SIP- Ownership: Challenges to the role of owner in modern economy
In the Norwegian economy private ownership is seen as a vital precondition for efficiency and growth. The owners in private enterprises are, however, facing various challenges. In this project we are studying three such challenges.
Firstly, employees have increasingly acquired legal rights which encroach upon the owners’ traditional prerogatives. This situation is a potential seedbed for tensions between the owners and the employee. Such tensions seem to be particularly felt within businesses run by their owners, for instance family businesses. In the Norwegian economy the employees’ rights are commonly represented by trade unions. We will examine whether employees in family businesses are members of trade unions to the same extent as in other companies, and study the relationship between the trade unions and the family owners.
Secondly, traditionally access to ownership in private firms has been based upon disposal of financial capital. In a modern economy, the production of goods and services has been increasingly dependent upon the competence and knowledge of the employees. This is particularly valid within firms producing professional services, for instance lawyer and accounting firms. Conscious about their contribution the employees within such firms claim part of the firms’ profit and demand to be included in the governance of the firms. To limit the dependence upon the knowledge capital of the employees, the owners in such firms have invented a series of strategies to appropriate the vital knowledge and transfer it to EDP systems, manuals and routines. We will examine the tensions and conflicts connected with such strategies in a few selected professional service companies.
In family businesses transfer of ownership between generations is a particular challenge. Previously, owners of family businesses used to transfer the ownership to their male descendants. Today this traditional pattern of intergenerational transfer of ownership is challenged by the increasing educational level of female inheritors and a general culture emphasising equal rights of men and women. As a result, gradually more owner families feel compelled to let daughters take over the family firms. We examine to what extent this takes place and what changes in family culture within the owner families precipitate such solutions.