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"Enabling Internationalization Excellence for Family Enterprises"

IFE, 2017


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Values as assets

Service designer Petri Aaltonen notes that the core of service business is not how valuable the customer is to the company, but what is the value the company brings to the customer. Hence, focus in service design should first and foremost be on the value experience, combining different levels of feeling and meaning. This lead me thinking more of the meaning of word value(s) in business.

Lately, I have been following one of my friends in LinkedIn, noting how he has become a professional in encouraging others. One update and post after another, be it work or free-time related, he is giving positive feedback and appreciation to his co-workers, colleagues, customers and friends. I could say, my friend’s activity and communication is led by the value of encouragement. The leading thought does not seem to be how much his actions bring value to the company he represents, but how much his actions are bringing meaning and value to his network and people he personally encounters – online or offline. He has internalized a value and attitude – or a personal brand – which reaches people on levels of both feeling and reason.

If service and service leadership is about value experience, I would say it is exactly the personal level appreciation and valuing that should be in a bigger role when building up the firm-level value for customers. It would not be primarily about competing for the value the customers brings to the company (cashflow), but the meaningfulness and feeling of working with that particular company that brings value (experience) to the customer. Like Aaltonen notes, service designing in companies must be based on knowing and seeing the customer and their needs; one must go close to the human: “Leaders’ attitude should be that I am here to learn, not leading.”

Because service business is growing its percentage in overall business activities, it is meaningful to take notion of how value experience and services are lead in family businesses. Not least, because values serve as the anchor for family firms, grounding much of its organizational culture, leadership, activities and objectives. Therefore, family firms as the kind of value leaders have the great position to be encouraging and showing their customers and other stakeholders how they reflect on values as assets in their operations e.g. in designing and producing services.



According to top professors “There is nothing more practical than a good theory”. The aim of this research project is to be both practically and theoretically relevant in the area of internationalization of family enterprises. We have good chances for that: Pukall and Calabro (2014) have noted that Tanja Leppäaho is currently the scholar with largest number of publications on the internationalisation of family enterprises and she has a great research team around her.

Practically, we aim to provide family enterprises, which make more than 80% of the Finnish firm population and are the focus of current Strategic Development Programme of the Finnish Government, with managerial recommendations and understanding of their strengths and weaknesses for internationalization. Theoretically, we build a strong theory on the internationalization process over time and publish high-quality research by strong theorizing from the empirical findings.

In addition to internationalization pathways over time, we concentrate especially on network ties within the internationalization of family enterprises. The project will be implemented by collecting three longitudinal, empirical databases.

Work Package 1 is an archival study and will take a historical approach on the internationalization of long-enduring family enterprises via archives. Work Package 2 is based on a longitudinal multiple case study approach and well-being measurements of family managers in about 20 Finnish family enterprises. In Work package 3 we will collect and analyze longitudinal survey and panel data on Finnish export SMEs.


Tanja Tanja

Tanja is the manager of the research project running in between 1.9.2017 and  31.8.2022. The project is hosted by Lappeenranta University of Technology and funded by the Academy of Finland. Tanja’s previous employment was Professor of Entrepreneurship and International Business (tenure track) at Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. Tanja’s areas of interest are international entrepreneurship, networking, process, family entrepreneurship, and qualitative methodology. According to Pukall and Calabro (2014), Tanja is  currently is the leading expert of the area on a global scale.

Tanja entered academia in 2008 and graduated as PhD (economics) from the University of Jyväskylä in 2011. On completing her PhD she was recruited as an Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Business Schoolwhere she gained important experience and extensive research networks within the UK. Tanja’s current endeavour is to make internationalization of family enterprises an even stronger area for specialization and a centre of excellence in Finland and Lappeenranta.

Tanja has published in various journals including Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Family Business Review, Journal of Small Business Management, International Marketing Review, and International Business Review. She has received several awards.  Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference (BCERC) awarded Tanja and her coauthor Professor Sarah Jack from University of Lancaster School of Management the Bertarelli Family Best Paper Award for their 2016 joint study on international networking among family enterprises. Tanja’s article on qualitative case studies in Family Business Review was the most cited article in 2016.

Tanja very much likes teaching and company collaboration. Example of the student-company collaboration she has facilitated can be found via link below. Her CV can be found via the second link below. Tanja’s newest publication related to institutional distance and international networking can be found here.

International Students Innovating the International Strategy of Valtra and Valmet – Jyväskylän yliopisto

Tanja’s Curriculum Vitae and Publications

Jaakko Jaakko

Jaakko is working as a Research Associate in the project. He is involved in carrying out the longitudinal multiple-case study (work package 2) and survey (work package 3) parts of the project in particular. He is the person contacting the case firms, running and analyzing the interviews, and organizing networking events around the project.

Jaakko holds Master’s Degree in International Business and Entrepreneurship from the University of Jyväskylä and Bachelor’s Degree in International Business from the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). Jaakko works as a Junior Researcher at LUT and alongside the project works on his own dissertation about the internationalization processes of small and medium-sized family enterprises (family SMEs). Before this occupation he worked in sales and customer management roles at two rapidly internationalizing startup and growth companies, Dream Broker Oy and Vainu.io Software Oy. During the Master’s studies, when Jaakko worked as research assistant for the leader of this project Tanja Leppäaho, he got excited with the research on family business internationalization, did the best family business Master’s thesis in Finland awarded by the Finnish Family Business Association, and participated in writing a scientific article on the process nature of the research on family business internationalization.

Jaakko’s areas of interest are growth and internationalization in family and other SMEs, entrepreneurship education, and case study research. Jaakko aims to become an expert in the fields of international business and entrepreneurship with not only contributing in academia but also disseminate expertise to student and company levels. Work experience in private sector helps reflecting research outcomes to more practical level and building networks.

Satu Satu

Satu is working as a Research Associate in the project. She is involved in the archival study (work package 1) of the project in particular, finding out about the internationalization of Ahlström, Serlachius, Scauman, and Vaisala, focusing on the narrative nature of the data and analysis.

Satu holds a Master’s Degree in International Business and Entrepreneurship from University of Jyväskylä and since May 2016, Satu has been working on her PhD research in the Faculty of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. Satu’s dissertation “Constructing an international entrepreneurship identity through narratives” studies the emergence and evolvement of the international entrepreneurship process from the individual, behavioral and career perspective. Satu’s research efforts hold the promise of producing new theoretical and practical insight on how the complex and contextual international entrepreneurship process unfolds in reality and as a career path.

The current project is a fluent continuum to Satu’s past and current interests. Since 2012, Satu has gained experience with a first-row-seat in different kinds of projects aiming to develop and enhance entrepreneurship and internationalization of SMEs both through employment and through “pro bono” advisory roles. Prior to her Master’s degree, Satu worked in customer relationship management and member communications for the American Chamber of Commerce in Helsinki, aiding Finnish start-ups to grow their networks beyond national borders. Currently, in addition to her full-time doctoral research project, Satu is serving as a board member of a small internationally oriented family firm called Serdeco Oy and supervising for Master’s thesis projects on the internationalization of SMEs at the University of Jyväskylä.

Satu’s overall aspirations are to intensify the voices of the practitioners, harness the advantages of the narrative approach in international entrepreneurship research, and enable further and sound theorizing of internationalization.

Oleksiy Oleksiy

Oleksiy Kovalenko (MSc. in Psychology, in Spring 2018 also Master in Economics) is responsible for the visual looks and contents of the project.

Take Away

  1. All relationships are first and foremost social. Almost everywhere else the role of social interaction is significantly bigger than in Finland.
  2. Learn the language and culture of the target country. When your partner recognizes the effort you put into this, he or she becomes more committed and willing partner.
  3. Hire local employees. Nothing replaces local business knowledge and networks.
  4. Choose a foreign partner, whose values suit for the values of the family firm.
  5. Unless you are familiar with the foreign market and its practices or you have plenty of resources, it is recommended to start with export as an entry mode, so that the market knowledge and network relationships evolve.
  6. Create networks actively and creatively for internationalization. Suitable network relationships can be found through partners, subcontractors, trade fairs or competitors.
  7. Agility is a strength in family firms. Utilize that also in internationalization. With the help of fast and flexible decision-making you are one step ahead of the more bureaucratic competitors.
  8. Create network relationships also with the ones outside the primary relationship. They enable agile actions when facing changes or pursuing growth.
  9. During succession you should pay attention to the distribution of ownership. According to research findings, too fragmented portfolio-based ownership structure, in which some of the siblings don’t want to risk the resources of the firm not even little, might result in the overturn of the internationalization endeavors of the leading family member.
  10. An optimal partner for a family firm has existing channels and networks in the foreign market, is trustworthy, experienced and knowledgeable, and similar in terms of size, product portfolio and identity.

The list of managerial recommendations will be updated on a monthly basis via our blog and Facebook account. Stay tuned!


The project is hosted by LUT

The project is funded by the Academy of Finland

International Collaboration

Domestic Collaboration




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Project Lead

Tanja Leppäaho
+358 40 1919 448

Team Members