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Rice University research sheds light on what family office investors are looking for

Family firms aren't investing in research and development — but why? Getty Images

Family firms are publicly traded companies in which family members own at least 20 percent of the voting stock, and at least two board members belong to the family. For obvious reasons, the central principals in these firms tend to have a longer view than principals in non-family firms. Yet family firms invest less in research and development (R&D) in technology firms than their non-family counterparts. Since investments in R&D are stakes in the future, why this disparity?

Robert E. Hoskisson, a management professor at Rice Business, joined several colleagues to answer this question. Refining a sociological theory called the behavioral agency model (BAM), the researchers defined family-firm decisions as "mixed gambles" — that is, decisions that could result in either gains or losses.

Because success in high technology relies so much on innovation, it's especially puzzling when such a family owned business underinvests in R&D. So Hoskisson and his colleagues focused on the paradox of family firms in high tech.

According to previous research, family owners weigh both economic and non-economic factors when making business decisions. Hoskisson and his team labeled these non-economic factors socioemotional wealth (SEW). SEW can include family prestige through identifying with and controlling a business, emotional attachment to the firm or the legacy of a multigenerational link to the firm.

That intangible wealth (SEW) explained some of the families' R&D choices. While investment in R&D may lower future financial risk, it can threaten other resources the family holds dear. Expanded R&D spending, for instance, is linked with competitiveness. At the same time, it is associated with less family control. That's because to invest more in R&D, businesses typically need more external capital and expertise. So when a family firm underinvests in R&D, it may in fact be protecting its socioemotional wealth.

To further understand these dynamics, the researchers looked at three factors that they expected would raise families' R&D spending to levels more like non-family counterparts.

The first factor was corporate governance. As predicted, the researchers found that family firms with a higher percentage of institutional investors invested in R&D at levels more like those of non-family firms. The institutional investors naturally prioritized economic benefits far more than the founding family's legacy wealth (SEW).

The researchers also analyzed corporate strategy. Family firms, they found, invested more in R&D when it might be applied to related products or markets. Even families bent on preserving non-economic wealth could be lured by a big economic payoff, and related business are easier to control because they are closer to the family legacy business expertise.

Finally, Hoskisson and his colleagues looked at performance. When a family firm's performance lagged behind that of competitors, they reasoned, the owners would spend more on R&D. A higher percentage of institutional investors, the team theorized, would magnify this effect. Interestingly, the primary data (from 2004 to 2009) failed to support this hypothesis, while an alternative data set (from 1994 to 2002) confirmed it.

Further research, the investigators wrote, could shed useful light on this puzzle. They also encouraged study of how family firms conduct mergers and acquisitions. After all, while families can seem inscrutable from the outside, most run on some kind of economic system. The currency just includes more than money.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Robert E. Hoskisson is the George R. Brown Emeritus Professor of Management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

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Building Houston

 
 

These Houston-area entrepreneurs have something to celebrate this week. Photos courtesy of EY

Four entrepreneurs whose companies are in or near the Houston metro area have been named winners in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year regional competition and now will head to the national competition.

Local winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 Central South Award are:

  • Elliott Bouillion, founder and executive chairman of Bellaire-based Resource Environmental Solutions. The company helps clients with environmental mitigation, stormwater management and water quality, and climate adaptation and flood resilience.
  • Blake Brannon, founder and president of Brenham-based Brannon Industrial Group. The company buys and recycles scrap metal, provides waste and recycling services, rents out portable toilets, and offers sustainable printing services.
  • Dr. Juliet Breeze, founder and CEO of Houston-based Next Level Medical, which operates membership-model urgent care clinics.
  • Jamie Welch, president, CEO, and chief financial officer of Houston-based Kinetic Holdings, a midstream oil and natural gas operator in the Delaware Basin of West Texas and northern New Mexico.

Among the criteria used to select the regional winners were purpose, growth, impact, and entrepreneurial spirit.

“Each of these entrepreneurs has exhibited curiosity, ingenuity, and courage, and we are proud to celebrate this outstanding group of leaders and welcome them as valuable members of our Entrepreneur Of The Year community,” says Anna Tallent, co-director of the awards’ Central South program.

As regional award winners, these entrepreneurs will be considered for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 national awards, which will be presented in November. The overall Entrepreneur Of The Year winner at the national level then will move on to the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year program, which will name its top winner in June 2023.

In a news release, Breeze says she’s honored to be given such a prestigious award.

“This award is further validation that at Next Level, we are really on to something. Healthcare needs to be available to patients when and where they need it,” Breeze says.

Aside from the Houston-area winners, here are the other recipients of this year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Central South Award:

  • CEO Amanda Baldwin and founder and Chairwoman Holly Thaggard of San Antonio-based Supergoop! The company makes and sells sunscreen-based skincare products.
  • Cory Brymer, founder and CEO of Hutto-based BryComm, a provider of technology and security infrastructure services.
  • William Chan, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Iodine Software, a provider of AI-powered software for the healthcare industry.
  • Todd Dipaola, founder and CEO of Austin-based InMarket, which operates a platform for localized advertising.
  • Dr. David Ferguson, co-founder, president, and CEO of San Antonio-based Celebrate Dental & Braces, which has offices in five states.
  • Mark Floreani, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based FloSports, a streaming service for sporting events.
  • James Garvey, founder and CEO of Austin-based Self Financial, which offers credit-building loans.
  • Tim Heyl, founder and CEO of Austin-based Homeward, whose loans help buyers make all-cash offers for homes.
  • Joel Kocher, co-founder and CEO of Austin- based HumanN, a provider of superfood products.
  • JeVon McCormick, president and CEO of Austin-based book publisher Scribe Media.
  • Thomas Thill, CEO of San Antonio-based AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, an owner and operator of veterinary practices.

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