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Family Representatives in Family Firms


  • En-Te Chen,

  • Stephen Gray,

  • John Nowland

Address for correspondence: John Nowland, Department of Accountancy, City University of Hong Kong, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China. Tel: 852-3442-5283; Fax: 852-3442-0349; E-mail:


Manuscript Type


Research Question/Issue

Family control in family firms can extend beyond the direct involvement of family members, but identifying these mechanisms is difficult in most markets. We utilize unique disclosures made by Taiwanese firms to examine the role played by family representatives in listed family firms. Family representatives are non-family members that represent the controlling family's indirect shareholdings in the firm. We examine whether family representatives are used in the same manner as family members and whether they provide net benefits or costs to shareholders.

Research Findings/Insights

In our sample of listed family firms, we find that omitting family representatives understates the influence of controlling families by 46 percent. We show that family representatives are associated with net costs to shareholders, but to a lesser extent than family members. We also find that controlling families use family members and family representatives differently. Family members are more involved in older family firms and in firms founded by the family. Family representatives are more involved in acquired and second generation family firms and in larger firms with more fixed assets.

Theoretical/Academic Implications

We apply agency theory to the use of family representatives and show that family representatives are being used by controlling families to extend their influence within their firms, increasing agency costs to minority shareholders.

Practitioner/Policy Implications

For policymakers, our analysis shows that disclosure of family member and representative relationships within firms is important and value-relevant to investors. Furthermore, our results suggest that firm performance could be improved by limiting the involvement of family members and family representatives in family firms.