INSEAD report shows how private equity is helping family firms unlock sustainable value

17 February 2020

  • Institutionalisation is key to family firms’ survival
  • A significant ‘proficiency gap’ exists between second generation family companies and those with more intergenerational transfers of power
  • Expertise from external sources – such as PE – can help a family business leapfrog the institutionalisation curve.


Family firms are the cornerstone of the global economy. In Europe they represent 70-80% of all business enterprise, account for 40-50 percent of employment, and are catalysts of widespread growth. However, they can also be poorly institutionalised and particularly vulnerable to crises relating to leadership, talent, autonomy and control.

A new report The Institutionalization of Family FirmsEurope, by INSEAD Global Private Equity Initiative (GPEI), examines the benefits of institutionalising European family-owned companies to ensure long-term value creation and growth. It examines the nature of partnerships between family firms and private equity (PE) and identifies best practices that support sustainable value-creation.

Specifically, the report shows how family firms can strengthen their business and guard against crises by bringing in PE shareholders to:

  • Improve corporate governance
  • Professionalise management teams
  • Strengthen internal systems and processes
  • Meet talent shortages
  • Better manage family members

Drawing from in-depth surveys of 121 European family businesses and interviews with leading PE firms, the study provides an understanding of how family businesses have continued to adapt over generations and gives family firms in the region an opportunity to benchmark themselves against their peers. It includes diverse case studies of second, third, sixth and ninth generation firms which highlight specific challenges and opportunities.

The attributes of institutionalisation

The institutionalisation of participating firms was measured according to six attributes: family ownership and succession; intangible family assets (such as family connections and heritage); corporate governance and leadership; growth capabilities; access to capital; and organisational design.

The study’s authors found that third and fourth generation families (referred to as ‘Champions’) significantly outperformed first and second generation companies (‘Ascendants’) across five of the six areas. This “proficiency gap” being greatest in intangible assets. Ascendants scored higher in terms of Family Ownership and Succession where Champions experienced more disagreements regarding the firm’s future shareholding structure, business strategy and day-to-day operations.

Interestingly the study found that Champions were more likely to take into account non-financial factors when making operational and investment decisions and were also more willing to give up higher rates of market return in order to create impact.

Leapfrogging up the institutional curve

The report shows how the injection of capital and expertise from external sources such as PE can speed up the institutionalisation process.  Interviews with seven PE firms experienced in family firm partnerships explores the complexities and dynamics of these partnerships. And shows how, despite the fundamental difference in family companies’ long-term, multi-generational view compared to PE’s focus on short-term returns, both sides can reap benefits when interests converge.

The Institutionalization of Family FirmsEurope report is the latest in a series of studies led by INSEAD and follows the release of  The Institutionalization of Family Firms – From Asia-Pacific to the Middle East  and The Institutionalization of Family Firms, Latin America.

A comparison of the three reports shows that while European family firms tend to institutionalise faster than their emerging-market counterparts, the level of institutionalisation of family-own businesses increases over time regardless of location.


About INSEAD's Global Private Equity Initiative (GPEI)

The Global Private Equity Initiative (GPEI) drives teaching, research and events in the field of private equity and related alternative investments at INSEAD. It was launched in 2009 to combine the rigour and reach of the school's research capabilities with the talents of global professionals in the private equity industry. The GPEI aims to enhance the productivity of the capital deployed in this asset class and focuses attention on newer areas shaping the industry such as impact investing and operational value creation, and specific groups of LPs like family offices and sovereign wealth funds.

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World

As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. Our research, teaching and partnerships reflect this global perspective and cultural diversity.

With locations in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore), the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), and now North America (San Francisco), INSEAD's business education and research spans four regions. Our 165 renowned Faculty members from 41 countries inspire more than 1,300 degree participants annually in our MBA, Global Executive MBA, Specialised Master’s degrees (Executive Master in Finance and Executive Master in Change) and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD Executive Education programmes each year.

INSEAD continues to conduct cutting-edge research and innovate across all our programmes. We provide business leaders with the knowledge and awareness to operate anywhere. Our core values drive academic excellence and serve the global community as The Business School for the World.

Contacts for press:

Chris Howells
Tel +65 6799 5490
Email: [email protected]

Aileen Huang
Tel +65 6799 5552
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Ilan Goren
Tel: +33 6 78 04 25 77
Email: [email protected]

Cheryl Ng
Tel +65 6799 5490
Email: [email protected]

Linda Furtado
Tel + 971 2 6515309
Email: [email protected]

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