveals a negative impact of family leadership on performance among family firms.
While the average trend is negative, there are family firms across industries that have performed exceedingly well. They have withstood the licence raj as well as the winds of change that swept the nation during the economic liberalisation in 1991. There had been widespread apprehensions about the capabilities of family businesses to withstand the pressure of the newly created “freedom” that made them vulnerable to competition for resources, markets and capital. However, many family businesses transformed themselves by taking stock, restructuring their operations, taking advantage of new opportunities, putting the right governance systems in place, and professionalising.
There is much to learn from these businesses.
90% of the listed world
Despite the underperformance of family firms on an average, their dominance in India continues. Ninety-one percent of all listed firms in India are family firms. Large family firms and business groups have consolidated their positions even more in recent years. As these business families and the firms owned by them are firmly embedded in the society and institutional context and develop patterns of trust and confidence among stakeholders, they have better access to social and financial capital and are willing to embark on enterprises involving considerable risk with a reasonable chance of success. This reinforces the continued cultural, political and social importance of family firms in India, which is not going to diminish any time soon.
However, a vast majority of family firms in India does not possess these constructive characteristics exhibited by the more successful ones. These underperforming family firms must be open to learning from the select others who have been performing well, put in place family as well as business governance systems, professionalise as they grow, delegate management and operating responsibilities to the right persons outside the family, and change with time to adapt and modernise. They need to be made aware of the enormous opportunities and be nudged to overcome their challenges building on their inherent strengths.
Policymakers must be open to framing targeted interventions that are required to create favourable conditions for improving the performance of family firms. Given the importance and significance of family firms in an economy like India, more family firms across industries have to undergo a transformation and start pulling their punches to make India Aatmanirbhar.
(The authors are from the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business. This article is part of a multi-part series on family businesses.)