Family businesses rarely receive much public attention unless they are in crisis. The public loves a good Greek tragedy. And periodically, families in business give them one. Right now we have an honest to goodness Greek tragedy in Market Basket, a large family-owned grocery store chain being run into the ground by the feuding Demoulas (yes, Greek-American) family. […]
Articles: John Davis' Insights
Over the course of four decades, John Davis has authored an extensive collection of published works on a wide range of topics. His groundbreaking work is widely cited in the academic literature and by journalists, and is used by members of family-owned businesses, academics, students, researchers, and consultants.
The articles below comprise a specially curated collection of John Davis’ favorite or most thought-provoking articles and interviews. These powerful works define many of his salient viewpoints on issues that matter to business leaders and enterprising families worldwide.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of John Davis’ work. A complete compilation of his books and articles, academic journal articles, case studies, worksheets, assessment tools, and multimedia tools can be found here.
IF THOMAS Hobbes found himself walking down City streets today, he wouldn’t blink an eye. Business life seems to be getting increasingly short and rather nasty. Due to the accelerating rate of technological change, some economists believe we are heading toward a “winner takes all” era of unprecedented competition, […]
PETER GORDON, a member of the family that owns Glenfiddich whisky, has a distinct memory of the workers lined up as he walked into the Scottish distillery in the 1970s. They were waiting for a dram of day-old whisky — the equivalent of a double shot. If they didn’t drink it, they rubbed it into their hands, in the belief that it toughened calluses. […]
This summer an earthquake erupted at family-owned DeMoulas Super Markets, the Massachusetts-based supermarket business which runs the Market Basket chain, when a long-running disagreement led to one cousin ousting another as chief executive. The US media gleefully portrayed the story as a family feud, pure and simple. […]
Despite finding great success and strong customer loyalty in a fiercely competitive industry, Demoulas Super Markets, a regional grocery chain owned by two flanks of the Demoulas family, has been embroiled in a bitter internal feud that dates to the early 1990s. The first chapter of the dispute resulted in the most expensive lawsuit in Massachusetts history […]
Professor John Davis at Harvard Business School, is one of the world’s greatest authorities on family businesses. Davis embarked on a successful career as an educator and advisor to business families around the world by combining his passion for business organisation and family psychology. One of the first in the field, Davis began studying family-owned businesses in the 1970s. […]
No one needs convincing that the right CEO matters, and that sometimes CEOs need to be changed. Even the stock market moves with changes in the leadership of a company. When the Japanese camera maker Olympus fired its CEO in 2011, its stock fell; when Air France-KLM indicated it would let its CEO go that same year, its stock rose. But firing the CEO is a tough decision. […]
Originally published in HBS: Working Knowledge (November 24, 2015) A good book on CEO succession is The CEO Within by my Harvard Business School colleague Joe Bower. Bower studied how companies perform after hiring a new CEO, noting whether the successor had been recruited from inside or outside the company. Bower makes a strong […]
Families in business usually have a deep desire to see the family company prosper and survive into the next generation and to keep the family successful, united, and supportive of the family company. These are often “stretch” goals because not many family companies survive for generations, and because families seldom maintain unity, financial success, and supportiveness. […]
THE “Lucky Sperm Club”, as Warren Buffett likes to call it, is still going strong in the commanding heights of business. On opposite sides of the Atlantic, Ana Botín and Abigail Johnson have recently succeeded their fathers in filling two of the most powerful jobs in finance, as chairman of Banco Santander and chief executive of Fidelity Investments, respectively. […]
The grandfather is the founder. The father is a spendthrift. His son is a beggar. That saying pinpoints the problem that confronts family-owned companies when it is time choose a successor. Only 30% of all family-owned companies manage to reach the second generation of family rule. Barely 15% reach the third generation. […]
Although family-owned and managed firms are the predominant form of business organization in the world today, little systematic research exists on these companies. This paper builds upon insights found in the emerging literature on these enterprises and upon our own observations to provide a conceptual frame-work to better understand these complex organizations. […]
In the world of family business, the entrepreneurs we celebrate are usually founders of companies. These clever, hardworking individuals identify a good business opportunity, scrape together some money and loyal employees, and start a company that takes off. The heirs of the founder and later generations of the family are supposed to take care of and grow the founder’s creation; […]
Watch Professor John Davis of Harvard Business School talk about challenges & trends facing business families. As new trends emerge in the market, it is essential for family business to be able to recognize these trends and be able to adapt to these changes. […]
In 1983, Rajesh Kohli dies intestate, without a will, at the age of 57. Rajesh and his wife, Shobita, created a strong middle-class family and invested most of their assets in educating their three sons, Ravi, Nitin and Arvind. It was to Nitin, the son with a head for business, that the father bestowed $50,000 shortly before his death, asking him to invest it on behalf of the family. […]
Corporate governance can be difficult enough—but what happens when your board of directors is comprised of your cousins? Or when your CEO is your sister? Harvard Business School Professor John Davis discusses governance issues unique to the family-run business. […]
Having described the framework of family business governance and the governance of the business, John Davis discusses the most challenging of the family business governance topics—governance of the family itself. […]
Negotiations between family members who own a business are different—different from negotiations between non-family members and also different from negotiations between family members who don’t have a business. This is because family relationships are distinctive kinds of relationships, and having a family business raises the stakes of—and often complicates—a family negotiation. […]
Optimism and pessimism are strong, stable traits that reflect our coping strategies. We live in an uncertain world. To cope with uncertainty, most people basically assume that things will either turn out well (the optimists) or turn out badly (the pessimists). So here’s a question to ponder: Is it better to have an optimist or a pessimist leading your family organization? […]
On important occasions, we gather for family portraits. If you were to take a picture of your family business today, what would it show? Family businesses represent the aspirations, achievements, and struggles of one or more generations of a family. We would see all those things in the portrait of the family business. […]