Xu Huang, Louis Chen, Erica Xu, Feifei Lu, Ka-Chai Tam (2019). Shadow of the Prince: Parent-incumbents’ Coercive Control over Child-successors in Family Organizations


Xu Huang Department of Management, Hong Kong Baptist University

Louis Chen National Taiwan University

Erica Xu Department of Management, Hong Kong Baptist University

Feifei Lu SILC Business School, Shanghai University

Ka-Chai Tam Department of History, Hong Kong Baptist University


Tom Taiyi Yan – Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

Zhishuang Guan – Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

Article link: https://doi.org/10.1177/0001839219870449

1. Emergence of your research approach: Combining historic records and family-owned firm survey research is an extremely interesting approach to study the phenomenon of succession. We are curious, did this approach begin from your observations of real family firms and then expanded your study of history, or did it originate from your reflection on history, which then motivated you to study existing family firms?

The second author is now the CEO of the largest shoe manufacturing firm in Taiwan. He was my DBA student (Doctor of Business Administration). He approached me in 2010 and wanted to develop a DBA thesis on this topic. At the beginning, I did not want to supervise him as this was not my research area. Yet, he insisted. I then started to ask him to tell me why he wanted to develop a project on succession in family firms. He told me about his conflict with his father at that time. He was the COO of the firm and his father was still the CEO/Chairman. Both of them have a lot of conflict during the succession period. I found his story interesting and asked him to read Chinese history to get some insights. He started to read the history of China (Zizhitongjian). We have spent more than 6 months to reflect on the history of China and developed some ideas based on our “qualitative” understanding of Chinese history. In that stage, our analysis of the historical data was “qualitative”. Next, we spent another 18 months to develop theories and hypotheses. He collected data in the field after two-year theorization (Study 2) and the data supported all of our hypotheses. After he completed his thesis, I worked with a PhD student (the fourth author) to collected another dataset to replicate and extend the findings of Study 2. The results were reported in Study 3. Finally, we decided to go back to the historical stories and started to work with a historian to code the history book. This time, we decided to turn our “qualitative” work on the historical data into “quantitative” one. 

2. Theory: In the article, the theory proposed a similar U-shape relationship between successor’s willingness and capability and incumbents’ acts of coercive control. At the same time, the contingent leadership literature suggests that leaders often adopt different management strategies tailored to subordinates’ levels of ability and motivation. For instance, when the subordinate has low capability but high willingness, leader would ask the subordinate to shadow and imitate; in contrast, when the subordinate has high capability but low willingness, leader would try to inspire the subordinate. Given this literature, do you think there might be cases where the incumbent king, instead of using coercive control,  adopts different types of strategies in grooming the prince, contingent on what the prince specifically lacks between capability and willingness?

Our key theoretical reasoning is based on the logic of “double-bind paradox”. We chose willingness and capability because parent-incumbents tend to demand their child-successors to imitate these two qualities. We did not theorize the interactions of the two. Empirically, we tested the interactions and we found no significant effects. 

3. Collaboration between interdisciplinary authors: This article was accomplished by a truly interdisciplinary research team. Can you share a bit about how this team came about? How did the collaboration emerge despite of the authors’ disciplinary differences (e.g. psychologists and historians)? And given vast disparities between fields, how did you manage those differences?

Louis and I have spent 2 years to theorize the model. We started with historical stories and real-world phenomenon. Then Louis introduced me to the literature of abnormal psychology. We have spent a lot time understanding this literature because both of us did not know much about that. So, we have spent a lot time reading the literature and discuss how to apply various theories to help us understand the phenomenon we identified in our “qualitative” analyses of Chinese history and Louis’ experience. The third author and I decided to perform a quantitative analyses on the historical data back in 2014. We began by reading history books ourselves. Then, I had a chance to work with a history master student, who introduced me to the fifth author. I called him and told him about my idea in September 2015. He was very interested. Then we started the collaboration. Also, since I joined HKBU in 2015 and this historian is with the history department of HKBU, it became a lot easier for us to collate. 

4. Behind the scene: We certainly appreciate your endeavor in getting insights from history. Meanwhile, we can imagine the challenges of incorporating history, especially Chinese history that quite a few readers may not be familiar with, in organizational and management research. Could you share a bit about the challenges you encountered in the process (e.g., writing the manuscript and going through the review process)? 

It took me more than 2 years to complete the first draft because I spent a lot time reading history books and classics in the areas of sociology, political science, and political economy. It’s very challenging, but enjoyable. I have read a lot and learnt a lot. One thing I learned from this process is that we need patience in order to develop a high level of intellectual insights based on diverse literatures. 

5. Behind the scene: Administrating on-site surveys to family business owners and successors at these Pinnacle events sounds like an extraordinary day of research! Can you share one or two memorable stories about the research process? For example, what were some of the unexpected challenges and events that occurred?

We didn’t experience much difficulty. The second author is well-connected with the second generation successors of family firms in Taiwan. The fourth author is also a second generation successor of a family firm member of a family firm and is well-connected. Both of them were obsessed with the quality of data. So they spent a lot time in the field making contact with each of the families. The quality of the data is so good that we did not have to “clean” the data at all (there was not a single outlier) and the data supported our key propositions. 

Tom’s Bio:

Tom Taiyi Yan is a Ph.D. candidate of Organizational Behavior at the R. H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. His research studies 1) competition within organizations, where he integrates social network analysis to advance existing understanding of how competition, on both individual and team levels, affects perception, behavior, and performance; 2) gender disparities in the workplace, with an emphasis on not only describing gender gaps, but also finding solutions on how to address them. In his work, he employs a variety of methods including social network analysis, survey field work, controlled experiment, and archival studies. His work has been published in top-tier management and psychology journals such as Personnel Psychology and Psychological Bulletin. His work has been featured in media outlets such as the Washington Post, Time Magazine, Scientific American, and Market Watch.

Zhishuang’s Bio: 

Zhishuang Guan is a Ph.D. candidate of Organizational Behavior at the R. H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. In her research, she is fascinated with how to create a more thriving workplace. her research has focused on workplace incivility, identifying problems of organization civility interventions and providing viable solutions to the problem. She has also investigated how to increase employee feelings of inclusion under the circumstances of increasingly connected global economy, giving practical suggestions to business practioners.

Zhishuang has received a BA in Management at Renmin University of China and an MA in Management from Guanghua School of Management, Peking University. When she was in Beijing, Zhishuang was broadly interested in management in non-profit organizations. Apart from joining various volunteer programs, she has participated in a nationwide research project focusing on Chinese non-profit organizations, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her case study focusing on a non-profit consulting organization has been selected in the Harvard Kenney School Case Program. Prior to becoming an academic researcher, Zhishuang worked briefly for Mercer’s Human Capital Consulting and a startup company.

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