Entrepreneurial Career Paths of New Generations in Family-Owned Enterprises

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As Generations Y and Z come of age, those who grew up in family business environments are increasingly facing challenging career choices.

As Generations Y and Z come of age, those who grew up in family business environments are increasingly facing challenging career choices.

Their challenge has been spurred by technological disruptions and unprecedented socio-economic changes brought on by the COVID19 pandemic. Increasingly, the concept of a “lifelong career” has been shaken. All of these factors have made career choices much more complex for the younger generations of enterprising families.

Compared to their parents, the younger generations of enterprising families face more complex choices as the idea of a “lifelong career” has been shaken.

Prof. Kevin Au

Instead of their parents’ usual question of whether they should stay home and work on the family business or break free, the Gen Ys and Gen Zs find themselves looking at a much wider career horizon and asking these questions instead:,

  • If I stay with the family business, should I work to keep the family heritage and instigate change from within, or should I seek innovations with outside partners to invigorate the family business?
  • If I choose to venture out, should I start my own company with a different focus than my family’s business, or should I follow a professional path and work for an organisation making use of my unique talents?

To gain a renewed understanding of the increasing career challenges that the younger generations are facing, we took up the concept of the “boundaryless career”–commonly used to understand how traditional career paths are challenged by more flexible and non-linear paths–and applied it to understand family businesses.

We investigated the evolving career patterns of the rising generations who grew up in entrepreneurial families in Asia, and revealed when and why they may choose a “boundaryless career” over the more predictable routes of “staying home” or “breaking free.”

Specifically, we examined these people’s major career patterns, decision-making processes, and the influence of family factors on career decisions. The study suggests that there are four patterns of boundaryless careers.

The study found that young people today can switch roles, rather than only choose “staying home” or “breaking free.”

The first type is the “legacy innovator,” who focuses on internal venturing within the family business in order to grow the legacy. The second type is the “family visionary,” who sees opportunities to improve the performance and survival of the family business but faces internal barriers to realize these opportunities. To bypass them, they reach out externally to form joint ventures or spin-offs. If successful, these ventures may eventually be merged back to the family business.

The third pattern is the “reverse conqueror,” who has one foot outside the family business leading a successful career, and another foot ready to step in and support the family business when it faces a significant decline and needs an injection of new ideas and business models. The fourth pattern is the “world explorer,” who mainly works outside the family to be away from the politics and pressure, but remains opportunistic and may join the family business for brief windows. The key is that they do not see the family business as their final career destination.

Our research confirms the importance for family businesses to support and stay connected with the rising generations, and to encourage them to seek out new ventures in order to sustain their hard-earned legacies. Business families should use multiple ways to nurture and support the incoming generations of entrepreneurs.

To find out more about a specific topic, click on the links below to navigate to the relevant chapter:

INTRODUCTION – A Handbook for the Modern Entrepreneur

PART I – Leveraging Multi-faceted Experience for Entrepreneurial Success

PART II – Entrepreneurs Picking the Right Strategy for Different Stages of Marketisation

PART III – How Urban Migration Helped Drive Entrepreneurship in China

PART IV – Entrepreneurial Career Paths of New Generations in Family-Owned Enterprises

CONCLUSION – Entrepreneurship in 2023 and Beyond