Family-versus lone-founder-controlled public corporations: Social identity theory and boards of directors

Albert A. Cannella, Carla D. Jones, Michael C. Withers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


We distinguish between "family companies," involving multiple family members as owners and/or managers, and "lone-founder companies," involving only the founder and no other family members. We apply social identity theory and organizational identification to elucidate the differences between these two types of firms, and how their differing organizational identities reflect unique desires for control and influence. We then consider how these differences are reflected in a firm's board structure (i.e., directorship interlocks, director experiences, and director tenures). Specifically, we predict that family firms are more likely to interlock with other family firms, select directors with more experience in family firms, and keep directors on their boards longer. Correspondingly, we posit that family firms are less likely to interlock with lone-founder firms or to select directors with experience in lone-founder-controlled firms. Lone-founder firms follow a similar pattern. We also consider the consequences of family and lone-founder ownership and board structures on the investment behavior of three classes of institutional investors. We test our hypotheses with a sample of publicly traded corporations between 1991 and 2006, and report strong support for most of our predictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-459
Number of pages24
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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