The “Unwritten Will” in Interpersonal Network Ties: Founder Legacy and International Networking of Family Firms in History



In this study, we explore the role of interpersonal network ties in the context of internationalizing family firms. Through two historical cases—Alhström and Serlachius—we study how the founder-entrepreneurs’ domestic and international identity-based and calculative ties emerged and further evolved within and across country borders in the transitional incumbent–successor context. By using a longitudinal qualitative approach, we were able to build on the notions of “social legacy” of founders in family firms in conjunction with their interpersonal networks and the cultivation or disruption of the more or less embedded ties by their successors over an intergenerational period of time. Our contribution is found in illustrating how the different types of interpersonal network ties of the two founder-entrepreneurs embedded in historical contingencies together worked as the mechanism endorsing the founders’ “social legacies” in the successor generations’ international networking. On the basis of our findings, we introduce the concept of international networking legacy, which becomes considered by the next generation as either an advantage or a disadvantage for their own approaches to international networking.


Interpersonal network ties Family firm internationalization International networking Founder legacy 


  1. Abbott, A. (1998). The causal devolution. Sociological Methods Research, 27(2), 148–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ahn, S.-Y. (2018). Founder succession, the imprint of founders’ legacies, and long-term corporate survival. Sustainability, 10(5), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aho, J. (1927a). Antti Ahlström 1827–1896. Hänen elämänsä ja työnsä I. Muisto-kirjoitus. Noormarkku: A. Ahlström Osakeyhtiö.Google Scholar
  4. Aho, J. (1927b). Antti Ahlström 1827–1896. Hänen elämänsä ja työnsä II. Muisto-kirjoitus. Noormarkku: A. Ahlström Osakeyhtiö.Google Scholar
  5. Ahvanainen, J. (1997). Serlachius, Gustaf Adolf. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.Google Scholar
  6. Anderson, A. R., & Jack, S. L. (2002). The articulation of social capital in entrepreneurial networks: A glue or a lubricant? Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 14(3), 193–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Arregle, J. L., Hitt, M. A., Sirmon, D. G., & Very, P. (2007). The development of organizational social capital: Attributes of family firms. Journal of Management Studies, 44(1), 73–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Arregle, J. L., Naldi, L., Nordqvist, M., & Hitt, M. A. (2012). Internationalization of family-controlled firms: A study of the effects of external involvement in governance. Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, 36(6), 1115–1143.Google Scholar
  9. Arregle, J. L., Batjargal, B., Hitt, M. A., Webb, J. W., Miller, T., & Tsui, A. S. (2015). Family ties in entrepreneurs’ social networks and new venture growth. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 39(2), 313–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Arregle, J. L., Hitt, M. A., & Mari, I. (2019). A missing link in family firms’ internationalization research: Family structures. Journal of International Business Studies, 50(5), 809–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Baker, K. G., & Wiseman, K. K. (1998). Leadership, legacy, and emotional process in family business. Family Business Review, 11(3), 207–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Baù, M., Block, J. H., Discua Cruz, A., & Naldi, L. (2017). Locality and internationalization of family firms. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 29(5–6), 570–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Baù, M., Chirico, F., Pittino, D., Backman, M., & Klaesson, J. (2019). Roots to grow: Family firms and local embeddedness in rural and urban contexts. Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, 43(2), 360–385.Google Scholar
  14. Brydon, K., & Dana, L. P. (2011). Globalisation and firm structure: Comparing a family-business and a corporate block holder in the New Zealand seafood industry. International Journal of Globalisation and Small Business, 4(2), 206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burgelman, R. (2011). Bridging history and reductionism: A key for longitudinal qualitative research. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(5), 591–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Byrom, J., & Lehman, K. (2009). Coopers Brewery: Heritage and innovation within a family firm. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 27(4), 516–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Calabrò, A., & Mussolino, D. (2013). How do boards of directors contribute to family SME export intensity? The role of formal and informal governance mechanisms. Journal of Management & Governance, 17(2), 363–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cennamo, C., Berrone, P., Cruz, C., & Gomez-Mejia, L. (2012). Socioemotional wealth and proactive stakeholder engagement: Why family-controlled firms care more about their stakeholders. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 36(6), 1153–1173.Google Scholar
  19. Chetty, S., & Agndal, H. (2008). Role of inter-organizational networks and interpersonal networks in an industrial district. Regional Studies, 42(2), 175–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chrisman, J. J., Chua, J. H., & Sharma, P. (2005). Trends and directions in the development of a strategic management theory of the family firm. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(5), 555–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Coviello, N. E. (2006). The network dynamics of international new ventures. Journal of International Business Studies, 37, 713–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Coviello, N. E., & Jones, M. V. (2004). Methodological issues in international entrepreneurship research. Journal of Business Venturing, 19(4), 485–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Coviello, N. E., & McAuley, A. (1999). Internationalisation and the smaller firm: A review of contemporary empirical research. Management International Review, 39(2), 223–257.Google Scholar
  24. Coviello, N. E., & Munro, H. (1997). Network relationships and the internationalisation process of small software firms. International Business Review, 6(4), 361–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Coviello, N. E., Kano, L., & Liesch, P. W. (2017). Adapting the Uppsala model to a modern world: Macro-context and microfoundations. Journal of International Business Studies, 48(9), 1151–1164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Crick, D., Bradshaw, R., & Chaudhry, S. (2006). ‘Successful’ internationalising UK family and non-family-owned firms: A comparative study. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 13(4), 498–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. De Massis, A., Frattini, F., Majocchi, A., & Piscitello, L. (2018). Family firms in the global economy: Toward a deeper understanding of internationalization determinants, processes, and outcomes. Global Strategy Journal, 8(1), 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Debicki, B. J., Kellermanns, F. W., Chrisman, J. J., Pearson, A. W., & Spencer, B. A. (2016). Development of a socioemotional wealth importance (SEWi) scale for family firm research. Journal of Family Business Strategy, 7(1), 47–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Elfring, T., & Hulsink, W. (2007). Networking by entrepreneurs: Patterns of tie-formation in emerging organizations. Organization Studies, 28(12), 1849–1872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ellis, P. D. (2000). Social ties and foreign market entry. Journal of International Business Studies, 31(3), 443–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ellis, P. D. (2011). Social ties and international entrepreneurship: Opportunities and constraints affecting firm internationalization. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(1), 99–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  33. Fernhaber, S., & Li, D. (2013). International exposure through network relationships: Implications for new venture internationalization. Journal of Business Venturing, 28(2), 316–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Fillis, I. (2015). Biographical research as a methodology for understanding entrepreneurial marketing. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 21(3), 429–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Foss, N. J., & Pedersen, T. (2016). Microfoundations in strategy research. Strategic Management Journal, 37(13), E22–E34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grahn, M. (2014). Perheyhtiö ja paikallisuus: A. Ahlström Osakeyhtiön historian perintö Noormarkussa. Turun yliopisto.Google Scholar
  37. Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360–1380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Granovetter, M. (1985). Economic action and social structure: The problem of embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology, 91(3), 481–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Graves, C., & Thomas, J. (2008). Determinants of the internationalization pathways of family firms: An examination of family influence. Family Business Review, 21(2), 151–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Greve, A., & Salaff, J. W. (2003). Social networks and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 28(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gulati, R., Nohria, N., & Zaheer, A. (2000). Strategic networks. Strategic Management Journal, 21(3), 203–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hammond, N. L., Pearson, A. W., & Holt, D. T. (2016). The quagmire of legacy in family firms: Definition and implications of family and family firm legacy orientations. Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, 40(6), 1209–1231.Google Scholar
  43. Harris, L. C., & Ogbonna, E. (1999). The strategic legacy of company founders. Long Range Planning, 32(3), 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Harris, S., & Wheeler, C. (2005). Entrepreneurs’ relationships for internationalization: Functions, origins and strategies. International Business Review, 14(2), 187–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Helanne, H. (2019). Yhdessä vai yksittäin? Suomalainen vanerikartelli 1926–1927. University of Helsinki.Google Scholar
  46. Hennart, J. F., Majocchi, A., & Forlani, E. (2019). The myth of the stay-at-home family firm: How family-managed SMEs can overcome their internationalization limitations. Journal of International Business Studies, 50(5), 758–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hervas-Oliver, J.-L., Lleo, M., & Cervello, R. (2017). The dynamics of cluster entrepreneurship: Knowledge legacy from parents or agglomeration effects? The case of the Castellon ceramic tile district. Research Policy, 46(1), 73–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hite, J. M., & Hesterly, W. S. (2001). The evolution of firm networks: From emergence to early growth of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 22(3), 275–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hoang, H., & Antoncic, B. (2003). Network-based research in entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(2), 165–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hunter, E. G., & Rowles, G. D. (2005). Leaving a legacy: Toward a typology. Journal of Aging Studies, 19(3), 327–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Jack, S. L. (2005). The role, use and activation of strong and weak network ties: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Management Studies, 42(6), 1233–1250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Jaskiewicz, P., Combs, J. G., & Rau, S. B. (2015). Entrepreneurial legacy: Toward a theory of how some family firms nurture transgenerational entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 30(1), 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Jones, D. G. B. (1998). Biography as a methodology for studying the history of marketing ideas. Psychology and Marketing, 15(2), 161–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Jones, G., & Khanna, T. (2006). Bringing history (back) into international business. Journal of International Business Studies, 37(4), 453–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Jones, C., & Volpe, E. H. (2011). Organizational identification: Extending our understanding of social identities through social networks. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(3), 413–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kampouri, K., Plakoyiannaki, E., & Leppäaho, T. (2017). Family business internationalisation and networks: Emerging pathways. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 32(3), 357–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Kellas, J. K. (2005). Family ties: Communicating identity through jointly told family stories. Family Communication Division at the National Communication Association Convention. Communication Monographs, 72(4), 365–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Kellermanns, F. W., Eddleston, K. A., & Zellweger, T. M. (2012). Extending the socioemotional wealth perspective: A look at the dark side. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 36(6), 1175–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kelly, L. M., Athanassiou, N., & Crittenden, W. F. (2000). Founder centrality and strategic behavior in the family-owned firm. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 25(2), 27–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Keskisarja, T. (2010). Vihreän kullan kirous. G.A. In Serlachiuksen elämä ja afäärit. Helsinki: Siltala.Google Scholar
  61. Konopaski, M., Jack, S., & Hamilton, E. (2015). How family business members learn about continuity. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 14(3), 347–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Kontinen, T., & Ojala, A. (2010). The internationalization of family businesses: A review of extant research. Journal of Family Business Strategy, 1(2), 97–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Kontinen, T., & Ojala, A. (2011). Network ties in the international opportunity recognition of family SMEs. International Business Review, 20(4), 440–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Kontinen, T., & Ojala, A. (2012). Social capital in the international operations of family SMEs. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 19(1), 39–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Kuivalainen, O., Sundqvist, S., & Servais, P. (2007). Firms’ degree of born-globalness, international entrepreneurial orientation and export performance. Journal of World Business, 42(3), 253–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Lamberg, J. A., Ojala, J., Peltoniemi, M., & Särkkä, T. (2012). The Evolution of Global Paper Industry 1800–2050: A Comparative Analysis (Vol. 17). Springer Science & Business Media.Google Scholar
  67. Larson, A., & Starr, J. A. (1993). A network model of organization formation. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 17(2), 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Leppäaho, T., Chetty, S., & Dimitratos, P. (2018). Network embeddedness in the internationalization of biotechnology entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 30(5–6), 562–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Lieblich, A., Tuval-Mashiach, R., & Zilber, T. (1998). Narrative Research: Reading, Analysis, and Interpretation, Vol. 47. Sage.Google Scholar
  70. McKenny, A. F., Short, J. C., Zachary, M. A., & Payne, G. T. (2011). Assessing espoused goals in private family firms using content analysis. Family Business Review, 24(4), 298–317.Google Scholar
  71. Miller, D., Steier, L., & Le Breton-Miller, I. (2003). Lost in time: Intergenerational succession, change, and failure in family business. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(4), 513–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Mustafa, M., & Chen, S. (2010). The strength of family networks in transnational immigrant entrepreneurship. Thunderbird International Business Review, 52(2), 97–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Norrmén, P. H. (1927). Toiminimi Ahlström 1896–1927. Muistokirjoitus. Noormarkku: A. Ahlström Osakeyhtiö.Google Scholar
  74. Ogbonna, E., & Harris, L. C. (2001). The founder’s legacy: Hangover or inheritance? British Journal of Management, 12(1), 13–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ojala, A., Evers, N., & Rialp, A. (2018). Extending the international new venture phenomenon to digital platform providers: A longitudinal case study. Journal of World Business, 53(5), 725–739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  77. Pearson, A. W., Carr, J. C., & Shaw, J. C. (2008). Toward a theory of familiness: A social capital perspective. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 32(6), 949–969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Polkinghorne, D. E. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Suny Press.Google Scholar
  79. Pukall, T. J., & Calabrò, A. (2014). The internationalization of family firms. Family Business Review, 27(2), 103–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Roberts, B. (2002). Biographical research. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  81. Roessl, D. (2005). Family businesses and interfirm cooperation. Family Business Review, 18(3), 203–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sajasalo, P. (2002). Internationalization of a key industry: Implications for a business and society relationship’s development—Case Finland. Journal of International Business Research, 8(1), 45–62.Google Scholar
  83. Salvato, C., & Melin, L. (2008). Creating value across generations in family-controlled businesses: The role of family social capital. Family Business Review, XXI(3), 259–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Schybergson, P. (1992). Työt ja päivät. Ahlströmin historia 1851–1981. Helsinki: A. Ahlström.Google Scholar
  85. Schybergson, P. (1997). Ahlström, Antti. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.Google Scholar
  86. Sharma, D. D., & Blomstermo, A. (2003). The internationalization process of Born Globals: A network view. International Business Review, 12(6), 739–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Shi, H. X., Shepherd, D. M., & Schmidts, T. (2015). Social capital in entrepreneurial family businesses: The role of trust. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 21(6), 814–841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Shi, H. X., Graves, C., & Barbera, F. (2019). Intergenerational succession and internationalisation strategy of family SMEs: Evidence from China. Long Range Planning, 52(4), 101838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Silvennoinen, O. (2012). Paperisydän: Gösta Serlachiuksen elämä. Helsinki: Siltala.Google Scholar
  90. Sirmon, D., & Hitt, M. (2003). Managing resources: Linking unique resources, management, and wealth creation in family firms. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 27(4), 339–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Söderqvist, A., & Chetty, S. (2013). Strength of ties involved in international new ventures. European Business Review, 25(6), 536–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Taraday, H. (2013). Book review: Family legacy and leadership: Preserving true family wealth in chal-lenging times. Family Business Review, 26(2), 200–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Uzzi, B. (1996). The sources and consequences of embeddedness for the economic performance of organizations: The network effect. American Sociological Review, 61, 674–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Vesikansa, J. (1997). Serlachius, Gösta. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.Google Scholar
  95. Walker, G., Kogut, B., & Shan, W. (1997). Social capital, structural holes and the formation of an industry network. In Organization science (Vol. 8, pp. 109–125). Elsevier.Google Scholar
  96. Welch, C., & Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, E. (2014). Putting process (back) in: Research on the internationalization process of the firm. International Journal of Management Reviews, 16(1), 2–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Welch, C., Piekkari, R., Plakoyiannaki, E., & Paavilainen, E. (2011). Theorising from case studies: Towards a pluralist future for international business research. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(5), 740–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Williamson, O. (1993). Calculativeness, trust, and economic organization. Journal of Law and Economics, 36(1 part 2), 453–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Wright, P. C., & Nasierowski, W. (1994). The expatriate family firm and cross-cultural management training: A conceptual framework. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 5(2), 153–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Zahra, S. A. (2003). International expansion of U.S. manufacturing family businesses: The effect of ownership and involvement. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(4), 495–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Zahra, S. A., Newey, L. R., & Li, Y. (2014). On the frontiers: The implications of social entrepreneurship for international entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, 38(1), 137–158.Google Scholar
  102. Zellweger, T. M., Sieger, P., & Halter, F. (2011). Should I stay or should I go? Career choice intentions of students with family business background. Journal of Business Venturing, 26(5), 521–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Zellweger, T. M., Chrisman, J. J., Chua, J. H., & Steier, L. P. (2019). Social structures, social relationships, and family firms. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 43(2), 207–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Business and ManagementLUT UniversityLappeenrantaFinland
  2. 2.LUT UniversityLappeenrantaFinland
  3. 3.Department of Strategy and EntrepreneurshipBI Norwegian Business SchoolOsloNorway
  4. 4.House of InnovationStockholm School of EconomicsStockholmSweden
  5. 5.Lancaster University Management SchoolLancasterUK

Personalised recommendations