The Ownership Project

The Ownership Project

As we continue our look at Sustainability I interview Dr Bridget Kustin about The Ownership Project. We have an in depth conversation about some of the findings from this research project and what it means for your family business. 

What is the Ownership Project?

The Ownership Project is an academic research project that is looking at family owned businesses that have an annual turnover in excess of $1bn. 

It explores some of the myth-making and storytelling that exists around family owned businesses and how we show these to be true or otherwise. 

The toolkit that we discuss specifically looks at these narratives and how families can demonstrate that they are true across their entire portfolio of operations, not just the trading business.

You can find out more about The Ownership Project by following this link but to summarise, the following is taken from their site. 

“The Ownership Project provides a platform for knowledge generation and dissemination. We seek to empirically understand the impact of ownership on businesses, communities, and society — and the key factors shaping sustainable ownership in the future.”

Listen to the episode here:


The Seven Narratives 

As you will hear in the episode we discuss the myths and narratives that we consistently hear when it comes to family business. To a large extent these can often be seen as what makes family businesses unique and so valuable to society, beyond economic contribution, but they can also sometimes paint a false picture or encourage complacency of they are assumed to be happening when perhaps they aren’t. 

The toolkit that Bridget has helped to develop, looks at ways in which family businesses can demonstrate they are responsibly owned. The seven narratives are: 

  1. Family Business as a force for good
  2. We have a long-term orientation. We think in generations, not financial quarters. 
  3. Family Owners are uniquely agile. 
  4. Employees prefer working in a family-owned business. Our employees are like family. 
  5. I don’t consider the business as something that belongs to me. I consider myself a steward of it for the next generation.
  6. We care about our community 
  7. Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. 


You can use the toolkit to assess how you are doing against these narratives. 

Why this toolkit matters

You can access the toolkit here

The below is taken directly from the toolkit.

Family businesses are the lifeblood of the global economy, accounting for between 85-90% of all businesses worldwide. Most of these are small and medium-sized businesses, making their necessity self-evident: family businesses constitute the fabric of local communities.

But intergenerational asset ownership is also at the heart of global wealth inequality. Where does this leave intergenerational family business owners? Is there a way to meaningfully bring “family values” to bear on multi-million- or billion-dollar corporations, when norms of capitalism have, over the past fifty years, made the pursuit of profit paramount?

This toolkit is relevant for several actors within the global family business ecosystem. 

For current family business owners, there is no such thing as being “just” a shareholder. To own is to possess power. There are tools applicable for family owners regardless of their position within the family, or work experience or background.

For next generation owners who stand to inherit the business, this toolkit leads presents a number of existing practices and frameworks devised by other family businesses. This gives you a foundation for considering where and how change is possible within your family, and what you can set in motion now, to realize impacts in the decades to come.

For family advisors and family business service providers: you can help your clients to work through this Toolkit. It can spur essential inter-generational discussions, allow for succession topics to be broached in a new light, and can help families to meet the demands of the public and of governments in a more transparent and uncertain world.

For non-family CEOs of family businesses, this toolkit offers a way to deepen your working relationship with family owners, by finding entry points into taboo topics that still have essential business ramifications, and ensuring that the business is maximizing the potential benefits that family owners can bring.


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About Dr Bridget Kustin

Dr Bridget Kustin is part of a multidisciplinary research team examining forms of ownership, funded by the Ford Foundation, and led by Dean Professor Peter Tufano and Professor Colin Mayer CBE FBA.

At present, they are studying how family ownership of large private and publicly-held companies relates to the management, endurance, and stakeholder relationships of these companies across generations. For both the Ford Foundation and Saïd Business School, this work is situated within a wider set of activities investigating ideas of ‘inclusive capitalism.’

Bridget KustinDr Kustin is an economic anthropologist studying the complexity and ethics of corporations and financial systems. Specifically, she studies how humans and the tools and institutions they create can confound “rational” economic models (in ways that evade even behavioural economics), and carve out spaces within capitalism to resist capitalism.

Bridget thinks about newer “trends” of ESG (environmental, social, governance) investing, impact investing, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), and stakeholder capitalism in light of these other, longer experiments that fully acknowledge human complexity.

This is epitomised in the behaviours and motivations of families owning large companies (revenue above $1 billion, AUM above $1 billion). 

You can find out more about Bridget here: 


About The Ownership Project

“An estimated 70% of global businesses are family-owned. Our research, teaching, and global conversations bring responsibility and sustainability to their core.

How do family businesses become resilient for the future?

The Ownership Project provides a platform for knowledge generation and dissemination. We seek to empirically understand the impact of ownership on businesses, communities, and society — and the key factors shaping sustainable ownership in the future.”

You can find out more about The Ownership Project by following this link.