Academic, author, advisor, speaker and pioneer on family enterprise and family wealth.



About John Davis

Dr. Davis is a globally recognized pioneer and foremost authority on family enterprise, family wealth, leadership, and succession. Since the 1970s, he has served as an academic, advisor, author and speaker in the family enterprise field. For decades, his insights, advice, lectures and writing have helped to develop leaders, professionalize businesses, strengthen families, and pass sustainable enterprises from one generation to the next.

Trained in management, psychology, and economics, Dr. Davis works globally with multigenerational families, ownership groups, and business leaders on issues related to the success and continuity of their family enterprise. He advises leading families from over 70 countries on topics such as long-term sustainability; corporate and family governance; family wealth; developing the next generation; succession transitions; conflict resolution and family unity; family, ownership and business strategy; professionalizing the family business and family office; life planning; and many others. He is recognized as one of America’s leading wealth advisors. He is Founder and Chairman of the Cambridge Family Enterprise Group, a global organization he created in 1989 to support family-owned enterprises. It is comprised of two divisions: Cambridge Advisors to Family Enterprise, a highly specialized advisory firm, and Cambridge Institute for Family Enterprise, a think-tank and education and research institute for enterprising families.

A renowned academic and shaper of the family business field, Dr. Davis joined the Harvard Business School (HBS) faculty in 1996, where he founded the family business management area at the School. As a faculty member at HBS for more than 20 years, he taught and chaired executive programs, custom management programs, and MBA courses. He is the Founding Chair of the Families in Business program, a six-day, flagship executive program that he created in 1997, which examines pivotal issues facing family-owned companies. As a faculty member in the MBA program and in Executive Education for more than 20 years, he taught family business management, leadership, ownership, governance, change management, and life planning in several programs, including the Owner/President Management program, Boards for Private Companies, Key ExecutivesLaunching New VenturesReal Estate Management, Leading and Transforming Family Businesses—China, and in custom programs for executive teams and business owners.

Dr. Davis is an award-winning teacher and researcher, and lifelong creator of innovative education courses and teaching materials. At HBS, he served as faculty chair of the Crossroads: Discovering the Path Ahead program, which offered participants at a career or life juncture the opportunity to design a life strategy to achieve their personal and professional goals. He created and led the MBA course, Management of the Family Business, to explore the management, career, and personal issues found in family-owned companies. He taught the MBA course, Building a Business in the Context of a Life, which addresses entrepreneurship, life planning, and personal and business success.

Dr. Davis delivers keynote addresses at conferences and teaches in workshop sessions around the world for organizations and business families. He speaks at events for the World Economic Forum, Harvard Business Review, YPO and WPO, Cambridge Institute for Family Enterprise, Family Business Network, Business Families Foundation, Family Firm Institute, HSM (Brazil), as well as for global and boutique financial institutions, private member networks, and individual families and companies.

A pioneer in the family business field, Professor Davis’ doctoral dissertation at Harvard Business School (1982) on father-son work relationships was among the first dissertations globally on a family business topic. An early founder of the family business field as an academic discipline, he created the first research conference on family business in 1985, and co-founded some of the world’s first executive programs for family business owners and executives in the 1990s (IMD, Harvard Business School). He has served on the faculty of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Southern California, and has lectured on family business management topics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Stanford University, IMD (Switzerland), INCAD (Costa Rica), Universidad Adolfo Ibañez (Chile), and Universidad de los Andes (Chile).

Dr. Davis has written significant works on the unique challenges of family enterprises. With HBS professor Renato Tagiuri (now deceased), he co-created the Three-Circle Model of the Family Business System, which is the fundamental paradigm in the family business field. He is co-author of the book, Generation to Generation: Life Cycles of the Family Business, a preeminent work in the field. He has published an extensive body of educational materials—case studies, technical notes, and diagnostic worksheets—that are used by graduate schools of business across the globe. He is co-author of the books Next Generation Success and Enduring Advantage. His theories and observations are regularly cited in the media by publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Economist, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Television, Forbes, Fortune, Exame (Brazil), and several other publications and media outlets.

Dr. Davis serves as an Advisor to the Board of the Business Families Foundation, and on the editorial board of the Journal of Family Business Strategy. He is a member of the Academy of Management, the Family Business Network, and the International Family Enterprise Research Academy. He is a former member of the editorial board of Family Business Review, the leading journal in the field. He is a founding board member and fellow of the Family Firm Institute, the preeminent association for family enterprise service providers. He is the 2016 recipient of the Richard Beckhard Award given by the Family Firm Institute for outstanding achievements and contributions to the field of family business.

Dr. Davis earned his Doctorate in Business Administration from Harvard Business School, his Masters in Economics from the University of Wisconsin, and his Bachelors in Economics from Kenyon College.



Abbreviated Summary of Professional Achievements:

  • Faculty member at Harvard Business School 1996-2017
    • Founder of family business management studies at Harvard Business School
    • Founding Chair of the Families in Business program at Harvard Business School
  • Founder of the Cambridge Family Enterprise Group, a leading advisory firm and research and education institute for multigenerational families and family enterprises
  • Advisor to many of the world’s leading families
  • Creator of the Three-Circle Model of the Family Business System, with Renato Tagiuri, the fundamental paradigm in the field worldwide
  • Co-author of Generation to Generation: Life Cycles of the Family Business, a preeminent work in the field
  • Creator of the Family Enterprise Sustainability model that explains the essential ingredients for long-term success of a multigenerational family enterprise
  • Author of three books and hundreds of articles, case studies, and assessment worksheets for family businesses, executives, and MBA students
  • Advisor to the Board of the Business Families Foundation
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Family Business Strategy
  • Founding Board Member of the Family Firm Institute
  • 2016 Recipient of the Richard Beckhard Award for outstanding achievements and contributions to the field of family business, given by the Family Firm Institute



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Beckhard Award

Lifetime Achievement Award, 2016 Recipient

family firm institute

John Davis was honored with the Richard Beckhard Practice Award by the Family Firm Institute, which recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions to the field of family business, including excellence in advising, publishing, and leadership in the field.

For 40 years, John Davis has been carving a path for many of us as a pioneer. More important than all of his contribution to the field; more important than all of his research, teaching and consulting achievements; more important than his leadership of the Cambridge Family Enterprise Group, John is a friend to many of us. He is always willing to share his knowledge and wisdom, is generous with his colleagues in the field, and has been an inspiration for many many of us.” – Francois de Visscher presenting the Richard Beckhard Award to John Davis


Commencement Address

The Uncommon Habits That Lead to Long-Term Success

Delivered to the graduates of Sri Shakthi Institute of Engineering and Technology
June 2013 | Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India

People highly value success that lasts for a long time – for individuals, companies, and other institutions. John Davis has studied families with businesses that last for many generations. He shares six lessons that lead to long-term success, and explains why implementing them is uncommonly challenging. He encourages the graduates to “be willing to make decisions that will keep you, your family, and your enterprise on the right path.”

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