Abstract: Family Firms in Switzerland: Continuity and Change in the Context of Globalization

Margrit Müller


The composition of firms within the economy matters, because it leads to different business systems and forms of capitalism. After a short overview on the proportion of family firms in the total number of firms in Switzerland, we focus on the largest firms and on the last two decades. The proportion of family firms among the largest firms is a stable minority of about a third. However, this apparent stability conceals a remarkable variety in the composition of firms, their development, and their ownership structures. We trace these variations and transformations on the basis of a sample of the largest family firms in 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2008 and relate them to major changes in the economic and institutional contexts. The results point to the importance of distinguishing different categories of "family firms." In the case of Switzerland, it would be indicated to include unquoted family firms as well as newly founded entrepreneurial companies with an impressive growth performance. While it may make sense to focus on the largest companies up until the 1980s, in a context that can be characterized as "Chandlerian," such a focus is hardly appropriate in the "Schumpeterian" period of rapid change and internationalization prevailing since the 1990s.