Children from entrepreneurial families want to start their own business

Most students from entrepreneurial families do not want to take over the family business, research finds.

Specifically, children from families that own businesses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have other career plans, according to a study by HSG’s Center for Family Business and EY.

The survey, which interviewed 31,000 children of entrepreneurs from 34 countries, finds that in Switzerland, only 3.9 per cent of the 100 students interviewed and whose parents own a family business want to take over the business within five years of graduation.

In general, only one in ten can imagine succeeding their parents at some point (10.4 per cent). The numbers for Germany and Austria are very similar (4.2 per cent and 11.2 per cent in Germany, and 3.4 per cent and 12.6 per cent in Austria).

In the UK, the proportion of those who can generally imagine ‘becoming a successor’ is much higher (20.9 per cent). However, even there, only 3.9 per cent of those interviewed say they want to succeed their parents within five years of graduation.

The DACH countries are considerably below the global average of 4.9 per cent of children of entrepreneurs with firm succession intentions within five years of graduation, and 19.8 per cent of children who are generally willing to succeed their parents.

Low succession rate

Professor Philipp Sieger, the survey’s project leader says he learned in the 2012 study that succession intentions among children of entrepreneurs are low.

Reasons include numerous attractive alternatives on the job market (almost 60 per cent of all children of entrepreneurs aspire to careers as an employee rather than business owner) and the wish to take their own path to entrepreneurship (more than a third of all children of entrepreneurs want to start their own business).

‘This shows that the reasons are not primarily the next generation’s lack of entrepreneurial spirit,’ says Professor Thomas Zellweger, the study’s co-author.

‘Many children of entrepreneurs want to become entrepreneurially active, but generally not in their parents’ business.’

Peter Englisch, global leader of the EY Family Business Center of Excellence adds, ‘Entrepreneurial families face the challenge of convincing younger family members that their long-term future can lie in their business.’

Succession intentions have declined in recent years. Among students from universities who participated in both studies, a global decline in succession intentions of about 30 per cent becomes apparent. In Germany, the decline is 46 per cent, in Austria 31 per cent and in Switzerland 6 per cent.

One possible explanation for this large shift is that the alternatives on the job market are more numerous and attractive at the time of the recent survey than during the earlier one.

‘Also, quantity and quality are two different things,’ Sieger says. Due to better and more comprehensive teaching in the areas of entrepreneurship and family business, it is to be expected that those children of entrepreneurs who explicitly want to become successors would be much better prepared and qualified.

Daughters are doing it for themselves

Irrespective of their subject of study, culture and birth order, daughters have lower succession intentions than sons by an average of 25 per cent.

This is even the case if the family business is in the hands of the mother. ‘It becomes apparent that daughters consider an entrepreneurial career more risky than sons. And sons are more convinced of their entrepreneurial abilities than daughters,’ Zellweger says.

Sieger says that, in general, it is advisable to let children gain experience in the family business. Succession intentions are generally stronger if first insights have been experienced. The age when children first ‘dabbled’ in the business does not matter.

It becomes apparent, however, that one can work ‘too much’ in the parents’ business. Initially, more cumulative work experience makes for stronger succession intentions. But if there is no succession by a certain point, succession intentions weaken again.

‘So there is a relatively favorable time for a succession solution,’ says Sieger. ‘But if a child of an entrepreneur is denied the actual succession for too long, this can be interpreted as a lack of trust, which makes other career options seem more attractive.’

Further reading on family businesses

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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