Experiences Of A Family Firm

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The following chapter details the methods and processes involved in the study including the research design, participant selection, instrumentation, data collection, and data analysis. Methodology is the plan of action or strategy wherein the researcher chooses what specific techniques or methods will be used in order to arrive at outcomes of the study (Creswell 2009). Deciding on what methodology to use reflects how the researcher intends to collect and analyse data to answer questions on succession planning in a family firm.

Research Purpose

The purpose of this study is to describe the experiences of a family firm with respect to succession planning. It seeks a greater understanding of the processes associated with succession planning within the context of a family firm that is transitioning into the second generation of leaders. Specifically, we want to understand the "how" and the "why" of a Cypriot family firm which intends to and plans to survive the second generation. Understanding second generation family firms can enable us to gain insight into the several factors that come into play in the succession success among family businesses. Family firms are inherently different from other business enterprises. Through a shared identity, history, and common language that define family businesses, communication is more direct and easier than other firms. It is understood that family firms are unique in that spouses, sons, daughters, and siblings are knowledgeable about the strengths, weaknesses, and business capacities of each other. On the other hand, the factors of sibling rivalry, jealousy, and clash of values can also be a compelling factor that needs resolution in successful succession planning. I intend to examine the perceptions of key players in the family business about the firm's survival and how succession planning is viewed and appreciated by them. I intend to examine the experiences, thoughts, views, and plans of a family firm's key players through a case study methodology focused on one unit of analysis - the Mavromatis Books & Stationery Ltd. of Cyprus. In consequence, a greater appreciation and understanding of the role of succession planning in family businesses can be accomplished.

Research Design

The Nature of the Study

This study will use the qualitative research design in examining how succession planning is viewed and planned to ensure the success and survival of a family firm. The study follows the qualitative tradition because there is a need to "understand the meanings people [business leaders] have constructed… and the experiences they have in the world" (Merriam 2003, p. 6). On the other hand, qualitative research assumes that the truth will emerge only when the researcher gains an understanding of the beliefs, actions, experiences, and beliefs of others using the participant's point of view (Creswell 2009). Qualitative researchers use the interpretive paradigm, which views reality as a social construct that is created by subjective experiences of individuals through communication. If quantitative researches make inferences using numerical data, qualitative researchers strive to describe and interpret the meanings of phenomena under consideration as they unfold in the "natural setting" (Trochim 2008). The qualitative research approach allows for the descriptive account of the nature of the setting, occurrence and people. Furthermore, the qualitative research process interprets new insights about a phenomenon, new conceptual or theoretical perspectives and generates additional issues existing within (Stockard 2006).

Case study methodology

More specifically, this study uses the case study methodology in investigating the perceptions and views of family members on succession planning in a family firm. In choosing this research design, three factors came into play (Yin 2009):

(1) the research purpose

(2) the control the researcher exercises over the phenomenon being studied

(3) the study being either historical or contemporary.

According to Yin (2009), a case study is "an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident" (p. 13). Merriam (2003) defined a qualitative case study research as "…an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a bounded phenomenon" (p. xiii). In this study I want to make an in-depth analysis of succession planning as it unfolds in the real-life setting of a family firm. This goal will be best accomplished using the case study methodology. According to Jensen and Rodgers (2001), case study research "has the capability of uncovering causal paths and mechanisms, and through richness of detail, identifying causal influences and interaction effects" (p. 236).

Case study research is also a widely-accepted methodology in business research and has been used to investigate topics in marketing, operations management, management information systems, and strategy (Dul and Hak 2006). Case study research is appropriate for a wide number of topics in business research because topics in business are usually (a) complex and broad; (b) impoverished as far as theory is concerned; and (c) places importance on context (Dal and Huk 2006). Where context is of significance to the understanding of a research problem, for instance, succession planning in a family business, the case study method is best applied. Hanelin and Toornoos (2003) consider the case study to be capable of exploring different aspects of a phenomenon and understand them as they relate to each other, and further puts objects as they relate to the environment where they operate.

Case study offers a depth of understanding of a particular phenomenon which statistical representativeness cannot (Yin 2009). Researchers can study objects (family firm) more closely and allow for thick and inductive descriptions. Case study research is also helpful in understanding situations that have been largely under-researched such as family businesses. It is also particularly strong when the research purpose is to investigate developmental or change processes such as succession planning because it enables the researcher to examine contextual factors in a real-life manner. The application of this method can be useful for transcending the local boundaries of the investigated cases, capturing new layers of reality, and developing new, testable and empirically valid theoretical and practical insights (Vissak 2010; Halinen and Tornroos 2003).

In light of the literature presented, it is clear that the case study methodology is best suited for this proposed study on succession planning in a family firm. First, it will allow us to study a contemporary and contextualised phenomenon and second, allow us to comprehend the dynamics that characterise a particular setting. In the context of this proposed study on succession planning, the case study can thus be defined as a detailed study on one family firm, where multiple sources of data will be used to generate a holistic description of succession planning and its role in the survival and success of a business.

Single-case study research

This study intends to use a single case study research approach in examining the succession planning in a family firm. Yin (2009) explains a case to mean an individual, an event, entity, or a unit of an analysis such as an organisation. Hence, a case study is an empirical investigation of a contemporary event within a real-life setting using multiple forms of evidence to back findings. Another definition of a case is "an object of interest in its own right and the researcher aims to provide an in-depth elucidation of it" (Bryman and Bell 2006, p. 63).

Lee (1989) defines the single-case study ''as an intensive study of a single case where the case consists of the individuals, groups, and social structure in the setting of an organisation'' (as cited in Haas 2007, p. 74). Bryman and Bell (2006) explained that a basic case study involves the intensive and detailed analysis of a single case. Haas (2007) views a case study to focus on why and how things happen, allowing the inquiry of contextual realities.

Single cases are appropriate when a particular case is critical and we want to use it to explain or question an established theory (Patton 2002; Yin 2009). It is a critical case because it meets all the conditions necessary to confirm, challenge or extend the theory. For instance, in this study, we want to study succession planning in a single, Cypriot family corporation. Another situation is when a single case is an extreme or a unique case; for example, particular organisations may be of interest because they represent 'outstanding successes' or 'notable failures' (Patton 2002). Mavromatis Books & Stationery Ltd. is unique in that it has survived into its second generation of leaders and is still growing. This means that we can observe and study how a "previously inaccessible phenomenon" (Marcschan-Piekkari and Welch 2005, p. 115) such as succession planning is undertaken, communicated, and decided upon, by studying a single organization in order to give us meaningful insights.

We intend to utilise a single-case study design for this research in succession planning. The unit of analysis is a Cyprus-based family firm, Mavromatis Books & Stationery Ltd.

Research Setting

Mavromatis Books & Stationery Ltd. (hereafter referred to as "Mavromatis") is Cyprus' largest bookshop chain with 13 bookshops all in all: 7 are in Nicosia, 3 are in Limassol, 1 is in Larnaca, 1 is in Paralimin, and 1 in Paphos. Mavromatis engages both in retail and wholesale trading with a substantial number of clients. It also distributes to major companies, hypermarkets, bookshops, private and public schools, government offices, institutes and others. It is known to specialize in English and Greek books, stationery, educational books, school accessories, bags, artist materials, and gifts or wishing cards. Mavromatis was established in 1975 when the first bookstore was opened by Ntinos Mavromatis, in Nicosia at 121 Prodromou Street. After twelve years of success with his bookstore, Mr. Ntinos Mavromatis founded the company Mavromatis Books & Stationery Ltd. In 1989, a daughter, Mrs. Marina Mavromatis, joined the company to later undertake administrative duties as Director of the company. In 2000, Mr. Petros Mavromatis, the founder's son joined Mavromatis and later became one of the managerial executives. In 2006, Mavromatis expanded into other cities and especially in the city of Larnaca putting the bases for the island wide spread. Within the same year, the department of wholesale is reorganises and extends itself with the acquisition of the new warehouse in the industrial region of Nisou for the better wholesale service offered to its customers and the convenient supply of shops in all cities.

Mavromatis Books & Stationery Ltd is a traditional Cypriot and family company where through the years have managed to establish its name into the market mainly in Nicosia and until today remains a famous brand in the area of wholesale and retail in stationery and books islandwide. However, with the entrance of Cyprus in the E.U, the freedom of imports in the Cyprus market and globalisation it has created an intensive competitive environment in retailing and wholesaling across Cyprus. These factors have resulted to lower profit margins for the businesses, more competitive products and services are entering the market, no exclusivity of brands, new opportunities to import new products and threats from new competitors entering the market.

Sampling Method

Purposive sampling will be used in this research as a sampling strategy. The respondents will be chosen because of their uniqueness to the phenomenon being studied. They are all members of a family business that is actively experiencing succession and has evidently survived into its second generation of leaders. The population size for this study is seven (7) constituting: (1) the founder (father), (2) the founder's spouse (mother), (3) a son active in the business, (4) another son who is not active in the business, (5) the founder's daughter, (6) a brother-in-law, and (7) a sister-in-law. All seven (7) will be given questionnaires (see Instrumentation) to accomplish and for the researcher to get a broader view of the culture of the business and perceptions on succession planning before proceeding to the more in-depth and detailed semi-structured interviews. The sample size for the interviews will be reduced to three (3) deliberately chosen participants because they the key players of the family business: (1) the founder, (2) the son-executive, and (3) the daughter-executive.


Case study research emphasises on using triangulation through the use of multiple sources of evidence (Yin 2009). For this study on succession planning in a family firm, three different sources will be used. The primary instrument used will be the semi-structured interview. This will be triangulated with the questionnaires and documentary sources.

Semi-structured interview. The primary instrument for this dissertation will be a semi-structured interview guide. A self-constructed, semi-structured interview guide with open-ended questions will allow for basic introductory questions and subsequently, a consistent investigation of topics related to the succession planning within the family firm. The semi-structured nature of the interview guide also grants some flexibility so that I can engage in casual or natural conversation with the participant and gain more insight about them and their experiences in the process. Fontana and Frey (1994) considers the semi-structured interview "more honest, morally sound, and reliable, because it treats the respondent as an equal, allows him or her to express personal feelings, and therefore presents a more realistic picture than can be uncovered using traditional interview methods" (p. 371). In contrast, the highly-structured interview may be too rigid and is prone to end up with getting reactions based on the investigator's preconceived ideas and worldview (Merriam, 1998). The interviews will be tape-recorded to secure an accurate account of the conversations and in order to prevent data loss since it will be difficult to write everything down as the interview goes on. Every cassette tape will be numbered and labeled properly with the name of interviewee to ensure that everything is organized and accounted for.

Questionnaires. Questionnaires will be used in order to gather a broad understanding of the issues that confront succession planning in the firm. The questionnaire will serve as a preparatory research instrument to analyze perceptions among family members and to guide the construction of the interview instrument later on. There will be three versions of the questionnaire to be accomplished by the participants.

The first type of questionnaire will be targeted to the founder;

The second type of questionnaire will be targeted to the offspring; and

The third type of questionnaire will be targeted to the rest of family (mother, brother in law, sister in law).

The questionnaires will be used as a gauge to gather perceptions and views about verify answers for triangulation.

Documentary sources. Documentary evidence will be used to supplement information derived from other sources of evidence. Documentary evidence acts as a method to cross-validate information gathered from interview and observation given that sometimes what people say maybe different from what people do. Additionally, documents provide guidelines in assisting the researcher with his inquiry during interview. The study of documents is tremendous useful to case study. We can rely on them when preparing sharp and direct-to-the-point interview questions. We can also use them to check information mentioned in interviews. Documents tend to be rich and have a lot to offer to the researcher both in pre-interview and post-interview situations. For this case study on succession planning, official and unofficial documents will be requested and collected from the firm. This will include financial reports, news clippings, news releases, curriculum vita, photographs, letters and archival information that can help in corroborating the information or experiences shared by the participants in the questionnaire or interviews.

Reliability and Integrity

Several procedures will be undertaken to ensure the validity and credibility of the study. Yin (2003) considered that a study's trustworthiness will be achieved when the following are met:

1) attend to all the evidence

2) address all major rival interpretations

3) address the most significant aspect of the case study, and,

4) utilize the researcher's prior expert knowledge. (p. 137)

This case research intends to achieve trustworthiness through triangulation of data, member checking, and peer debriefing.

Triangulation. Triangulation is one of the unique features of case study research. Triangulation is defined as "the collection of data through different methods or even different kind of data on the same phenomenon" (Marschan-Piekkari and Welch 2005, p. 114). This technique is crucial to guarantee the validity of a case study's findings. Case studies can benefit from triangulation because it can provide breadth, depth, and a holistic picture of the phenomenon under study. In this case, the use of triangulation will allow the researchers to acquire a broader picture of succession planning in the context of a second generation Cypriot family firm. As far as case study research is concerned, there is a need to validate data and information we get from several sources and examine them from different perspectives. For instance, we can check the company's financial performance or the narrative of a participant by consulting documentary evidence such as annual reports or checking news clippings to confirm the veracity of the event cited. Essentially, triangulation prevents us from misinterpreting the information we receive. It clarifies the meaning behind the different angles we look at a phenomenon (Denzin and Lincoln 2006). Triangulation establishes convergence of meaning and diminishes the bias borne out of "individual methods," which are cancelled out in the process (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). This study will use questionnaires aside from the transcripts of the interviews to note significant points that could be of use for further investigation. To corroborate data from informant interviews, other sources such as documents and artifacts related to the company or the family members will be used to enhance the validity of the results.

Member checking. This is a method that could help in providing credibility and critique to a research investigation (Denzin and Lincoln 2006). Through member checking, transcripts of the interviews could be reviewed by the participant, and in the event of irregularities, changes or clarifications made. According to Stake (1995), member checking is also used for further triangulation and investigation, "They [the participants] also help triangulate the researcher's observations and interpretations....The actor [participant] is asked to review the material for accuracy and palatability" (p. 115).

Peer debriefing. Another procedure useful in establishing reliability is peer debriefing. Qualitative research experts encourage the use of debriefing to "enhance truth value, credibility, or validity of qualitative research" (Merriam 1998, p. 56). At the beginning of data collection and data analysis, we will meet regularly with two (2) impartial colleagues who will critically review the interview protocol and coding protocol for content validity and review the methods employed in our dissertation.

Data Collection Method

Prior to data collection or any form of communication with the study's participants, the researchers will first secure the approval to conduct the study from the university's Institutional Review Board (IRB). The researchers will begin the data collection process by first securing access to the family firm being studied and the participants of the study. Letters of communication will be sent to the participants of the study in order to gain their cooperation. The letters will explain the purpose of the study, the methods that will be used and explain the ethical principles to be applied in the conduct of the study. Since data to be collected and examined includes organizational documents, the researchers will state their intention to request copies and access to these files and documents and will also explain how they intend to store, classify, and protect the documents. If needed, visits will be scheduled to the company in order to familiarise with the study environment and establish rapport with the study's participants.

This study will use audio-tape recorded interviews as the primary data gathering strategy. With the use of a semi-structured interview guide, the three key players of the family firm - composed of the founder, the son-executive, and the daughter-executive - will be asked open-ended questions regarding their views on succession, its importance, criteria for succession, communication among family members, problems encountered regarding succession, and their visions for the survival and success of the family firm. The interviewees will be conducted in person and scheduled to suit the availability and convenience of interviewees. A set of core questions will be asked among all interviewees and additional questions may be posed to them in order to derive more insights. Interviews will be conducted at a comfortable and pre-arranged location proximate to the interviewee's location. At the beginning of each interview, the researcher will review the consent form and ensure that he or she understands its contents and implications. It will also be made clear that the participant can inform the researcher to stop the interview if desired.

Prior to the conduct of the informant interviews, three types of questionnaires will be handed out to seven family members who are directly and indirectly affected by succession planning. The purpose of these questionnaires is to obtain broad knowledge of the attitudes and perceptions of the family members on the idea of succession and the prospect of working for the family business. Type 1 will be specifically designed to obtain views of the founder. Type 2 will be specifically designed to obtain the views of the offspring active in leadership. Type 3 will be specifically designed to gather the views of other family members. The data from the questionnaires will serve to cross-validate interview data.

Documents will be collected with the permission of the company to be photocopied, photographed, or stored for analysis. This will include financial reports, company statistics, letters of communications, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other relevant documents.

Data Analysis

In case studies, the reliability of data analysis hinges upon the study's capability to present "authentic" understanding of a phenomenon [succession planning] (Patton 2002). It also goes beyond simply understanding the phenomena. Data analysis should allow us to understand the different points of view of people being studied and to be interpreted within the context in which the data was produced (Marschan-Piekkari and Welch 2005).

Unlike quantitative research where statistical representations of data give it rigor and validity, analysis is more challenging for qualitative research (Golafshani 2003). Because it does not rely on statistics and mathematical data, qualitative researchers ensure the reliability and validity by applying rigor to the data collection and data analysis process. Conclusions in case studies can only be valid and reliable when they are closely interconnected with the case study's life cycle. This means, that as case study researchers, we need to apply data analysis simultaneously with data collection - first, as a means of applying rigor and second, for practical reasons. The earlier the data is analysed, the less likely it is for researchers to be overwhelmed with large volumes of data inherent in qualitative research (Denzin and Lincoln 2006).

Aside from early analysis, systematic and organized preservation of data is also crucial (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Merriam, 1998). Time is also an issue anticipated in this research, hence there is a need to analyze data as the data collection process is ongoing (Merriam 1998). We estimate that a single interview will last for a minimum of one hour. The transcription process however could last for two full days in a single interview. However, time-exhaustive processes are anticipated and welcomed in this case study research to ensure reliability and high-quality of the findings.

Merriam (1998) also advises qualitative researchers to pause for reflection when analysing data because "pondering the impressions, deliberating recollections and records....data [is] sometimes precoded but continuously interpreted, on first sighting and again and again" (p. 242) will lessen the risk of misinterpretation. To make sure that data is systematically stored and organized, the transcripts of the interviews, summaries, field notes, and excerpts from artifacts and documents will be kept in a research journal by the researchers.

Content analysis

Transcribed data from the interviews will be analyzed through qualitative content analysis. Qualitative content analysis is a widely-used approach to analyzing qualitative data which is characterized by searching for underlying themes in texts or documents being analyzed (Patton 2002). Bryman (2004) makes a more exhaustive definition of content analysis as:

An approach to documents that emphasizes the role of the investigator in the construction of the meaning of and in texts. There is an emphasis on allowing categories to emerge out of data and on recognizing the significance for understanding the meaning of the context in which an item being analyzed (and the categories derived from it) appeared. (p. 542)

Content analysis is one of the most popular "coding operations" in social investigation (Patton 2002). Coding is a technique that organizes and themes data by demarcating segments within it using a label known as a "code." After coding is complete, the codes are summarized according to prevalence and analyzed for similarities, differences, and relationships between one or more codes (Bryman 2004). A qualitative analysis computer software called nVivo will be used in coding themes embedded in transcripts. After the coding process, a preliminary meaning or conceptual explanation will have been generated.

Ethical Considerations

Approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) will be obtained as a manifestation of commitment to adhere to basic ethical principles of business research. Confidentiality and privacy issues will also be resolved by obtaining prior informed consent to be interviewed and for the interviews to be recorded. Measures to ensure confidentiality will be applied. If requested, there will be no names or identifying information to be revealed in the interview transcripts. When necessary, pseudonyms will be used in place of real names. Recorded audiotapes will be stored by the researchers. The chain of evidence will be erased after this dissertation is published. Further, researchers will inform the participants that they may terminate their involvement in the study any moment they wish.


This proposed qualitative single-case study research intends to understand the process of succession planning in a second generation Cypriot family firm. Understanding requires knowing their experiences with the family business, their views on involvement with the family business, their views on the importance of succession, their perceptions about criteria regarding succession, thoughts about what needs to be considered in succession, and their views for the future of the family firm. This will be accomplished with the use of interviews, questionnaires, and documentary evidence. The operational details and data collection procedures were presented and justified in this section. The guidelines for establishing the study's integrity and reliability were also delineated. Ultimately, the methodology proposed for this study will accomplish the research purpose of illuminating on the phenomenon of succession planning as a necessary process to ensure the success and survival of the family business.