Family ownership and acquisition behavior in publicly-traded companies



Much of the literature on corporate acquisitions has focused on managerial incentives for making acquisitions but has underemphasized the role played by the social context of major shareholders. This study of Fortune 1000 firms argues that the priorities and risk preferences of family owners can have important implications not only for the volume but also for the diversifying nature of their acquisitions. Agency and family business perspectives are used to derive expectations concerning the acquisitions behavior of family owners. Consistent with both perspectives, and owners' desire to reduce business risk, we find that family ownership is inversely related to the number and dollar volume of acquisitions. However, whereas agency theorists differ about how ownership concentration influences whether acquisitions are diversified, the family firm literature is more definitive. The latter suggests that given family owners' desire to retain control of their firms for offspring, their wealth must remain concentrated. Hence they can most easily reduce the risk of their wealth portfolio by diversifying the business—that is, through diversifying acquisitions. Consistent with this logic, we found the propensity to make diversifying acquisitions to increase with the level of family ownership. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.