Background - 28.06.2022 - 00:00 

Owners as Strategist Conference 2022

Event on 21-22 June saw lively debate about the contributions of firm owners to firm strategy. Hosted by the University of St.Gallen and Bocconi University, 350 practitioners and academics from around the world participated in the conference online.

28 June 2022. Opening the event, HSG Professor Thomas Zellweger explained that “ownership around the world is becoming progressively concentrated in the hands of entrepreneurs, families, activist investors and other strategic owners. This phenomenon is important, from a policy, practical and theoretical standpoint, as it makes us aware of the fact that owners are more than passive bystanders and dividend recipients.” He continued, “strategic owners have the incentive and the power to get engaged, make themselves heard, and to critically influence the governance, purpose and, ultimately, the strategy of a firm.”

Strong owners lead to strong sense of purpose

These observations were corroborated by Professor Amy Hillman, Arizona State University, who emphasized that conflicting goals between committed owners and activist investors lead more and more public firms to go private to be able to pursue their strategies. Further, Professor Claudine Gartenberg from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, showed in her empirical work that stronger owner commitment to the firm enables a stronger sense of purpose inside the firm.

“This changing reality requires new insights and was the motivation to start this conference to bring together a community of both international scholars and practitioners to stimulate new thinking and advance our understanding about firm owners’ contributions to firm strategy”, explains HSG Assistant Professor Christine Scheef.

Overcoming Inertia

Besides the general theme of owners as strategist, this year’s conference put a special emphasis on ‘ownership in a digital world’. With new technologies advancing, firm owners are challenged more than ever to reinvent their firms to survive. Pietro Sella, CEO and owner of Sella, emphasized that more openness from (family) owners to let others participate in the value creation is required. Yet Professor Robert Seamans, New York University, highlighted the challenges for firm owners to reliably signal commitment to stakeholders and resolve production issues. He believes that joint value creation often holds back firms in the development of new technological solutions.

Part of the solution to improve production issues might come from new technological developments themselves such as tokenization or decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). For instance, Chief Client Officer Martin Burgherr explained how Sygnum, the world’s first digital asset bank, helps to create a world where people have more control, freedom and direct access to ownership and value.

Closing the conference, co-organizers Professor Mario Daniele Amore and Paola Taricco from Bocconi University thank the over 20 speakers and topic experts who contributed to making the second owners as strategists conference again a success.

The conference was organized by the Center for Family Business (CFB-HSG) and Swiss Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (KMU-HSG) of the University of St.Gallen, along with the Chair in Strategic Management in Family Business of Bocconi University (AIDAF-EY).

Image: Unsplash / jeshoots

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