International Family Enterprise

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"Enabling Internationalization Excellence for Family Enterprises"

IFE, 2017


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This is a call for chapters on family firm (FF) internationalization for Scholarly Handbook published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book is focused on the role of FF-specific views and networks in their internationalization, the actual internationalization process and FFs internationalizing from or to Emerging Markets in special. Both empirical and conceptual work is welcome.

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Research on the Internationalization of Family Enterprises – Toward the Holy Grail?

The research on the internationalization of family enterprises took off in 1991 when Miguel Angel Gallo and Jannicke Sveen published the first scientific article on the topic. This study dealt with the facilitating and restraining factors for family enterprises to go international. For nearly 30 years from that publication, various studies have attempted to increase our understanding on the specific factors related to the internationalization of family enterprises. Although this field of research has witnessed explosive growth (e.g. Pukall and Calabro, 2014), there is still lot to do in gaining findings that have large consensus behind them. We are still in a situation wherein opposing findings often fight with each other, for instance:

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From life-experiences to identities and international entrepreneurial behavior

In our recently published research article, Tanja and I discuss our findings of founder-CEOs of early and rapidly internationalized ventures, their identities and relative behavior. In the paper, we elaborate on how individuals, telling about their life-experiences and becoming and being international entrepreneurs, construct their identities into scripts — i.e. a Pioneer, Native, Diplomat, Gambler, and an Eclectic script. Moreover, we illuminate how founder-CEOs’ developmental experiences feed into and frame their international entrepreneurial behavior as emergent in the range of historically bound and generational contexts, encompass the sense-making of international social interaction and shed light to the emotional aspects relative to one’s international entrepreneurial journey.

Are you the explorer of unmarked paths…

A “pioneer script” encapsulates the life narratives of international entrepreneurs who make sense of themselves as forward-looking, possessing a proactive attitude and eagerness to move along unmarked paths throughout their career. “Pioneers” emphasize that while becoming an international entrepreneur is perhaps challenging, it is deeply rewarding in terms of personal growth, as when one persists in believing in something that has not hitherto been attempted. Founders of this script are of great persistency and visionary in their outlook, reflecting the context of doing international business at times and places when there are little or no external support for conducting and enacting the emerging pioneering ideas. To this extent, a Pioneer script involves the sensitivity to the ideologically, politically, and culturally different times an international entrepreneur may encounter, where one might be pressured either to give in, or else to fight for something personally meaningful, while developing an unconstrained yet legitimate status for one’s company and one’s self.

…or a diplomat, who builds bridges between people and yourself?

Some of the founders’ identities and behavior unfolded according to what we could call the ”diplomat script”. This script gains momentum from personal cultural and social encounters that both challenge and provide learning opportunities, constructing knowledge of the international context over time. It also manifests the developing path of internationalization, arrived at through introspection, with interpretation of interactions with people from different backgrounds along one’s life trajectory. Furthermore, a diplomat script seems to be grounded in people-oriented experiences, and fits well with the demands of contemporary internationalization and of entrepreneurial careers that build on social relationships and networks.

Perhaps you were just born with it?

While reflecting the position of founder-CEOs who are internally driven by awareness of the necessity of doing international business, the “native script” also tells of the ones having an entrepreneurial mindset and the privilege of being internationally and/or entrepreneurially oriented from an early period in their life. Assuming that such individuals also have personal motivation for entrepreneurial practices, this script fits well with the behavior of “born global” entrepreneurs, i.e., those who have the internal abilities to adapt easily to various global “cultures” of business (by being, e.g., a “world citizen” or a “digi-native”), and to international careers in which they become more and more embedded. Such characteristics — in conjunction with the push of personal interests and education and the pull of broad social networks, accentuated by the technological advances of the time — enable the person to construct a flexible identity that will endure both personal and social scrutiny.

When “positive delusion” is the name of the game

A “gambler script” manifests the behavior surrounding risk-taking amid the uncertainties of founding an international new venture. If such a script is followed through, taking on calculated risks provides the “thrill of the game” while pursuing big dreams. Reaching millions of online followers worldwide may be both the motivation and the means for their international venturing. As one might expect from such individuals, a pre-eminent characteristic is intelligence, applied to dealing dispassionately with human cognition and emotions. Thus, this script seems to incorporate a sense of responsibility for one’s risk-taking actions. Disregarding the negative connotations of “gambling”, international entrepreneurship makes sense as a kind of “sport” of logic and problem-solving, one that makes it necessary to keep a close eye on competitors’ actions and reactions, have good abilities to handle emotions and manage one’s own reactions in stressful situations.

The reflexive Eclectic

When we suggest such categorizations of founders’ identity constructions and their “narrative scripts”, we ought to remember that no entrepreneur should beput into a box. Neither can we maintain much of stability in the rapidly changing and dynamic world we live in. Hence, we ought to read further the international entrepreneurship script as an eclectic one. Many of the founders’ experiences manifest eagerness to and ability to learn, and strong willingness to be transformative in the dynamic and changing international business context. In addition to an internal motivation to initiate and to work diligently for the next “big thing”, founders may find a good degree of reflexivity over one’s actions, with a profound willingness to reflect on and re-interpret their interaction with their (social) environment on the way. Manifesting a rather deep sense of one’s own self — while also ability to challenge one’s assumptions following feedback from others — an “eclectic script” seems to give an entrepreneur the possibilities to adopt a myriad of approaches within the complexity of international and entrepeneurial practices.

We encourage you to read further our open access article, where you’ll find the importance of considering the various cultural and time contexts, generational contexts, and social contexts, as well as the emotional aspects in which one becomes and is an entrepreneur leading an international venture. Considering these dimensions underpinning individuals’ actions and behavior would then have the aim to develop more reflective practices – especially reflexivity – among those who engage daily in “writing the new scripts” of international entrepreneurship, such as educational insitutes, media as much as entrepreneurs themselves.

Book in the picture: Polkinghorne, D., E. (1988) Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. New York: State University.


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




Contact Us

Project Lead

Tanja Leppäaho
+358 40 1919 448

Team Members