Small Business Economics

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 51–65 | Cite as

Organizational learning and entrepreneurship in family firms: exploring the moderating effect of ownership and cohesion

  • Shaker A. Zahra


Organizational learning can significantly improve family firms’ ability to counter by stimulating entrepreneurship. Applying the behavioral theory of the firm, this study empirically examines the effect of family ownership on the breadth, depth, and speed of organizational learning. Each of these dimensions can influence entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the effect of ownership on organizational learning depends on family cohesiveness, the extent to which members of the owner family feel closeness, mutual solidarity, and the desire to stick together. Data from 741 firms show that family ownership is positively associated with the breadth and speed of learning but is negatively associated with the depth of learning. Though cohesiveness does not alleviate the negative effect of family ownership on the depth of learning, it amplifies the effect of family ownership on the breadth and speed of learning. Organizational learning, especially its breadth and depth, positively influences the pace of family firms’ entrepreneurship.


Family firms Organizational learning Behavioral theory of the firm Learning theory 

JEL Classifications




I acknowledge with appreciation the comments of the guest editors (Franz Kellermanns, Frank Hoy, Kimberly Eddleston, and Lorraine Uhlaner), Els Van deVelde, and Patricia H. Zahra. I have benefited greatly from my collaboration and discussions with my colleagues at Nikos (Dutch Institute for Knowledge-Intensive Entrepreneurship) at University of Twente, The Netherlands, where parts of this paper were developed. Data used in this paper are part of a larger study on knowledge creation and exploitation in diverse organizational settings. I appreciate the financial support of the Glavin Center for Global Management at Babson.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Strategic Management & OrganizationGary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Carlson School of Management, University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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