Over the course of its existence, every family business faces the challenge of generational change. The process of transferring ownership and management is often a critical factor and can—if planning is absent or insufficient—threaten the long-term survival of a family business. A strategic implementation of the business succession process normally begins with basic planning and ends with the withdrawal of the predecessor after the transition of ownership and management have been completed. During this process, transferring the material resources of the business is as important as considering its intangible ones. Regarding these immaterial resources, knowledge is an essential area as it affects and is used not only in everyday business and temporarily emerging situations but also in the business context. The knowledge of the family business owners has often been successively acquired and built up over a long period of tenure. This knowledge has to be transferred during the succession. Therefore, creating awareness of this knowledge is a necessary first step. Thus, potential implicit knowledge has to be transformed into explicit knowledge. An essential component of this is the awareness of the business networks participated in by the family business owner. Networks are part of the social capital; as such, they can provide added value for individuals and businesses. The ability of the family business owner to network—to build and maintain networks and to act on the basis of reciprocity of connections within a network—can be a central success factor. Especially in a family business, where the business is closely linked to the owner family and the individuals working in the business, the design of the network and the handling of the process of business succession are of particular interest.
Every company is embedded in a corporate environment and interacts continuously with its external network partners. These include, for example, customers, suppliers, and banks, but also associations, groups, or activities involving people from the private sphere and affecting and influencing business activity or business decisions. In owner-managed family businesses, the executive director often maintains contact with these external network partners herself or himself. The close and trusting connection to the external contacts, which has usually developed over a long period of business relationships, can be important for the continued existence of the company and must be transferred gradually.
This dissertation examines the transfer of network contacts in family-business succession at the individual level—the predecessor and successor level—and analyzes how such businesses can shape the transfer of networks, which factors influence that transfer, and its subsequent evaluation by those involved. For this, intra-family and family-external successions are considered. In this dissertation, external successions are limited to successions by natural persons as this case enables a business to keep its family business status by maintaining its vision and long-term orientation as such. Accordingly, successions by employees, other natural persons from the business environment, or non-firm-related persons are conceivable.