Absorptive capacity in family firms: exploring the role of the CEO

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Acceso abierto / Sarbide irekia
Artículo / Artikulua
Versión aceptada / Onetsi den bertsioa

Project identifier

AEI/Plan Estatal de Investigación Científica y Técnica y de Innovación 2017-2020/PID2020-115018RB-C31/ES/


Purpose: Absorptive capacity (AC), the ability to leverage external knowledge for innovation, helps explain the mixed findings on family firms' innovation performance. Our research focuses on the CEO's role - whether family or non-family, and founding or later generation - in influencing AC. We also explore how firm size and environmental dynamism affect these relationships, offering insights into varying AC levels among family firms. Design/methodology/approach: OLS regression models were estimated to test the hypotheses using a sample of 364 family firms in Spain. Findings: Family firms¿ absorptive capacity is greater when the CEO is a family member, and even more so when the family CEO belongs to the founding family generation. While AC diminishes in larger family firms this effect is mitigated when the CEO is a family member. The predicted moderating effect of environmental dynamisms is not supported by the analyses. Originality: This paper adds insights about the drivers of heterogeneity in innovation among family firms, addressing recent calls for more nuanced views of how family members drive the strategic behavior of the business, and incorporating considerations of different types of family firms based on the identity of the firm CEO. The results overall support the theoretical claims, but also open up important questions for future studies.


Family firms, Absorptive capacity, Family CEO, Family generation, Heterogeneity


Gestión de Empresas / Enpresen Kudeaketa / Institute for Advanced Research in Business and Economics - INARBE



Doctorate program

Editor version

Funding entities

The author gratefully acknowledges the funding received through the TED2021-132446B-I00 (MICIN/ AEI/10.13039/501100011033) research project and the European Union NextGenerationEU/PRTR and the PID2020-115018RB-C31 (AEI/FEDER, UE) research project financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities and the European Regional Development Funds.

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