Bachelor's Course in Family Business

The business of family business

General information

Course code: BKBMIN
Teaching language English
Offered by: Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM)
Department Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship
Contact Carolien Heintjes, room T7-25,
Access: See admissions matrix



Family firms are the most prevalent ownership structure in the world. Research shows that these firms drive our global economy. In Europe, family firms represent over 80% of all companies, and about 75% of employment. Wal-Mart, Fiat, ALDI, IKEA, Michelin, Louis Vuitton, Heineken, and Porsche are just a few of some of the largest family firms around the world.

 Understanding the opportunities and challenges of family firms will provide you with an advantage over your peers by giving you a unique addition to your tool kit of knowledge. At some point in your professional lives you will most likely either work in or consult to family firms as: owners; family members who work or do not work within the business; non-family employees with or without ownership interests; consultants; investment bankers; or in other roles. This course aims to prepare you to work effectively and professionally in, and with, family firms.

Learning objectives:

In this course you will:

  • Strengthen your awareness of the significance, diversity, and complexity of family businesses
  • Probe critical issues such as governance, ownership, succession, communication and advising to family firms.
  • Develop your understanding of the distinctive advantages and unique challenges facing family businesses.
  • Discuss how family firms can minimize their inherent weakness and leverage their strengths.
  • Develop an understanding of different perspectives of the various stakeholders in family firms and develop strategic solutions to improve family business performance.
  • Apply your business skills to address issues or problems facing existing family firms.
  • Have an opportunity to pursue some of your own interests and ideas through a case study on an actual family firm.

The course explores the personal, business and interpersonal issues that pertain to growing up within, owning, managing and working with or for a family business. It is a course about business, but also about how family dynamics impact on the business, and how the personal and the business aspects of life can work in harmony.

Specific characteristics:

No prior knowledge of family firms is required. Students should have good command of spoken and written English. Please note that this minor includes writing a case study on a real family business.


Maximum number of students that can participate in the minor: 40
Minimum number of students that can participate in the minor: 10

Overview modules:

The minor consists of two 7.5 ECTS Modules:  Cracking the Family Firm and Getting Inside the Family Firm: A Case Study. 

module 1: cracking the family firm

  • ECTS: 7.5
  • Content: In this Module the emphasis is on what makes a family firm unique.  You will learn about the nature, importance and uniqueness of family firms; family firm values and the effect on firm decision making; internal governance; succession with family and non-family members; family conflict and communication; and consulting and advising to family firms. 
  • Teaching method: The approach taken is a combination of readings, lectures, guest speakers, case analysis, class contribution, class exercises, and short group individual assignments. The format of classes will be that of active, engaged reading of the week’s material followed by an intensive group discussion. Students are encouraged to bring their diversity of experiences, backgrounds, and interests to the class discussions. Classes will consist of both lectures and case studies that are based on real-life situations that have occurred within family firms. Case studies place the students in the role of the decision-maker, such as the owner of the firm.
  • Teaching materials: Cases, posted readings and textbook: Poza, E. (2010). Family Business (III Edition). South-Western, Cengage Learning
  • Contact hours: 36
  • Module is offered by: Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship

module 2: getting inside the family firm: A case study

  • ECTS: 7.5
  • Content: Module 2 helps students develop and apply their own skills regarding understanding and analyzing a family firm. To do so, each team of students will get involved in a live case study with a family firm.  A case study is a description of an actual problem or an issue faced by a person in an organization. They are based on actual firms, issues, and experiences. The case studies represent an attempt to understand the complex family and business interconnections in a family business, including its past and present and with a focus on looking ahead to predict and help the family to look at the possible challenges and choices in the future. During the course of these projects students will apply the theories and practices discussed in Module 1. Information for the study will be gathered by interviews with family and non-family members of the business, observations, and by examination of financial and other business documents. During this module students will be intensively coached by the faculty member. The team-based assignment results in a case study report and analysis including presentations. This module will provide you with an excellent opportunity to understand what makes a family firm unique – students in the past have found it a very rewarding experience.  For cases that are very well done, there may be the option of continuing the case after the course to have it published under the guidance of the professor.  While the instructor has a number of family firms who have expressed an interest in participating, students should also be prepared to find their own family firm to use as a basis for the case study.
  • Teaching method: Team-based coaching and peer review sessions.
  • Teaching materials: Readings
  • Contact hours: 18
  • Coordinating programme: Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship


Composition of final grade:

  • Module 1 (50%): Class contribution (individual); introduction assignment (individual); case summaries (team)
  • Module 2 (50%): Case study and analysis (team); presentation (team)

There is no closing exam. Instead, students receive a grade for the minor based on the grades of the two modules. Both modules must be closed with a grade of 4.5 or higher. 

Faculty websites:

Minor website RSM
Erasmus Centre for Family Business