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Family Capitalism

Family Capitalism

Wendels, Haniels, Falcks, and the Continental European Model

Harold James

ISBN 9780674021815

Publication date: 03/31/2006

This history of three powerful family firms located in different European countries takes place over a period of more than two hundred years. The interplay and the changing social and legal arrangements of the families shaped the development of a European capitalism quite different from the Anglo-American variety.

Qualifying claims by Alfred Chandler and David Landes that family firms tend to be dysfunctional, Harold James shows how and why these steel and engineering firms were successful over long periods of time. Indeed, he sees the family enterprise as particularly conducive to managing risk during periods of upheaval and uncertainty when both states and markets are disturbed. He also identifies the key roles played by women executives during such times.

In Family Capitalism, James tells how "iron masters" of a classical industrial cast were succeeded by new generations who wanted to shift to information-age systems technologies, and how families and firms wrestled with social and economic changes that occasionally tore them apart. Finally, the author shows how the trajectories of the firms were influenced by political, military, economic, and social events and how these firms illuminate a European model of "relationship capitalism."


  • In the beginning was the family firm. However, many theories of managerial capitalism have theorized the downfall of the family firm by focusing on its disadvantages. Yet families still own and control a significant proportion of even large, internationally-active corporations. By contrast, in Family Capitalism, Harold James highlights many of the strengths of family firms, particularly during periods of crisis or restructuring. At times, families offer a bedrock of trust, values, and long-term continuity. In Family Capitalism, James provides an excellent and insightful story of three major steel companies, de Wendel, Haniel, and Falck, reaching over two centuries. It contributes to the growing field of comparative history and manages to look at long-term continuities in European business development rather than confining the story to classic chronological breaks. The family firm is likely to maintain its significant presence well into the future.

    —Jeffrey Fear, Harvard Business School


  • Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Book Details

  • 448 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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