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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All the family firms of the IFE project are operating in the international marketplace. Many of them have started implementing digital solutions for sales and communication, but also production. (Please see the previous blog for this discussion.)

Digital platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Facebook, and Alibaba provide with internationalization opportunities for small firms – especially if they are seeking early internationalization. But digital tools are an essential part of today’s business also outside of the above-mentioned platforms.

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In our project focusing on exploring the specific features and heterogeneity of family enterprises in the process of internationalization, we aim to be relevant both in theory and practice.

Family enterprises make up more than 80% of Finnish firms and they are the most common type of organization around the world. Family firms 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 academic articles and book chapters with the leading journals / publishers in the world. Some project-driven publications are listed in the outcomes-section on the project. We also provide with some practical tips for family entrepreneurs in the end of the same sub-page.

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

We have two post-docs and and a research assistant in the team in addition to the team leader Tanja Leppäaho, who 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 (Dr. Sc.) works as a Postdoctoral Researcher at School of Business and Management in LUT University. Jaakko defended his doctoral thesis exploring the family firm internationalization process in 2020. Tanja Leppäaho acted as his supervisor and his data came from the IFE project. Please see the doctoral thesis here. Currently, Jaakko continues with the IFE project research, but is also involved with other research projects and teaching at LBM. Prior to starting academic career, Jaakko worked in Finnish fast-growing ICT companies in sales and customer management positions.

Satu Satu

Satu Korhonen (Dr. Sc.) works as a researcher and lecturer at LUT University School of Business and Management. Her primary research and lecturing topics comprehend the individuals in and social dimensions of entrepreneurship and internationalization of small firms. Satu is also involved in other research projects in addition to the IFE project. Satu’s 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

Like obvious from the above, I am Tanja Leppäaho and lead the research project on international family enterprises, here abbreviated as IFE. The project is based in LUT University, and it will last until 2023. I also lead the spin off of the IFE project, International family firms: networking strategies and crisis responses.

My research lies in the intersection of firm growth, internationalization, entrepreneurship, international management, networks and process. I have included organizations of different sizes, life span phases and ownership structures in my research. I have looked in detail at SMEs, family firms, international new ventures (INVs), and multinational companies from various manufacturing sectors, such as forestry, machinery, and biotechnology, but also from the software sector.

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, British Journal of Management, 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). I am in the editorial review board of Entrepreneurship and Regional Development. 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 in the Eastern Finland 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 (Kontinen)


2011 PhD (Econ.), University of Jyväskylä (JSBE), Finland; Thesis title “Internationalization pathways of family SMEs“; graded 5/5; 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. Project name: Building theory on the family business internationalization process: pathwyas and networks in focus


2019 Visiting Researcher, Lancaster University Management School, UK (two months) 

2018 Visiting Professor, EMLyon Business School, France (two months) 

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 (two months)


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

2017: Bertarelli Family Best Paper Award from BCERC (Babson College), USA, for Leppäaho, T. & Jack, S. (2016). “Imprinting, embeddedness and social network ties in the internationalization of small- and medium-sized family enterprises”.

2017: Best Paper Award from the 8th BAMDE Conference, 6-9 June 2017, Varna, Bulgaria, for Leppäaho, T., Jack, S., Arenius, P., & Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, E. (2017). “Getting Embedded for and during Internationalization”.

2017: #1 most downloaded article in Family Business Review in 2016 for Leppäaho, T., Plakoyiannaki, E. & Dimitratos, P. (2016) “The case study in family business: analysis of current research practices and recommendations”

2018: Nominee for Copenhagen Business School Prize at European International Business Academy 2018 conference for Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, E., Leppäaho T., & Metsola, J. (2018). “Fear for Failure and Need for Longetivity – Internationalization Process Tensions within Family Businesses”.

2012: Best Paper Award, International Council for Small Business Conference, New Zealand, for Kontinen, T. & Kansikas, J. (2012). “Developmental phases in the foreign market entry of family SMEs”

2012: Award for excellent research articles in 2011 by JSBE and Kauppalaisseuran säätiö, University of Jyväskylä


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

Doctoral theses:

1st supervisor: 

2nd supervisor

  • Witt, A., University of Edinburgh Business School (2013-2015): Internationalization trajectories of global hidden champions


  • 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




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

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

2013 – 2014 Director of MSc 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


Book sections, chapters in research books, refereed



Scientific articles:


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:

  • Luottamusaamu järjestäjinä MTK, Yrittäjät, Perheyritysten liitto ja Pilgrim (29.4.2021); ”Luottamus yrityksen kansainvälistymisen ytimessä”
  • 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