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Understanding how historical perspectives on Family Businesses can inform future generations’ success: Back to the Future? (SF19/EIS/WILSON)

Project Description

“It’s seven generations, so the weight of history is heavy, very significant. The name is in the history books, so at some point you have to face that and say, ‘How do I live with it? Do I accept it or not?’ That part is much more complex than the money. There are a lot of wealthy people but there’s not a place, except maybe the African bush, where you say ‘Rothschild’ and people don’t say, ‘Aah.’”
(Ariane de Rothschild, married-in CEO of Edmond de Rothschild bank (Financial Times, March 5-6, 2016).

This project will explore how historical perspectives can inform strategy and practice in family firm firms and influence future generations to improve business management and operations. The study will use a combination of qualitative research methods including case-studies, archive based research, semi structured recorded interviews, focus groups and questionnaires to examine how issues related to emotions, conflict, diversification, internationalisation and succession management have driven the strategy of the firms. More importantly, we hope to explore these issues across multigenerational family firms and make fresh theoretical contributions to the value of historical perspectives in the survival and longevity of family business.

The Northeast of England provides a dynamic socio-economic and cultural context in which to study family firms, with a rich history of collectivist societies and a rich tradition of family-owned coal mining and shipping building enterprises, family businesses have long been considered a major contributor to the regional economy. A study by Kirby and Lee (1996) examined the succession planning challenges faced by family businesses in the Northeast, however, since then there has been a dearth of research on the history of the region. Colli (2018; 2012) has written about how longitudinal (historical) perspectives can inform future practice in family business and make valuable theoretical contributions to the field. We aim to build on this literature by examining how this can inform strategy and contribute to the success, longevity and survival of multigenerational family business.

The proposed research supervision team have established links with long-stablished family firms in the region that can be used as the basis of a sample, however it is expected that the student would expand the sample to include other businesses.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF19/…) will not be considered.

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers.

Funding Notes

Please note this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend.


Recent publications by supervisors relevant to this project:

John Wilson, Steven Toms, Abe de Jong and Emily Buchnea] The Routledge Companion to Business History (Routledge, 2017. xiv + 394.)

John Wilson “To invite disappointment or worse”. Governance, audit and due diligence in the Ferranti-ISC merger’, Business History Vol.57, 5, pp.384-405.

John Wilson [with Andrea Whittle], ‘Ethnomethodology and the production of history: studying ‘history-in-action’’, Business History, Vol.56, No.1, 2015, pp.1-15.

John Wilson [with Tony Webster] Building Co-operation. A History of The Co-operative Group, 1863-2013, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. xvi + 440.

Wong, N. D., Smith, A., & Popp, A. (2018). Religiosity, emotional states, and strategy in the family firm: Edm. Schluter & Co Ltd., 1953-1980. Entreprises et histoire, (2), 98-125.

Wong, N. D. and Popp, A. (2017). “In the Best Position to Reap Mutually Beneficial Results”: Sole Agency Agreements and the Distribution of Consumer Goods in Inter-war Britain. Business History, 60 (6), 884-907

Wong, N. D. (2016). The Rushworth of Liverpool: A Family Music Business. Commerce, Culture and the City. PhD thesis.

Devine, A (2017) An exploration of governance arrangements and the succession process within family businesses PhD Thesis.

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