Alfredo De Massis

Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Business

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Alfredo De Massis is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Business. He is an award-winning expert in the management and governance of family enterprises. His research has advanced understanding of how family business leaders balance economic and non-economic goals in strategic decision making and manage the paradox of tradition and innovation. At IMD he provides intellectual contributions by working on collaboration and scientific advisory activities within the Wild Group Chair in Family Business.

De Massis is one of the world’s leading family business academics. In February 2022 he was included in Family Capital’s 100 Family Business Influencers list for his thought leadership in the family business field. In 2020 he was ranked as the most influential and productive author of the decade in the family business research field in a bibliometric study published in the European Journal of Family Business, and in 2015 Family Capital named him as one of the world’s 25 star family business professors.

His research focuses on the management, governance, and behavioral aspects of family enterprises and how to ensure their prosperity across generations. His work examines how they align economic goals with other objectives such as maintaining family harmony and control of the business, creating jobs for the next generation, succession planning, and nurturing the reputation of the family in its community. He shows that successful family firms excel at leveraging their tradition, history, and heritage as strategic resources to enable innovation.

Conventional management theory says if you want to pave the way for the future, you should forget about the past – but my studies show that family firms are very good at leveraging their tradition, history, and heritage as a strategic resource to enable innovation.

He also works closely with large and small businesses in several countries to help them build rigorous and reliable knowledge to promote long-term prosperity across generations. He recently helped companies and institutions including the UK government to address the new challenges that COVID-19 created for family firms, such as the need for rapid and unexpected succession, the dehumanization of relationships due to remote working, the effects of emotional vulnerabilities, and the salience of patrimonial and liquidity issues for families in business.

De Massis’ prolific writings include seven books, notably the Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for Family Business and Family Business Studies: An Annotated Bibliography, and more than 150 articles in leading academic and professional journals, including Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Management, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Business Venturing, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, Journal of Product Innovation Management, Academy of Management Perspectives, California Management Review, Family Business Review, Small Business Economics, Journal of Small Business Management, Journal of Business Ethics, Academy of Management Learning & Education, Research Policy and Global Strategy Journal.

Due to its economic and practical relevance, his research has been featured in numerous media outlets including the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, Il Sole 24 Ore, and RAI. He is also an in-demand public speaker and is regularly invited to give keynote speeches at conferences, lectures to professional and academic audiences, and media interviews.

He also serves as Chairman of the Scientific Board and member of the steering committee of FA.B.R.I., a non-profit association dedicated to Italian family enterprises, as Co-Director and Chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Observatory on Italian Family Offices, and as member of the Scientific Board of the Italian Family Officer Association (AIFO). In addition, he has been Chair of the Strategic Interest Group on Family Business Research at the European Academy of Management (EURAM) and is a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Institute for Family Business (IFB). He was previously Chairman of the European Leadership Council and a member of the Global Board of the STEP Project for Family Enterprising founded by Babson College.

In addition to his role at IMD, De Massis remains Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Business at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy, where he founded the Unibz Centre for Family Business Management, and he continues to support family business research projects at Lancaster University Management School’s Centre for Family Business in the UK, which he previously directed. He formerly served as a professor at the University of Bergamo, where he co-founded the Center for Young and Family Enterprise.

He is also Editor of Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice and Associate Editor of Family Business Review, two prestigious and influential journals in the field of family business, and Editor of FamilyBusiness.org, a US social media platform dedicated to sharing learning resources with family business practitioners.

He serves on the editorial boards of Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, Journal of Management Studies, and Journal of Family Business Strategy, and has been guest editor of more than 20 leading journals’ special issues on family business topics.

Before embarking on his academic career, De Massis worked as a manager for SCS Consulting, a strategy consultant at Accenture, and as a financial analyst at the Italian Stock Exchange.

Selected publications
Article
Are narcissistic CEOs good or bad for family firm innovation?
Despite anecdotal evidence showing that some CEOs possess narcissistic personality traits, research on this individual characteristic is still lagging behind. While the literature has established t...
Published 18 January 2022
Article
Mining the past: History scripting strategies and competitive advantage in a family business
History is increasingly recognized as a distinctive source of competitive advantage for family businesses. Taking a rhetorical history perspective, we study how a family business leveraged the fami...
Published 1 January 2022
Article
Entrepreneurial by design: How organizational design affects family and non-family firms’ opportunity exploitation
Opportunity exploitation is a key aspect of the corporate entrepreneurship process and is particularly important to maintain a family firm through multiple generations. Drawing on an organizational...
Published 2 January 2021
Article
Managing the tradition and innovation paradox in family firms: A family imprinting perspective
Long-established family firms are endowed with a bundle of beliefs and practices that constitute their tradition. However, to remain competitive, they need to renew their products and production pr...
Published 2 January 2020
Book
Handbook of qualitative research methods for Family Business
Qualitative research is increasing in relevance for management in general and family business research in particular. Family businesses present an especially rich and interesting context to study p...
Published 10 March 2020
Article
Entrepreneurial orientation and innovation in family SMEs: Unveiling the (actual) impact of the Board of Directors
Drawing on stewardship and resource dependence theories, we examine how the board of directors (BoD) influences the link between entrepreneurial orientation (EO) and ambidextrous innovation in smal...
Published 1 July 2018
Article
Financial wealth, socioemotional wealth and IPO underpricing in family firms: A two-stage gamble model
There are competing theoretical explanations and conflicting empirical evidence for the initial public offering (IPO) underpricing phenomenon in family firms. The behavioral agency model predicts t...
Published 1 June 2018
Academic publications
Book
Handbook of qualitative research methods for Family Business
Qualitative research is increasing in relevance for management in general and family business research in particular. Family businesses present an especially rich and interesting context to study p...
Published 10 March 2020
Article
Under which circumstances do family SMEs achieve high growth?: A behavioral perspective
High-growth firms, particularly SMEs, contribute disproportionately to the creation of employment, wealth, and economic development around the world. Yet, knowledge of the circumstances under which...
Published 17 September 2022
Article
Knowledge management in family firms: Opening the black box and suggestions for future research
The goal of this special issue was to take inventory and to add to knowledge advancement by assembling a series of articles investigating the phenomenon of KM in the specific context of family busi...
Published 22 February 2022
Article
Family multinationals: A systematic literature review to take stock and look ahead
The authors develop a systematic literature review of research on family multinationals, i.e. firms owned by one or more families that engage in foreign direct investments (FDIs). Building on the e...
Published 25 October 2022
Article
Outcome-based imitation in family firms’ international market entry decisions
This study examines the effects of family involvement on international market entry. Bridging theories of interorganizational imitation with the notion of socioemotional wealth protection, we argue...
Published 11 February 2022
Article
Generations in family business: A multifield review and future research agenda
The concept of generations has become increasingly important in the social science fields to explain diverse phenomena affecting organizations. This is especially true in the family business field ...
Published 1 March 2022
Article
Are family female directors catalysts of innovation in family SMEs?
While family SMEs increasingly involve women in their boards, the role of female directors as catalysts of innovation is yet to be fully understood. Drawing on upper echelons theory, we examine dir...
Published 1 June 2022
Article
Family firms and environmental performance: A meta-analytic review
This article critically reviews and meta-analyzes the environmental performance of family firms. Using a sample of 40,910 firms covering a 12-year period, we conclude that the average effect of fam...
Published 1 March 2022
Article
Are narcissistic CEOs good or bad for family firm innovation?
Despite anecdotal evidence showing that some CEOs possess narcissistic personality traits, research on this individual characteristic is still lagging behind. While the literature has established t...
Published 18 January 2022
Article
The influence of family firm image on access to financial resources in family SMEs: A signaling theory perspective
This study investigates whether a projected family firm image can affect access to financial resources, which is key to providing broader strategic options and meeting short-term financial needs, e...
Published 13 January 2022
Article
As long as you talk about me: The importance of family firm brands and the contingent role of family-firm identity
This study explores the role of external audiences in determining the importance of family firm brands and the relationship with firm performance. Drawing on text mining and social network analysis...
Published 1 February 2022
Article
International R&D partnerships: The role of government funding in reducing transaction costs and opportunistic behavior
The innovation management and policy literature suggests that government support generally has a positive effect on SMEs’ R&D, innovation performance, and fostering international links. However, re...
Published 1 June 2022
Article
One for all, all for one : A mutual gains perspective on HRM and innovation management practices in family firms
The aspiration to thrive in the long run is among the most distinctive traits of family firms. On the one hand, a long-term view can spur the family firm to plan and secure its human resources (HR)...
Published 1 June 2022
Article
Thirty years of research in family business journals: Status quo and future directions
Family firms are the most ubiquitous form of business organization in any world economy. Family Business Review, Journal of Family Business Strategy, and Journal of Family Business Management are t...
Published 1 September 2022
Article
A review of conflict and cohesion in social relationships in family firms
The literature on conflict and cohesion in social relationships in family firms has developed rapidly in recent decades. To take stock and provide directions to move this flourishing research area ...
Published 1 May 2022
Article
Generational brokerage: An intersubjective perspective on managing temporal orientations in family firm succession
Interactions between family members of different generations often unleash powerful tensions in family firms. Intergenerational tensions can be particularly prominent during intra-family succession...
Published 1 February 2022
Article
The visible hand of corporate entrepreneurship in state-owned enterprises: A longitudinal study of the Spanish National Postal Operator
This study explores how the corporate entrepreneurship (CE) of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) evolves under varying conditions of state ownership and control, laws and norms, and competence in the ...
Published 30 September 2022
Article
Opening up the black box of family entrepreneurship across generations: A systematic literature review
What makes some families more entrepreneurial than others? How are they able to nurture entrepreneurship across generations? These are fundamental questions for family business and entrepreneurship...
Published 20 October 2022
Article
One finding is no finding: Toward a replication culture in family business research
Our goal is to foster the development of a healthy replication culture in family business research. Replication, which advances theory by confronting existing understanding with new evidence, is of...
Published 28 September 2022
Article
The “open family firm”: Openness as boundary work in family enterprises
“Openness” has become an established norm in the contemporary business environment. However, despite the crucial importance of boundaries and boundary work in organization and management theory, op...
Published 15 August 2022
Article
Identity in family firms: Toward an integrative understanding
To take stock of the literature on identity in family firms (IFF), we examine 122 journal articles published between 2006 and 2020. We then develop a thematic map to help scholars understand the st...
Published 1 December 2022
Insight for Executives
Following on from a founder
Article
Following on from a founder
Taking control of the family business provides new opportunities to innovate, but also to benefit from the company’s historical success and approach. However, getting the balance right can be trick...
Published 12 September 2022
Article
Women can help family firms innovate – but socioemotional factors matter
Around Europe and elsewhere, the number of women in leadership roles is going up, and they are having a measurable impact on innovation and profits. Many researchers have found that having more wom...
Published 8 September 2022
Article
Il coraggio di decidere è la chiave per una buona successione
Contrary to what one might think, putting forth courage during the generational transition in family businesses is never a reckless action, but rather a thoughtful step toward the future that one w...
Published 17 August 2022
Article
Una successione senza strappi. Il caso Loacker (da manuale)
In recent years we have increased family meetings from bimonthly to weekly, because tension can only be positive if it is supported by continuous exchange." In the words of Andreas Loacker, vice ch...
Published 22 July 2022
Article
Capitalismo familiare, perché l’equità è meglio dell’uguaglianza
The typical attitude of the Italian family entrepreneur toward their heirs privileges equality over equity when reflecting on generational transition and inheritance transfer. However, my research,...
Published 15 July 2022
Article
PiĂą donne per spronare l'innovazione delle imprese famigliari
Over the past decades, pink quotas have been introduced throughout Europe to encourage women to join corporate boards. While they have helped, they do not yet seem to have worked fully. Indeed, in ...
Published 7 June 2022
Article
Using family history for competitive advantage
Family businesses often have dense histories interweaving both the family and the business and involving more than just the past. Our recent study (Ge, De Massis & Kotlar, 2022), shows that family ...
Published 3 June 2022
Article
What Olivetti style teaches us about lasting aesthetic legacy
Lavazza. Alessi. Olivetti. Campari. These brands evoke images of products, advertisements, or memories of our past: the aroma of Lavazza coffee or an Alessi coffee maker at work, the sound of keys ...
Published 25 May 2022
Article
Il sogno della dinastia immortale
Through his or her business activities, the family entrepreneur aspires to leave a mark over time, a trace that does not fade away at the end of his or her life course but lasts beyond his or her d...
Published 18 May 2022
Article
Più potere alle donne per stimolare l’innovazione delle imprese familiari
Published 1 May 2022
Article
Research applied: An FBR précis on family firms and environmental performance
Developing and implementing effective environmental operational practices and communications in a family business can be a challenging task. While family firms successfully deliver innovative techn...
Published 6 April 2022
Article
Così le imprese familiari coltivano la propria eredità estetica
Lavazza. Alessi. Olivetti. Campari. These brands re- conjure up images of products, advertisements or memories of our past such as the smell of coffee brewed in an Alessi coffee maker, the sound of...
Published 6 April 2022
Article
Può essere oro quel che luccica: fenomenologia del manager narciso
Nowadays, the personality traits of managers and the role they play in management and corporate performance are increasingly debated. Specifically, it is the narcissistic personality that is attrac...
Published 17 March 2022
Article
Prove di trasformazione delle imprese familiari con industria 4.0
Family businesses are particularly exposed to the challenges of digital transformation and changes driven by Industry 4.0. This is because family businesses' desire to survive and thrive in the lon...
Published 11 February 2022
Article
Purché se ne parli: L'importanza del brand nelle imprese familiari
There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about ”, is the phrase that Oscar Wilde makes the protagonist of the portrait of Dorian Gray pronounc...
Published 5 January 2022
Article
Cultural entrepreneurship: Il ruolo delle fondazioni di imprese familiari
They are not only a means of giving back to the territory with philanthropic initiatives, but also a powerful tool for preserving and sharing the memory of entrepreneurial families. The study on It...
Published 29 November 2021
Report
How innovative EU firms faced the COVID-19 downturn
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered many challenges, but also opportunities, for businesses across Europe. We examine how the innovation and growth of firms in the EU have been affected by the Covi...
Published 10 November 2021
Article
Family office: Who, what, where, when, why?
Family Offices are organizations that perform the function of coordination, strategic direction and management of the assets of one or more entrepreneurial families from a transgenerational perspec...
Published 9 November 2021
Article
Un’efficace progettazione organizzativa per far crescere le imprese familiari
Nowadays, being entrepreneurial is of paramount importance for family businesses to gain competitive advantages in order to grow and survive in the long run across generations. This enables busines...
Published 1 November 2021
Article
Crescita attraverso le generazioni
Compared to second-generation family businesses, first-generation family businesses have both a higher capacity (power to act) and a higher willingness (disposition to act) to grow, as they have a ...
Published 1 November 2021
Article
L’ascesa italiana dei family office
They make it possible to reduce the discretion of individual family members while taking care of the sustainability of the assets in the long term
Published 29 October 2021
Article
Aziende di famiglia alla (ri)scoperta della propria autenticitĂ 
The concept of authenticity and its role as a moral guide for human behavior has become an important topic of discussion among intellectuals, philosophers and sociologists. The desire to be authent...
Published 29 September 2021
Article
Le imprese di famiglia e la trasformazione digitale
For generations, family businesses have been the warp and woof of South Tyrol's economic system and the weave of its social fabric. Thanks to their innovative capacity, they contribute significantl...
Published 1 September 2021
Article
Nuovi modelli d'investimento per i family office
Having an entrepreneurial family behind him influences the strategies, which are mainly focused on entrepreneurial activities with a long-term time horizon. But the challenges of the future are dif...
Published 20 August 2021
Article
A way to unlock family businesses’ potential
Family businesses tend to centralize more decision-making authority than their non-family counterparts. But a more participative configuration would promote opportunity exploitation. Some suggestio...
Published 6 August 2021
Article
E se a guidare l'impresa familiare è un narciso?
It is not uncommon for the CEO to manifest excesses of self-esteem and vanity, together with the urge to find continuous confirmation in the image he projects of himself. Individuals with this trai...
Published 13 July 2021
Article
Famiglie, imprese e filantropia: 3 lezioni sull’addio tra Bill e Melinda Gates
The end of the marriage of Bill and Melinda Gates - a couple who remained together for 27 years in which the founder of Microsoft and his wife gave birth to three children and established the homon...
Published 14 May 2021
Article
The accelerating transformation of family offices in Italy
Attention to strategies for the management and continuity of the assets of entrepreneurial families in Italy has grown considerably in recent years, as has the role and scope of family offices.
Published 4 May 2021
Article
Ripensare il passaggio generazionale in azienda gestendo le sfide tra le diverse visioni in famiglia
The generational transition is a crucial and extremely problematic process with which any family business must deal during its evolutionary history. Managing this delicate - and sometimes agonizing...
Published 1 April 2021
Article
Winemakers provide lessons on resilience
Like old vineyards that still produce great wines, older family businesses thrive across many generations developing resilient responses in the face of competition, market shifts and family disrupt...
Published 12 November 2020
Article
Implementing a digital strategy: Learning from the experience of three digital transformation projects
The rapid growth of digital technologies and the extraordinary amount of data that devices and applications collect each day are increasingly driving companies to radically transform the business a...
Published 1 August 2020
Article
A shock to the system: How family businesses can survive Covid-19
The coronavirus pandemic has had massive repercussions on the global economy and trade. Global economic growth is expected to shrink by about 2 per cent per month, while global trade is expected t...
Published 24 June 2020
Article
Viewpoint: How can you innovate with limited resources?
When the Germany’s Mittelstand are mentioned in conversation the tendency is to think of very efficient, family-controlled middle-market companies. Thoughts would also point to their ability to com...
Published 17 May 2017
Article
Viewpoint: How family businesses are innovating through tradition
When innovation is all about the new and the future, how can a 300-year-old family business, with all its traditions and legacies, innovate and compete? Very well, in fact, because many family busi...
Published 28 September 2016
Article
Mastering innovation in family firms: How to resolve the ability vs. willingness paradox
Family firms represent a highly ubiquitous form of business organisation globally and are the backbone of many industrialised and developing world economies. This article discusses how can family f...
Published 31 May 2016
Article
What big companies can learn from the success of the unicorns
The term “unicorns,” coined, in 2013, by Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, is commonly used to identify venture-backed private companies valued at $1 billion or more. Unicorns have become wid...
Published 14 March 2016
Article
Family-driven innovation: Resolving the paradox in family firms
This article presents an integrated, contingency perspective on family firm innovation called Family-Driven Innovation (FDI). The framework highlights the need for consistency between a family firm...
Published 1 November 2015
Article
How policymakers can help family firms
All around the world the family firm is the most common form of business organisation. And yet in Europe there has in recent years been a trend from policymakers who want to boost their countries’ ...
Published 30 March 2015
Article
Bringing to market technological innovation: What distinguishes success from failure
Commercialization is a critical step in technological innovation. Nevertheless, many scholars believe that it is often the least well-managed activity of the whole innovation process. The launch st...
Published 1 January 0001