"Don't lock me out": Life-story interviews of family business owners facing succession

Alexandra Solomon*, Douglas Breunlin, Katherine Panattoni, Mara Gustafson, David Ransburg, Carol Ryan, Thomas Hammerman, Jean Terrien

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This qualitative study used a grounded theory methodology to analyze life-story interviews obtained from 10 family business owners regarding their experiences in their businesses with the goal of understanding the complexities of family business succession. The grounded theory that emerged from this study is best understood as a potential web of constraints that can bear on the succession process. Coding of these interviews revealed four key influences, which seem to have the potential to facilitate or constrain the family business owner's approach to succession. Influence 1, "The business within," captures intrapsychic dynamics of differentiation and control. Influence 2, "The marriage," addresses how traditional gender roles shape succession. Influence 3, "The adult children," examines the role of having a natural (accidental, organic, passively groomed) successor. Influence 4, "The vision of retirement," captures the impact of owners' notions of life post-succession. Family therapists frequently encounter family systems in which the family business is facing succession. Even if succession is not the presenting problem, and even if the business owner is in the indirect (rather than direct) system, this research reminds clinicians of the importance of the family's story about the family business. Therefore, clinical implications and recommendations are included. 2011

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-166
Number of pages18
JournalFamily process
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Constraint Theory
  • Family Business
  • Grounded Theory
  • Life-Story
  • Retirement
  • Succession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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