The willingness-ability paradox in family firms’ innovation
: an intra-firm systemic perspective

  • Gianmaria Luise (Student)

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Innovation represents a catalyst that fuels economic progress and enables companies to achieve profitability and gain competitive advantage. Understanding how family firms, come up with innovation represents one of the hardest challenges for innovation and family scholars. Family businesses are often perceived as conservative and traditional, but it is important to note that many of the most innovative firms worldwide are actually family owned. Particularly, according to the existing literature, family firms are affected by the so-called “willingness ability paradox”, pointing out that family firms have high discretion to innovate but less willingness to do so. While scholars have delved into this phenomenon by focusing on the family firm’s involvement toward innovation, the non-family managers’ perspective and their interaction with family owners have received only limited attention. Accordingly, and after reviewing and clarifying the main characteristics of innovation, family firms, willingness and ability, the thesis will explore how managers within a family firm navigate and try to overcome the willingness-ability paradox. To answer this question, I use a single qualitative case-study of one of the most renowned Italian companies in the grocery retail sector. Six one-on-one in depth interviews with senior managers and external consultants were collected. The thesis contributes to the family firm innovation management literature by showing the importance of ties between family owners and non-family members in setting goals and achieving success. Moreover, a need for a general strategic alignment is needed to unlock the family firm’s potential, manage the paradoxical behavior, and lead to long-term sustainability.
Date of Award22 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade Católica Portuguesa
SupervisorPedro Parada (Supervisor)


  • Innovation
  • Innovation management
  • Family firms
  • Ability and willingness
  • Non-family managers


  • Mestrado em Gestão

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