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The effects of family ownership and management on firm performance.


Nearly all businesses start out as family enterprises. As the most common form of business organization in the world, family-owned or-controlled businesses account for over 80% of all firms in the U.S., 12% of GDP, and 15% of the workforce, according to conservative estimates by Shanker and Astrachan (1996). While many family businesses are small, they also make up about 35% of companies listed in the Standard & Poor is 500 or Fortune 500 Indexes (Anderson and Reeb, 2003).

Despite the vital role that family businesses play in the economy, little is known about how family ownership or management affects firm behavior and performance. A growing body of literature has begun to identify the unique characteristics of family firms vis-a-vis corporations with diverse ownership, including trust, altruism, and commitment, all of which in principle can enhance firm performance (e.g., Davis, 1983; Chami, 1999). However, the empirical significance of these characteristics remains largely unknown. The present paper seeks to help fill this gap.

To shed light on a key dimension of family firms, namely operational efficiency, we test for the hypothesis that family ownership and management yield greater efficiency and productivity. If family business owners also participate actively in management, they command greater loyalty within the firm, further enhancing employee productivity. Our empirical study compares a sample of relatively large family firms in the U.S. with their industry peers.

Background Literature

A family business can loosely be classified as one in which the family, broadly defined, has either significant ownership or management control. In the U.S., most family firms are small, and the majority faces the challenge of succession from one generation to the next. Less than 30% of family businesses survive to the second generation (Astrachen and Allen, 2003). Hence, the merits of family ownership versus ownership by diverse shareholders as an organizational structure remain controversial.

The modern form of business organization typically features a separation of ownership from control, and professional managers rather than shareholders control key business decisions. One major drawback of this type of corporate governance is commonly known as the principal-agent problem, where shareholders (principals) and managers (agents) have different interests. In addition, ownership by diverse shareholders may create difficulty in monitoring managers' performance. This agency, or contractual, problem, which involves the costs of writing and enforcing contracts, is the key issue for most existing studies on the relationship between firm ownership and performance, as discussed.

* Competitive Advantages

The competitiveness of family firms versus their non-family counterparts can be viewed from two perspectives: ownership and management. From the perspective of ownership, the uniqueness of family firms is that family members hold a substantial stake of firm assets. From the management perspective, one common characteristic of family firms is that family members serve as the firm's CEO or fill other top management positions.

In contrast to conventional wisdom, many family businesses are public corporations. But unlike the majority of public corporations that are owned by numerous shareholders, ownership and control of family firms is typically concentrated. Demsetz and Lehn (1985) argue that the concentrated equity position and control of management, including the founding family's historical presence, give the family an advantageous position for monitoring the firm. These large, concentrated investors have more incentives than diverse shareholders to avoid conflicts between owners and managers and to maximize firm performance. Since the family's welfare is closely tied to firm performance, family members have strong incentives to monitor professional managers. As a result, the free-rider problem associated with non-family firms with diverse shareholders can be minimized. Because of their concentrated ownership, family members also have more power than other shareholders to achieve their goals. Anderson and Reeb (2003), and Burkart, Panunzi, and Shleifer (2002) observe that firms with move active involvement by family members tend to perform better.

The long-term presence of founding families also has some potentially competitive advantages. First, the family's tenure can extend the firm's learning curve in management and marketing. Second, as James (1999) and Stein (1989) indicate, families tend to have longer investment horizons than other shareholders, who may make myopic decisions that boost current or short-term earnings. Family firms may also attempt to invest more efficiently because they view their firms as an asset to pass on to succeeding generations. The families' longer outlook also implies a more vital role of firm survival among family firms.

Taking another tact, Davis (1983) emphasizes altruism and trust as the primary factors giving family businesses a competitive edge over non-family businesses. In addition, parentalism is often extended to non-family employees, promoting a sense of stability and commitment to the firm among all employees. Along this line, Chami (2001) shows theoretically how trust mitigates the moral hazard problem between the parents (principals) and the children (agents), raises the children's efforts and productivity, and thus enhances firm performance. Since trust induces the children to internalize the cost of their actions on the parents' welfare, it obviates the need for parents to monitor their children's work effort or to rely on incentive-based wages. Fama and Jensen (1983), and DeAngelo and DeAngelo (1985) also argue that family business founders have an advantage in monitoring and disciplining managers and other employees. As a result, trust enhances firm efficiency. Conversely, the family firm is likely to fail if trust becomes low or altruism is one-sided, thereby aggravating the principal-agent problem.

* Competitive Disadvantages

Arguably, family ownership or control can generate competitive disadvantages as well. Many studies have highlighted the complexity of running a family business. For instance, Davis (1983) and Lansberg (1983) point out that while a family firm shares values and characteristics with both the family and the business entities, the fact that the business is not free from family influences creates many unique challenges. Such challenges include the balance between equity and efficiency, as well as the problem of succession. Broadly speaking, the dilemma is such that as head of the family, the parent is altruistic toward his or her family members, but as manager, he or she is motivated to follow sound business practices.

Other studies highlight the power and incentives of founding families to act on their own interests at the expense of firm performance. Shleifer and Summers (1988), and Shleifer and Vishny (1997) posit that firms with large undiversified owners, such as founding family members, may forego maximum profits when they are unable to separate their own financial preferences from those of outside owners. Demsetz (1983) argues that family business owners may also choose nonpecuniary benefits, thus drawing resources away from profitable projects.

Moreover, the family is likely to limit top management positions to family members rather than hiring more qualified or competent outsiders. Family members are capable of redistributing benefits from the firm through excessive compensation or special dividends that may adversely affect employee morale and productivity. For public firms, founding families may have interests of their own, such as stability and capital preservation, which may not be consistent with the interests of other investors.

Chami (2001) shows that the business founder's willingness to sacrifice efficiency for equity can be affected by the structure of the market and competition. In the case of intense market competition, the parent (owner) is more likely to focus more on firm survival or performance by firing any nonperforming child. In other words, market competition forces the family to achieve efficiency.

The majority of these studies are, nonetheless, conceptual in nature. Empirical evidence on the relationship between firm ownership and performance is sparse. Among those empirical studies are Morck, Shleifer and Vishny (1988), McConaughy et al. (1998), and Anderson and Reeb (2003), who find that firms controlled by founding families are more valuable than other firms. In addition, Han and Suk (1998) find evidence that management's equity ownership helps resolve the agency problem and improve the firm's stock performance. Their finding supports the competitive advantage of ownership by insiders such as founding family members.

A shortcoming of these studies is their focus on financial performance, particularly stock valuations, which are indirect measures of firm efficiency or productivity. One of the few studies that evaluates the relationship between ownership structure and economic performance (efficiency) instead of financial performance is by Lauterbach and Vaninsky (1999). Their data based on 280 public firms in Israel indicate that owner-manager firms, including family-owned firms, are less efficient in generating net income than firms managed by professional (non-owner) managers.

Gorriz and Fumas (1996), however, underscore the discrepancy between efficiency and profitability. In particular, higher efficiency may not necessarily translate into higher profitability, which depends on market conditions and goals pursued by managers. It is therefore, important to control for firm size when evaluating the performance of family firms. The author illustrates that managers with a preference for returns build larger firms than those controlled by shareholders. Moreover, if larger firms possess more market power or greater economies of scale, then using firm returns to assess the performance of family-controlled firms with their equally efficient non-family (management-controlled) rivals without taking firm size into consideration may yield misleading findings.

To summarize, the literature remains divided on the effect of family ownership or management on firm performance. Many researchers argue that family members with large, concentrated ownership have more incentives to maximize a firm's performance, and they also have more power to make it happen than diverse investors in a non-family firm. Given their ownership, founding family members are also more likely to participate in management. Family loyalty, concerns about reputation, and the sustained presence of the family potentially entail better relationships with non-family employees and customers. Despite these arguments, nonetheless, the empirical evidence to date has been incomplete in scope and depth. In other words, the key question whether family ownership is an effective business organizational structure has not been adequately addressed. One reason is that family firms resist easy definition in contrast to those listed by Forbes or Fortune.


In this paper, we explore whether the presence of family hinders or enhances business performance. Founding families hold substantial equity positions and board seats in about one-third of the S&P 500 as well as Fortune 500 firms. These families represent a unique class of shareholders exerting influence and control over firms, which could lead to performance differences versus other firms.

Given data availability, we investigated the public firms listed in the Family Business magazine's "150 largest family businesses in America" in 2003. To compile the list of "family" firms, the magazine used the following three criteria: (1) a single family controlled the firm's ownership; (2) the controlling family's members were active in top management; and (3) the family was involved in the firm (or seems likely to be) for at least two generations. The listed companies were selected based on firm size instead of performance; otherwise, the findings would be biased.

The list of 150 largest U.S. family firms consists of 63 public and 87 private companies. Since the data are not available for many private companies, we focused on the list of public firms (see Appendix A). Our data are for each firm's fiscal year ending in 2002 and were collected manually from Hoovers Online by subscription. The particular sample period, the latest at the time this research began, was difficult for many U.S. firms. At first glance, the performance of these firms was rather mixed. While large corporations such as Ford and Motorola suffered steep revenue declines in 2002, others such as Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart enjoyed substantial gains. The list also exhibits a mix of firm ages. Some firms have a history of nearly two centuries while others were formed as late as the 1980s. The oldest is the New York Times, owned by the Sulzberger family (1851) with generations of succession, while the youngest is Perot Systems (1988) in the information technology industry.

Families operate in a wide variety of industries, from greeting cards (e.g., American Greetings) and ball bearings (Timken) to auto manufacturing (Ford) and broadcasting (Comcast). As the statistics in Table 1 indicate, the sample of 63 includes a wide range of sizes as measured by revenue or employment. As the largest family firm, Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million workers worldwide with total revenue of over $244 billion. In contrast, the smallest entries on the list include Village Super Market, which generates less than $10 million in revenue; and M/I Schottenstein Homes, which hires fewer than 1,000 employees. Taken together, these observations underscore the importance of controlling for firm size, industry type, and other market characteristics in our analysis.

We used various measures of firm performance to evaluate the relative competitiveness of business firms. As suggested, a firm's performance can be affected by its size and market competition other than the structure of ownership or management. To control for these factors, we compared each family firm with its top three non-family counterparts in its affiliated industry. For instance, the representative rivals for Wal-Mart in the discount store industry were K-Mart, Target, and Costco Wholesale.

Family vs. Non-Family Firms

Table 2 presents the comparative statistics between family and non-family firms. The battery of performance measures are grouped into three broad categories: profitability, operations, and financial. The measures of profitability include gross profit margin, net profit margin, return on equity, return on assets, and return on invested capital. The measures of operational efficiency include days of sales outstanding, inventory turnover, days cost of goods sold in inventory, asset turnover, and net receivables turnover flow. The measures of financial soundness include revenue growth and net income growth in the last 12 months as well as in the last three years. Appendix B contains a brief description of these measures.

Columns 2 to 5 of Table 2 list the descriptive statistics for family firms, and columns 6 to 9 contain descriptive statistics for the average of industry peers. The last column of the table displays the t-statistics for testing equal means between family firms and their respective rivals, assuming different variances between the two samples. The null hypothesis is that family ownership and management makes no difference in firm performance.

The measures of profitability in the Panel A of Table 2 offer mixed evidence for the relative competitiveness of family firms versus their non-family counterparts. While family firms appear to exhibit a lower profit margin, there is strong evidence supporting a higher return on assets as well as return on invested capital.

While the evidence on profitability is equivocal, the indicators in Panel B tend to support that families enhance operational efficiency. Except for inventory turnover, the means for all measures favor of family firms. While the t-ratios for comparing inventory turnovers and cost of goods sold in inventory are statistically insignificant, the test statistics for days of sales outstanding, asset turnover, and net receivables turnover are significant at the 10% level or higher. In other words, in comparison with non-family firms, family firms deliver fewer days of sales outstanding but higher asset and receivables turnovers. In particular, a higher asset turnover suggests higher efficiency in using a company's assets to generate sales.

Panel C of Table 2 compares firm financial performance based on revenue growth and net income growth. Even though all figures for family firms are higher than their non-family counterparts, only the t-ratio for the 12-month net income growth is statistically meaningful. The contrast between measures of operating performance and financial performance implies some shortcomings in using the latter to evaluate firm efficiency.

Overall, the statistics in Table 2 support the positive role that families play in business. In contrast to previous studies that rely solely on financial data, our data provide new insights into the competitive advantages of family firms. In particular, family ownership and control tend to enhance firm efficiency, thereby promoting a higher return on investment. Interestingly, similar to the findings for Spanish firms in Gorriz and Fumas (1996), our U.S. firm data reveal a discrepancy between efficiency and profitability as performance measures. Such a phenomenon may be the outcome of varying market power or manager goals between family and non-family firms.

Concluding Remarks

Family businesses are the most common form of business organization in the world. Families play a vital role in many firms, including such household names as Ford and Wal-Mart. Arguably, their unique characteristics include high levels of trust and commitment, which may result in greater efficiency and higher profitability for firms than those owned by diverse shareholders. On the other hand, potential conflicts between the family and business can also hinder firm performance. The relative merit of the family influence on firm performance is therefore an important empirical issue. Most existing studies, however, focus on financial performance and do not directly address the issue of firm operational efficiency. This paper has sought to fill this gap.

A comparison of financial and operating performance between family firms and their top non-family competitors led to the conclusion that families indeed have a positive influence in business operations. If not financially, family firms outperform their competitors at least economically. In particular, family ownership and management tend to enhance cost efficiency and thus promote a higher return on investment. Due to data limitations, however, our findings are confined to relatively large public firms in the U.S. The question of whether families also enhance the relative performance of small businesses should be an interesting topic for future research.

Appendix A Sample List

A.G. Edwards A.O. Smith Adolph Coors Alberto-Culver AMERCO American Eagle Outfitter American Financial Group American Greetings Amkor Technology Anheuser-Busch Brown-Forman Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Carnival Cintas Clear Channel Communication Comcast Holdings Danaher Dillard's Dollar General Estee Lauder Ford Motor Franklin Resources Gap General Dynamics Goody's Family Clothing Hasbro Hillenbrand Industries Host Marriott Hovnanian Enterprises Illinois Tool Works Imperial Sugar J. B. Hunt Transport Services Jabil Circuit Kelly Services Knight Ridder Loew's M/I Schottenstein Homes Marriott International Masco McGraw-Hill Meredith Corp. Molex Motorola Murphy Oil Neiman Marcus New York Times News Corp. Norstrom Perot Systems Qualcomm Simon Property Stryker Timken Toll Brothers Tyson Foods Viacom Village Super Market Walmart Washington Post Weis Markets Weyerhaeuser Winn-Dixie Stores Wm. Wrigley Jr.

Appendix B Description of Terms

Gross Profit Margin--Gross Profit Margin equals (Latest 12-month (LTM) Revenue minus LTM Cost of Goods Sold) divided by Revenue, expressed as a percentage. The percentage represents the amount of each dollar of Revenue that results in Gross Profit.

Net Profit Margin--Net Profit Margin equals LTM Total Net Income divided by LTM Revenue, expressed as a percentage. The percentage represents the amount of each dollar of Revenue that results in Total Net Income.

Return on Equity (ROE)--Return on Equity equals the LTM Net Income from Total Operations divided by Common Stock Equity from the most recent balance sheet. It measures the return on each dollar invested by the common shareholders in a company.

Return on Assets (ROA)--Return on Assets equals the LTM Net Income from Total Operations divided by the Total Assets from the most recent balance sheet. A measure of profitability, ROA measures the amount earned on each dollar invested in assets.

Return on Invested Capital--Return on Invested Capital equals the LTM Net Income from Total Operations divided by the Invested Capital from the most recent balance sheet. Invested Capital is the sum of Long-Term Debt, Preferred Equity and Common Stock Equity.

Days of Sales Outstanding--Days of Sales Outstanding equals the Receivables from the most recent balance sheet divided by LTM Revenue multiplied by 360.

Inventory Turnover--Inventory Turnover equals the LTM Cost of Goods Sold divided by the Average Inventory from the most recent balance sheet and the corresponding balance sheet a year ago. Inventory Turnover measures inventory management efficiency.

Days Cost of Goods Sold in Inventory--Days Cost of Goods Sold in Inventory equals (Average Inventory from past two annual balance sheets divided by latest fiscal year Cost of Goods Sold) multiplied by 360.

Asset Turnover--Asset Turnover equals the LTM Revenue divided by the average Total Assets from the most recent balance sheet and the corresponding balance sheet a year ago. The Asset Turnover measures how efficiently a company uses its assets to generate sales.

Receivables Turnover Flow--Receivables Turnover Flow equals the LTM Revenue divided by the average Receivables from the most recent balance sheet and the corresponding balance sheet a year ago. Receivables Turnover Flow measures the number of times, on average, Receivables are collected during a given period.

Latest 12-Month Revenue Growth Rate--LTM Revenue Growth Rate is the Annual Growth Rate of Revenue based on LTM data.

Latest 12-Month Net Income Growth Rate--LTM Net Income Growth Rate is the Annual Growth Rate of Net Income of Total Operations based on LTM data.
Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for U.S. Public Family Firms, 2002

 Revenues ($ bil) Employees

Mean 11.67 65,755
Standard Deviation 4.30 23,478
Minimum 0.88 189
Maximum 244.5 1,400,000

Table 2: Comparison Between Public Business Firms and Industry Peers,

 Family Firms

 Mean Dev. Max. Min.

(A) Profitability:
Gross Profit Margin 38.38% 17.44% 77.68% 7.30%
Net Profit Margin 6.08% 5.92% 20.84% -13.79%
Return on Equity 14.92% 12.07% 78.70% 1.40%
Return on Assets 5.71% 4.58% 18.70% -8.50%
Return on Invested Capital 9.13% 8.30% 49.00% -10.70%

(B) Operations:
Days of Sales Outstanding 41.95 37.80 251.80 0.00
Inventory Turnover 12.43 21.97 151.30 0.70
Days Cost of Goods Sold in 74.09 87.85 534.00 0.00
Asset Turnover 1.46 0.94 4.30 0.20
Net Receivables Turnover Flow 28.45 54.32 309.60 1.50

(C) Financial:
12-Month Revenue Growth 20.85% 93.67% 743.30% -30.00%
12-Month Net Income Growth 55.82% 104.27% 551.60% -81.50%
36-Month Revenue Growth 6.00% 11.83% 56.40% -11.40%
36-Month Net Income Growth 4.54% 22.96% 86.40% -45.70%


 Mean Dev. Max. Min.

(A) Profitability:
Gross Profit Margin 39.20% 13.00% 63.07% 9.34%
Net Profit Margin 2.44% 9.85% 20.04% -35.62%
Return on Equity 15.72% 14.29% 73.70% 1.30%
Return on Assets 2.48% 6.81% 14.00% -20.50%
Return on Invested Capital 4.56% 10.26% 22.30% -28.50%

(B) Operations:
Days of Sales Outstanding 48.81 28.83 186.05 6.69
Inventory Turnover 15.01 27.91 189.90 2.00
Days Cost of Goods Sold in 62.02 46.50 182.00 0.00
Asset Turnover 1.06 0.62 2.60 0.20
Net Receivables Turnover Flow 14.42 14.59 54.00 2.20

(C) Financial:
12-Month Revenue Growth 7.66% 12.11% 48.60% -18.80%
12-Month Net Income Growth 28.59% 56.44% 262.20% -68.90%
36-Month Revenue Growth 5.59% 10.12% 29.20% -17.70%
36-Month Net Income Growth 3.57% 15.83% 36.80% -36.70%


(A) Profitability:
Gross Profit Margin -0.28
Net Profit Margin 2.51 **
Return on Equity -0.31
Return on Assets 3.12 *
Return on Invested Capital 2.74 *

(B) Operations:
Days of Sales Outstanding -1.65 ***
Inventory Turnover -0.53
Days Cost of Goods Sold in 0.91
Asset Turnover 1.67 ***
Net Receivables Turnover Flow 1.87 **

(C) Financial:
12-Month Revenue Growth 1.10
12-Month Net Income Growth 1.62 ***
36-Month Revenue Growth 0.21
36-Month Net Income Growth 0.22

Note: *, **, and *** denote statistical significance at the
1%, 5%, and 10% levels, respectively.

Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank the College of Business Dean at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Dr. Moustafa Abdelsamad, for research support, and Professor Mike Slotkin for helpful comments and suggestions at the 2004 SAM Conference. The work of this paper is funded in part by the Family Owned Business Institute at Grand Valley State University, and the 2003 University Research Enhancement Grant at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.


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DeAngelo, H., and DeAngelo, L. (1985). Managerial ownership of voting rights: A study of public corporations with dual classes of common stock. Journal of Financial Economics, 14, 33-69.

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Gorriz, C. G., and Fumas, V. S. (1996). Ownership structure and firm performance: Some empirical evidence from Spain. Managerial and Decision Economics, 17, 575-586.

Han, Ki C., and Suk, D. Y. (1998). The effect of ownership structure on firm performance: Additional evidence. Review of Financial Economics, 7, 143-155.

James, H. (1999). Owner as manager, extended horizons and the family firm. International Journal of the Economics and Business, 6, 41-56.

Lansberg, I. (1983, Summer). Managing human resources in family firms: The problem of institutional overlap. Organizational Dynamics, 39-46.

Lauterbach, B., and Vaninsky, A. (1999). Ownership structure and firm performance: Evidence from Israel. Journal of Management and Governance, 3, 189-201.

McConaughy, D. L., Walker, M. C., Henderson, G. V., and Mishra, C. (1998). Founding family controlled firms: Efficiency and value. Review of Financial Economics, 7, 1-19.

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Dr. Lee's diverse areas of research include market competitiveness, global competition, and regional development. He was a 2003-4 research fellow at the Family Owned Business Institute at Grand Valley State University.
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Date:Sep 22, 2004
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