Adapting through learning and knowledge acquisition: The cases of four global family firms

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Family Business Management


Emerald Publishing Limited


School of Business and Law




Duarte Alonso, A., & Kok, S. (2018). Adapting through learning and knowledge acquisition: the cases of four global family firms. Journal of Family Business Management, 8(3), 274-292.

Available here.



The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to investigate the importance of knowledge as a tool for adaptation and competitive advantage through qualitative research, exploring the cases of four global family firms; and second, to develop a theoretical framework based on the knowledge-based view (KBV) of the firm to facilitate understanding of learning and knowledge acquisition among family firms.


This investigation focusses on the cases of four family firms, two operating in a developed (Australia), and two in an emerging economy (Uruguay). In-depth, face-to-face interviews were conducted with firm owners, co-owners and one manager.


Regardless of firms’ operating environment (OECD, emerging economy), similar outcomes were revealed. Indeed, firm management’s ability to gather, contextualise and synthesise knowledge, including tacit knowledge, emerged as crucial to adapt to new challenges in their business environment. Several tenets of the KBV emerged, including those associated with knowledge to solve emerging problems, specialisation through knowledge acquisition and applying specialised knowledge to produce. Importantly, firms’ ability to anticipate future events through tacit or new knowledge acquisition became evident.


The study makes two key contributions that represent originality and value. First, the presented theoretical framework facilitates understanding of various dimensions of knowledge, their resulting influence on firms’ preparedness to adapt to events in their business environment, and potential implications on their competitive advantage. Second, by qualitatively examining the participating family firms, the study addresses a recognised research gap, notably, that research investigating this group has been predominantly quantitative.



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