Path Dependency and Governance in German Family Firms

Dynastic family businesses pursue a double aim. They strive for economic success and attempt to shield the family's longterm influence against outsiders. As a consequence, their choice of governance reflects an idiosyncratic balance between remaining independent and tapping into the opportunities of the market. Autonomy-oriented “closed” governance can lead to problems in integrating external capital and knowledge. More market-oriented “open” governance can make a firm more vulnerable to outside influence. German family firms have struck a balance between the two models since the mid-nineteenth century. Their choice of governance is a response to the challenges and opportunities of the environment, and at various times they are influenced by corporate law, alternative finance options, and inheritance law.