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  John Ward '67

Kellogg School family research scholar marks 20th anniversary of his influential text

By Matt Golosinski

Venturing into an area that had been under-explored by academics, John Ward '67 helped remedy what he saw as a paucity of infor-mation on family business.

Two decades later Keeping the Family Business Healthy remains a touchstone for scholars of the subject. The text, published in 1987, has earned recognition for being among the most-cited books in its field.

What accounts for its enduring value? "The book did a comprehensive job of identifying the challenges for family business," said Ward. Among these are issues related to succession and rebuilding the organization after its entrepreneurial stage.

The text also sparked interest by presenting seminal data on the longevity of typical family businesses — including the oft-cited figure that only 13 percent of such businesses survive until the third generation. Ward recalled his study, saying it was "very excellent" but "very narrow," limited to a sample of 200 Illinois companies.

Still, 20 years ago Ward was a pioneer outlining the challenges and providing foundational data in a form that combined psychology and business practice — a novelty for the time, said Ward, clinical professor and co-director of the Kellogg Center for Family Enterprise. Even today, his book remains among the few approaching its subject from this blended perspective.

Author of four other texts, an extensive collection of booklets and dozens of articles, Ward is a leading family business expert who continues to investigate new issues in the discipline. One trend today: a shift to focus on the strengths of family businesses, not just the weaknesses. "Research shows that family businesses perform extremely well, despite their challenges," he said.

In fact, business leaders in general are just starting to take notice, wondering if they can export lessons from family enterprises, in-cluding the long-term perspectives of families and the power of concentrated ownership. The question remains open, but Ward will be chronicling the developments.

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