Family businesses, young people at risk of flight: passing the torch is not the priority

From university benches to family businesses, the transition is far from obvious. At least according to what emerges from the study on the succession intentions of Italian university students belonging to entrepreneurial families, conducted by Liuc Family Business Lab (Fabula) – Cattaneo University and the Center for Young and Family Enterprise (Cyfe) of the University of Bergamo. According to the research, in fact, just under 1 in 10 students intend to join the family business within 5 years from the end of university studies.

Since for Professor Salvatore Sciascia, co-director of Fabula, “is in some ways worrying for the prospects of intra-family succession, as only a minority of students intend to undertake the succession process in their family business after finishing their studies”. However, it can be hypothesized, continues Sciascia, “that many students, initially bewitched by the sirens of large corporations and startups, will reconsider the possibility of entering the family business only once they have accumulated a certain experience”. Also because, again according to the data of the study, even of this minority who wants to enter the family business, almost no one wants to do it directly after the completion of university studies, given that in 92% of cases, those interested in undertaking the process he intends to gain experience in different companies, before joining the family one.

One aspect that according to Professor Tommaso Minola, director of Cyfe, is not at all negative because “this data suggests that the new generation is aware of the importance of knowing other companies in order to enter the family business with greater awareness, competence and maturity”. The research is based on data collected in 2021 at 19 Italian universities who have joined the Guesss project (Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey) 2021. A project on the entrepreneurial activities and intentions of university students from all over the world, whose Italian data collection is managed by Cyfe. Approximately 3,300 students of which 543 (16%) belong to entrepreneurial families. Family businesses form the backbone of the Italian economy and their generational handover is a crucial process to ensure continuity and prosperity for these companies.

The firms of the families of the students in the survey are mostly service firms (29%), followed by manufacturing (16%), building and architecture (15%) and commerce (14%) firms. And of these, 95% are small in size. As for students, on the other hand, in 82% of cases, they were born from 1996 onwards and most of them study economics and management (37%) and engineering (31%) while the rest is mainly divided between artistic disciplines (11%) and computer science. (4%).

If among the students of families who own a company there are few who are interested in the succession, it emerges instead greater entrepreneurial desire compared to their colleagues without a company behind them. “The intention to become an entrepreneur” reports the research, “is more frequent among those who have a family business than among those who do not (35% against 28%)” while that of working as an employee is lower (42%) against 52%). An entrepreneurial drive that, for Professor Valentina Lazzarotti, co-director of Fabula, “probably derives precisely from the family context. Parents’ entrepreneurship is also transferred to their children in this way ”.

If the Italian data on generational change seems low, “the comparison between this result and the one found on an international scale”, 9% against 5%, concludes Davide Hahn, Cyfe researcher, “points out that interest in succession appears to be more widespread among Italians than students from other countries. Furthermore, comparing the results of the 2021 survey with those of 2016, the intention of succession is similar, confirming the stability of these observations over the years “.

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