International Family Enterprise

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Project PI Tanja Publications
Outcomes Collaboration Spin off

"Enabling Internationalization Excellence for Family Enterprises"

IFE, 2017


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Socioemotional wealth – a wound or a healing cream to the internationalization of family SMEs?

What do small, resin-based medical and treatment products manufacturing Repolar and me have in common? Both have combined strong research and business – Repolar for the growth and internationalization of small family firm and I for building academic career based on research on the internationalization of small family firms. According to “Family Firm” magazine’s article (published on the 21th of September 2020 by Riitta Saarinen from Finnish Family Firm Association), an important growth factor for Repolar was when one of the co-founders, Arno Sipponen, did his dissertation on the use of resin in wound care in 2013. Tomorrow, Friday 4th of December, I will have the defense of my dissertation, which hopefully helps small and medium-sized family enterprises (family SMEs), such as Repolar, internationalize better, when we consider a key concept for family firms: socioemotional wealth (SEW). SEW encompasses noneconomic and affective aspects family members value and seek to preserve in their family business, even at the expense of economic interests. Hence, it can become a wound especially in smaller family firms, but research is insufficient. SEW can also be a wholesome resource through the commitment, long-term orientation and reliability of the family in the business.

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We aim to be relevant to the internationalization of family enterprises – both in theory and practice.

Family enterprises make up more than 80% of Finnish firms. They are one of the focus areas of the current Strategic Development Programme of the Finnish Government.

On our way to a theory on the family firm internationalization process, we have produced several sub-studies, some of which are listed in the outcomes-section on the project, also giving some practical tips for family entrepreneurs.

Our studies are based on archival data, case studies, and survey / panel data, with a special focus on the international pathways of firms and network ties within the internationalization process. 

We have a great team working on this project! Team leader Tanja Leppäaho is one of the world’s most active researchers on the internationalization of family enterprises. She is currently the scholar with the largest number of publications in this area.

Jaakko Jaakko

Jaakko Metsola is working as a Research Associate in the IFE project. He holds a PhD (2020) from the LUT University. His doctoral thesis supervised by the project leader Tanja Leppäaho is based on the IFE project data. Please see the doctoral thesis here.

Satu Satu

Satu Korhonen is working as a Research Associate in the IFE project. She holds a PhD (2020) from the LUT University. Her doctoral thesis supervised by the project leader Tanja Leppäaho is partly based on the IFE project data. Please see the doctoral thesis here.

PI Tanja

Tanja Tanja

Hello! I’m Tanja Leppäaho (previously Kontinen). I lead a research project on international family enterprises, here abbreviated as IFE. The project is based in LUT University, and it will last until 2022. I also lead the spin off of the project, International family firms: global approach.

My academic path in a nutshell

I started writing my doctoral thesis in 2008, defending it publicly in 2011 at the University of Jyväskylä. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of writing my work on the internationalization pathways of family firms, findings myself in the middle of several international conferences and research visits, too. In addition to several international conferences each year, I was fortunate to finalize my doctoral thesis at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Currently, I work as Research Fellow, a prestigious grant (with a 4-percent acceptance rate in 2019) funded by the Academy of Finland; hold a tenured Professorship in Growth entrepreneurship and act as Vice Director for LBM Doctoral School, LUT University, Finland. I have visited EMLyon Business School and Lancaster University Management School during the IFE project.

Previously I worked in a tenure track in international business and entrepreneurship at the University of Jyväskylä in between 2014 and 2017 and as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Business School, UK in between 2012 and 2016. In line with my current IFE project “Building Theory on the family business internationalization process” running in 2017-2022, my core areas of interest are the internationalization process of firms through times, networking and family ownership. According to Pukàll and Calabro (2014), I am the leading scholar on family firm internationalization on a global scale. 

My list of publications can be found through Orcid, Google Scholar and the project pages. I have published in various journals including Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Family Business Review, Journal of Small Business Management, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, and International Business Review. I have supervised five doctoral theses, visited several leading universities, given speeches in recognized societal-level organizations and events, and among others been granted, together with Professor Sarah Jack, the best paper award by the leading conference in entrepreneurship, Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference. I have also co-edited the first ever Handbook, Palgrave Handbook of Family Firm Internationalization (published early 2021). Please see information on the academic outcomes of the project on the Outcomes section.

Brief self-narrative from my childhood up until the Master’s Degrees

I grew up in a family firm in a rural area and lived a simple life helping out my parents at the farm, but also playing instruments, singing and doing athletics. While I learned to appreciate a simple life in the countryside, I became extremely interested in foreign languages and cultures and at school I selected as many languages as possible, getting my baccalaureat in 1997.

In my first university degree, Master of Arts (2002) from the University of Jyväskylä, I studied English language and culture, Roman philology (French and other Roman languages and cultures), German language and culture, and Nordic philology (Swedish) – and some Latin and Italian – and graduated as a language teacher. During my studies, I spent time working and studying abroad – in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Sweden – becoming even more fascinated by and also familiar with foreign languages and cultures. I especially enjoyed observing how people meet people from other cultures.

While I liked my work as a language teacher I did for a couple of years, I knew I was meant for something else and studied entrepreneurship and marketing, graduating as Master of Economics in 2004, also from the University of Jyväskylä. With my interest, I wanted to study how entrepreneurs internationalize and inspired by my Professor Matti Koiranen, I started studying family enterprises in special for my Master’s thesis. While I became more familiar with family entrepreneurs and their internationalization narratives, I was more and more fascinated by the hard and innovative work they pursue generation after generation, as well as their persistency and human nature among others. 

I also saw how important family enterprises are to communities and to Finland and Europe as a whole. I wanted to understand their internationalization more in-depth and even more longitudinally and find ways of making them more effective. That is how I started writing my PhD thesis on the same topic in 2008, after my Professor Matti Koiranen asked me for the third time. The first two times I was interested but unable to start, since the first time I had just given birth to my dear son and the second time I was just about to give birth to my sweet daughter – well, family issues here.

Brief CV of Tanja Leppäaho (previously Kontinen)


2012 Adjunct Professor (docent) of International Marketing, LUT University, Finland 

2011 PhD (Econ.), University of Jyväskylä (JSBE), Finland; Supervisor Matti Koiranen

2004 MSc in Economics, University of Jyväskylä (JSBE), Finland

2002 Master of Arts, University of Jyväskylä, Faculty of Humanities, Finland


Professor of Growth Entrepreneurship and Co-Head for Doctoral School, School of Business and Management, LUT University, Finland

Research Fellow, a prestigious personal grant (1.9.2017-30.9.2022) from the Academy of Finland on the topic of internationalization of family firms; for my salary and two PhD students


2019 Visiting Researcher, Lancaster University Management School, UK 

2018 Visiting Professor, EMLyon Management School, France 

2014-2017 Tenure track Professor, University of Jyväskylä (JSBE), Finland

2012-2016 Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh Business School, UK

2008-2013 Senior Assistant, University of Jyväskylä (JSBE), Finland

2010 Visiting Researcher, University of Adelaide, Australia


2017-2022: Grant of 604 842€; Academy of Finland (grant number 308667)

2017: Bertarelli Family Best Paper Award from BCERC (Babson College), USA

2017: Best Paper Award from the 8th BAMDE Conference, 6-9 June 2017, Varna, Bulgaria

2017: #1 most downloaded article in Family Business Review in 2016. 

2012: Best Paper Award, International Council for Small Business Conference, New Zealand


Number of Postdocs: 4 / PhD Students: 5 / Master Students: 30 

Doctoral theses 1st supervisor (years): Metsola, J., LUT (2017-2020); Korhonen, S., LUT (2016-2020); Tuomisalo, T., LUT (2014-2019); Batas, S., University of Edinburgh Business School (2012-2014).

2nd supervisor (years): Witt, A., University of Edinburgh Business School (2013-2015).


  • Doctoral level: Introduction to Doctoral Studies 2019-2020, LUT University, Finland; Business Theory and Thought 2020, Oulu University, Finland
  • Master level: Research Methods in Entrepreneurship and International Business 2020-2021, LUT University, Finland; Melting Pot of entrepreneurial competencies 2019-2020, LUT University, Finland; International Business 2012-2017, JSBE, Finland; International entrepreneurship 2009-2017, JSBE, Finland; Business Strategies for International Growth 2013, UEBS, UK; Master seminar 2010-2021, JSBE and LUT, Finland


  • Co-chair for International Family Enterprise Research Academy Conference (IFERA 2014), LUT University, Finland, June 24 –27, 2014.
  • Chair for “Family firm internationalization” track at AIB-UKI conference, April 2021
  • Chair for “Family firm internationalization” track at Vasa IB conference in 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021


  • Invited panel member of “Symposium on temporality and entrepreneurial opportunities” at the world leading AOM conference in August 2020
  • Invited keynote speech “Family firms in international entrepreneurship” in an International Symposium on International Entrepreneurship at the University of Greenwich, July 2019 
  • Presentation at Lancaster University Management School Research Seminar, UK, November 2019
  • Presentation at Leeds University, International Business Research Seminar, UK, October 2019 
  • Presentation at University of Edinburgh Business School Research Seminar, UK, October 2019


2021-2021 Director of International Research Group “International family firms and crisis responses; a global approach” with a unique dataset covering family firms in China, Taiwan, India, Guatemala, Honduras, Greece, France and Finland

2019 – 2021 Member of Doctoral School Committee, LUT University, Finland

2014 – 2017 Head of entrepreneurship research group, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

2014 – 2017 Member of AACSB Accreditation Committee, University of Jyväskylä, Finland 

2013 – 2014 Director of Master’s Degree Programme in International Business and Emerging Markets, University of Edinburgh Business School, UK

2012 Director of Master’s Degree Programme in International Business and Entrepreneurship, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


2020 – Member, MISUM network, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

2013 – Member, Academy of Management

2010 – Member, Academy of International Business

2008 – Member, Advisory Board for Research, Family Firm Institute, Finland


Journal Publications

  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A. (2010). The Internationalization of Family Businesses: A Review of Extant Research. Journal of Family Business Strategy, 1 (2), 97-107.
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A (2011). Network ties in the international opportunity recognition of family SMEs. International Business Review, 20, 440-453. (ABS 3*) 
  • Leppäaho, T. & Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, E. (2019). Internationalization strategy in different historical contexts: Critical Junctures and Imprinting. Manuscript presented in the Paper Development Workshop of “Journal of International Business Studies” at AIB World Conference, Copenhagen.
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A. (2012). Internationalization pathways of family SMEs (2012). International Marketing Review, 29 (5). 496 – 518. (ABS 3*) 
  • Kontinen, T. (2014). Biohit: a global, family-owned company embarking on a new phase. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 38(1), 185-207. 
  • Metsola, J., Leppäaho, T., Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, E., & Plakoyiannaki, E. (2020). Process in family business internationalisation: The state of the art and ways forward. International Business Review, 101665. 
  • Leppäaho, T., Plakoyiannaki, E. & Dimitratos, P. (2016). The case study in family business: analysis of current research practices and recommendations. Family Business Review 29(2), 159-173. 
  • Leppäaho, T., Chetty, S. & Dimitratos, P. (2018). Network embeddedness in the internationalization of biotech entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 30(5-6), 562-584. 
  • Korhonen, S., & Leppäaho, T. (2019). Well-trodden highways and roads less traveled: Entrepreneurial-oriented behavior and identity construction in international entrepreneurship narratives. Journal of International Entrepreneurship, 1-34.
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A. (2011). International opportunity recognition among small and medium-sized family firms. Journal of Small Business Management, 49(3), 490-514. (ABS 3*) (179 citations as of July 2020)
  • Leppäaho, T. & Pajunen, K. (2018). Institutional Distance and International Networking. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 30(5-6), 502-529. (ABS 3*) 
  • Chetty, S., Ojala, A., & Leppäaho, T. (2015). Effectuation and foreign market entry of entrepreneurial firms. European Journal of Marketing, 49(9/10). (ABS 3*)
  • Tuomisalo T., & Leppäaho, T. (2018). Learning in international new ventures: A systematic review. International Business Review. (ABS 3*)
  • Kampouri, K., Plakoyiannaki, M. E., & Leppäaho, T. (2017). Family Business Internationalisation and Networks: Emerging Pathways. Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing. (ABS 2*)
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A (2012). Social capital in the international operations of family SMEs. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 19 (1). (ABS 2*)
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A. (2010). Internationalization pathways of family SMEs: psychic distance as a focal point. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 17 (3), 437-454. (ABS 2*)
  • Kansikas, J., Laakkonen, A., Kontinen, T. & Sarpo, V. (2012). Entrepreneurial leadership and familiness as resources for strategic entrepreneurship. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research,18 (2), 141-158, 39-55. (ABS 2*)
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A (2011). Social capital in relation to the foreign market entry and post-entry operation of family SMEs. Journal of International Entrepreneurship, 9 (2), 133-151.
  • Kontinen, T. (2011). Succeeding in the French market: recommendations for small businesses. Journal of Business Strategy, 32 (1), 15-25
  • Kontinen, T. & Ojala, A. (2010). Bridging social capital in the foreign market entry and entry mode change of family SMEs. Electronic Journal of Family Business Studies, 4 (1), 24-37.

A2. Books

  • Leppäaho, T. & Metsola, J. (2020). Internationalisation of Family Firms: Network Perspective. Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Leppäaho, T. & Jack, S. (2021). The Palgrave Handbook of Family Firm Internationalization. Palgrave Macmillan.

A3. Book sections, chapters in research books, refereed

  • Batas, S., Guiderdoni-Jourdain, K., & Leppäaho, T. (2021). Social capital and values in the internationalization of family firms: a multi-country study. In Leppäaho, T. & Jack, S. (Eds.) Palgrave Handbook on Family Firm Internationalization, Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Leppäaho, T., Plakoyiannaki, E. Kampouri, K., & Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, E. (2020). The Case Study in Family Business Research: Current Approaches and Suggestions for the Future. In DeMassis, A. & Kammerlander, N. (Eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for Family Business, Edward Elgar.
  • Metsola, J., Torkkeli, L., Leppäaho, T., Arenius, P. & Haapanen, M (2021). The Association of Socioemotional Wealth and Networking with the Internationalization of Family SMEs. In Leppäaho, T. & Jack, S. (Eds.) Palgrave Handbook on Family Firm Internationalization, Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Ojala, A. & Kontinen, T. (2010). Distance Factors in the Foreign Market Entry of Software SMEs. In Tyrväinen, P., Jansen, S. & Cusumano, M.A. (Eds.) Software Business, Springer.
  • Korhonen, S. & Leppäaho, T., Amdam, R., & Jack, S. (2021). Founder legacy and networking in early internationalizing family firms of history. In Leppäaho, T. & Jack, S. (Eds.) Palgrave Handbook on Family Firm Internationalization, Palgrave MacMillan.



Scientific articles:


Leppäaho, T. & Jack, S. (2021). Palgrave Handbook of Family Firm Internationalization.

This book currently in print, co-edited by Professors Tanja Leppäaho and Sarah Jack, considers the internationalization of family firms—small, medium-sized, and multinational. Within 17 chapters it discusses how family firms become networked for internationalization, examining factors specific to family firms, such as bifurcation bias and socioemotional wealth. Some chapters focus on theory, while the remainder encompass a range of data—quantitative and qualitative, archival and secondary, longitudinal and cross-sectional. The data originate from both developed and emerging economies, including Finland, Taiwan, India, and Guatemala. The material is highly relevant to students, scholars, policy makers, and managers. Located at the cutting edge of family business studies, the book opens with forewords from four leading scholars in family business research, and continues with chapters from a number of distinguished professors, all of them at the forefront of their field.

Leppäaho, T. & Metsola, J. (2020): Family Firm Internationalization – A Network Perspective 

Our Palgrave Pivot book Family Firm Internationalization – A Network Perspective links theories on family business, internationalization, and international networking to an empirical analysis of 24 Finnish family SMEs.

The book is suitable for both executive and master level education and managers of smaller and family firms looking for a suitable strategy to network for internationalization. The book can be purchased via the link below:

Book chapters:



Examples of Tanja’s speeches in practice-related events during the IFE project:

  • Confederation of Finnish Industries (28.11.2019): ”Suomalaisten yritysten kansainvälistymisen erityispiirteet”
  • ”Grow Global-seminar for food-producing SMEs” (3.9.2019): ”Mikä erottaa menestyjät muista – tutkittua tietoa pk-yritysten menestystarinoista” 
  • Viexpo-Suomi100-seminar in Jakobstad (12.12.2017): ”On kysyttävä miten mummo voi”- sosiaalinen suhde on se mikä ratkaisee” 
  • Business Finland, MidCap and Cleantech managerial meeting (20.12.2018): “Perheyritykset ja niiden kansainvälistyminen”
  • Norwegian-Finnish Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting (19.4.2018): ”Sociala kontakters och nätverkens betydelse i nordisk business”
  • Aava & Bang morning coffee seminar (3.4.2018): ”Onnistumisen avaimia kansainvälistymiseen: sosiaalinen suhde on se, mikä ratkaisee”
  • Wulff Entre (8.6.2018): ”Sosiaalinen verkostoituminen kansainvälistymisessä”

Do send an invitation to Tanja would you like to invite her to give an equivalent – or a different – specialist speech!

Magazine articles:

Executive education:

  • STRATI1-executive education (14.8.2019): ”Kansainvälisen kasvun johtaminen perheyrityksissä”

Scientific presentations / background papers (other than conferences): 


Please see the attached file for a summary of project results.


  • All relationships are first and foremost social. Almost everywhere else the role of social interaction is significantly bigger than in Finland.
  • 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.
  • Hire local employees. Nothing replaces local business knowledge and networks.
  • Choose a foreign partner, whose values suit for the values of the family firm.
  • 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.
  • Create networks actively and creatively for internationalization. Suitable network relationships can be found through partners, subcontractors, trade fairs or competitors.
  • 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.
  • Create network relationships also with the ones outside the primary relationship. They enable agile actions when facing changes or pursuing growth.
  • 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.
  • 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 project is hosted by LUT

The project is funded by the Academy of Finland

International Collaboration

Domestic Collaboration




Spin off

International family firms: networking strategies and crisis responses

As a spin off of IFE project, we have launched a collaborative research project to study international networking and crisis responses of family firms from Asia, Southern America, India and Europe.

The aim of the project is (i) understand how international family firms with different family structures and socioemotional wealth endowments from all around the world get networked for internationalization; and (ii) to understand how international family firms with different degrees of socioemotional wealth from all around the world reply crises (Covid -19 and other relevant earlier crises).

The project group:

  • Professor, Academy of Finland Research Fellow, Tanja Leppäaho, LUT University, Finland
  • Professor of Strategy Paavo Ritala, LUT University, Finland
  • Professor of International Business Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki, University of Austria, Austria 
  • Dr. Spiros Batas, University of Greenwich, UK
  • Dr. Allan Discua-Cruz, University of Lancaster, UK
  • Dr. Jose Godinez, University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA
  • Dr. Karine Guiderdoni-Jourdain, Aix-Marseille University, France
  • Dr. Tulsi Jayakumar, India
  • Dr. Katerina Kampouri, University of Macedonia, Macedonia
  • Dr. Man Yang, Hanken School of Economics, Finland

Contact Us

Project Lead

Tanja Leppäaho
+358 40 1919 448

Team Members