Commentary: U.S. Family Firms Should Go Global to Survive

Kennesaw State University business professors Torstein Pieper and Joe Astrachan…

Georgia (Apr 1, 2015)

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Kennesaw State University business professors Torstein Pieper and Joe Astrachan of the Cox Family Enterprise Center warn family-owned enterprises that engaging in international trade "already seems critical to survival."

Their commentary begins here:

Family businesses are the prevailing form of business around the world. No other business produces and employs more people than family businesses. They give more to their communities, hire more, lay off less, have progressive employment practices and they do so regardless of the generation of ownership. And while their business would be worth something if sold, the typical family business owner cares far too much about their employees and communities to consider selling unless compelled to do so by banks, taxes, regulations, or other outside forces.

For all their strengths, U.S. family businesses tend to not be global in nature (less than 1 percent export), preferring the relative safety of a single political system, a single currency and a relatively homogeneous and business-friendly culture. But, maybe they should be more oriented to selling to consumers in other countries.

We say this because accepting and overcoming a challenge, such as internationalization, leads to vital growth and development. Difficulty requires discipline. Discipline is a critical factor that would enable businesses to continue to serve the interests of stakeholders.

A good example of this self-imposed discipline can be seen in the Mittelstand, mostly small-to-medium-sized firms in German-speaking countries, notably GermanyAustria and Switzerland. These family-owned businesses enjoy strong positions in foreign markets and account for 19 percent of total exports by German firms.

In the Atlanta region alone, more than 250 German firms call the  United States their second home. Many of them belong to the Mittelstand, but they also include global players such as Porsche, also a family business.


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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit