Perspectives from two generations of IFERA Presidents.
The start of year 2023 is marking an important change in IFERA. After 6 years of honorable service, this past December the Board of Directors has decided upon the succession of our former President. After working several years side-to-side in the IFERA Board and Executive Team, Josip Kotlar and Torsten Pieper (now President-Elect and Past-President, respectively) are embarking in a special year of transition which we all hope will provide further energy and momentum for the development of our Research Academy.
To celebrate this special time, we conducted a double interview to share their reflections about the past, present, and future of IFERA, and to explore how IFERA will continue to contribute to the development of family business research.
Torsten, you have been our enthusiastic and smiling president for the last six years. Your journey has been marked by several important milestones that would be hard to summarize in a couple of sentences. Can you share with us one special moment that stands out in your memory of these last years as our President?
T: I like to think of the last years as a great journey. It has been wonderful to see the development of IFERA over time and how the community continues to evolve in meaningful ways. I will point out a recent memory that stands out among others. I was really stunned by the last conference in Santander and how we all came together after the years of COVID, more engaged, more resolute and more committed to share and to support one another. I was also impressed about the number of new and young faces that I saw, and I remember thinking “This is what IFERA is all about: being an open, welcoming and supportive community”.
Among the many initiatives introduced by IFERA in the last years, which is the one you are most proud of, and you hope is going to last throughout the years?
T: This is a tough one, because there are so many that come to mind. The way I like to think of it is that we nurture a fertile environment that provides the conditions under which people feel encouraged and supported to take the initiative and try new things for the benefit of the community. What we are doing here right now is a good example of exactly that type of initiative. Another example, and a milestone in the development of the field, was the launch of the IFERA Summer School. And we did it, among all possible scenarios, during a pandemic! When many other groups were getting more and more closed off, we opened our doors wide and provided new opportunities to learn, share, and network. This does not happen randomly. It requires a large and concerted effort, and I am deeply thankful to the countless individuals and teams who have been dedicating their time, creativity, and generosity to our joint cause.
Josip, what do you think are IFERA’s key strengths that should be leveraged moving forward?
J: I believe that the primary strength of IFERA comes from its community, which has demonstrated a remarkable level of energy and engagement over time, contributing in a substantial way to the growth of the organization and the spread of its initiatives. I believe that this will continue to be a critical success factor for the future. We are proud to have built together a remarkable community of passionate researchers who share values of curiosity and collegiality, and pursue together a vision for the continuous betterment of family business scholarship. I think of the annual conference’s review process, involving more than 300 researchers every year who provide valuable feedback to their peers. Or all the initiatives introduced by the Research and Development Program Committee, an amazing team of researchers who are making outstanding contributions to our organization: the IFERA summer school now approaching its third edition, a rich program of monthly research webinars, research development workshops, and the brand new writing bootcamp organized this winter.
These, among others, are clear examples of the proactiveness and contribution demonstrated by IFERA members for the advancement of our research field. I certainly feel a lot of responsibility to ensure that this energy continues to flow, and I feel excited by the many new valuable activities that we can create in the years to come.
And how about the weaknesses? How will you try to tackle them to make IFERA even stronger?
J: When it comes to assessing IFERA’s weaknesses, I must say that honestly I am very fortunate, as I am inheriting a very solid organization. Of course, there are always opportunities for further development and progress. For example, I think that we need to continue foster the enhancement of quality standards in family business research, for example continuing to invest in order to attract young and new scholars to the field, and create opportunities research development for anyone entering the field. We also can strengthen our support to IFERA members in relation to the impact dimension of research, for example imagining new ways to create and disseminate impactful knowledge for family businesses and society. Finally, I also think that we should continue the process of professionalization, started by Torsten and the Executive Team in the first place, in order to ensure that our processes and structures can sustain and further enhance operational excellence in all the new exciting activities that I am sure will emerge in the years to come.
And, Torsten, do you have any suggestion for your successor?
T: Something I find myself thinking about is the direction in which academia in general, and the family business field in particular are heading, and how we can reach more meaningfulness and impact with our work. Instead of only worrying about publications and citations, I believe that it would serve us and our field well if we were to think about how we can be more useful to family businesses with what we do. I believe there is much to be done in this regard, and I feel that IFERA and our community are in a prime position to facilitate and lead these conversations going forward.
One of IFERA goal is to connect family business scholars with family businesses and enterprising families around the world. Do you already have in mind some initiatives that will help achieving this goal?
J. I think that this is certainly an important goal. Ultimately, the value of our research will be measured by the positive impact it creates for society. But a theory-practice divide is still widely perceived in our field. For example, I see some limits in the traditional “implications for practice” section of our papers, that does not always reflect the depth and reach of the underlying research. To release the full value of our research for families and family businesses, we should invest more heavily in encouraging and educating researchers to adopt a conscious and strategic approach to managing research impact. I believe that IFERA has the responsibility and potential to take a leading role promoting an engaged model of scholarship in the family business field. We should do this by investing in education to help scholars embed business engagement and impact at the very heart of their research projects, but we also need to create new opportunities for dialogue between our members and family business leaders, manager and professionals.
T: I fully agree with Josip’s reflections. The main concern for me would be to make sure that IFERA stays true to its core values in building new relationships with stakeholders and helping family businesses become even more resilient and longer lasting.
I would like to conclude the interview giving you the opportunity to spread one last message to our community members.
T: In our modern society, and even more so in academia, egos play a big role. And we know that egos stand in the way of truth. What I wish for IFERA is to continue to steward a community that puts all this aside and nourishes its ongoing relationships in the service of others. Like a healthy family where members look out for one another, support one another, celebrate successes and live through setbacks, recognizing that we do better work when we do it together. Our efforts during the pandemic are a clear demonstration of our ability to do something truly remarkable when we come together as a community and do good for others. Therefore, we should continue to be open and tend to the conditions that encourage people to take the initiative and let new ideas emerge, supporting shared growth and development.
J: I start this new adventure with a strong feeling of gratitude to all the people who have led IFERA before me, including Torsten of course, who has been not only a great leader but also a precious mentor to me in the last years. I am also grateful to the members of our Board of Directors: Massimo Baù, Claudia Binz-Astrachan, Isabel Botero, Kimberly Eddleston, Rania Labaki, Esra Memili, Winnie Peng and Paul Woodfield, who have decided to trust me to lead the next chapter of IFERA’s history. Today, the IFERA community appears stronger than ever, hence I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to continue the outstanding work done so far.
Thank you Josip and Torsten!!!!!