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‘Family business is the dominant form of business in Ireland so there is a need for support’

Lack of education and support for family firms in Ireland motivated Dr Eric Clinton to set up DCU’s National Centre for Family Business

The National Centre for Family Business at DCU engages with international family business associations and projects in order to support family businesses in Ireland with informed and innovative evidence-based research.

The National Centre for Family Business at DCU engages with international family business associations and projects in order to support family businesses in Ireland with informed and innovative evidence-based research.

 

Established in 2013 by Dr Eric Clinton, the National Centre for Family Business at DCU engages with international family business associations and projects in order to support family businesses in Ireland with informed and innovative evidence-based research. The centre aims to provide the family business community in Ireland with practical managerial and business insights, informed by lessons from best practice in family business management.

“We do three things: we research, we engage and we educate,” says Clinton. “First and foremost, it is a research centre. We research best practice internationally and inform family businesses here about it. We offer solutions for the current and next generations of family businesses in Ireland.”

Engagement involves regular conferences and other events. “We engage with over 1,500 family business of all different sizes and stages of development, from some of the smallest to the very largest firms in the country,” says Clinton.

“We run 10 to 12 events every year. We held our national conference in the DCU All Hallows campus earlier this year with 140 people in attendance. We had a number of very good keynote speakers including Caroline Keeling of Keeling Fruits and Chris Musgrave of the Musgrave Group. We also had Grant Dennis of the Dennis Family Corporation from Australia, who shared some very interesting insights about the growth and evolution of his family business since it was founded by his father. We also organise a lot of practical events such as seminars and workshops.”

The educational strand sees the centre provide a number of different programmes for family business. “We have undergraduate programmes in areas such as bringing new products and services to the market through a family business or a spin-out company. We offer a number of executive education programmes as well.”

‘Need for support’

The centre has its origins in Clinton’s won research. “I did my PhD in the area of entrepreneurship in family business and spent time in the US looking at it,” he explains. “Lots of the state universities over there have centres for family business. Ireland is probably about 20 years behind the US in terms of support for family business. It is the dominant form of business in Ireland so there is a need for support – that was the motivation for establishing the centre.

“I was a faculty member and I said to the university authorities that there was a gap there,” he adds. “We are the University of Enterprise, after all. “We now have a staff of 12 and it is an official research centre within the university which is well-recognised nationally and internationally for policy and practitioner-based research.”

Research at the centre covers a broad range of topics. One of these is imprinting. “We are looking at how behaviours become imprinted across generations and the long-lasting impact of a firm’s history to both individual and organisational outcomes. We are also looking at the big topic of succession. That’s something we are not very good at in Ireland and we don’t do it very often. The typical term of a family business CEO is 23 years by comparison to four years in other firms. People struggle to give up the thing that has been their passion for most of their lives.”

Another research topic is trans-generational entrepreneurship. “We are looking at how some family businesses constantly reinvent themselves generation after generation and continue to succeed. We are looking at how they do that. How they manage the paradoxical tension which family businesses are built on, how they embrace tradition yet manage change.”