Family Enterprise Center Researcher to Explore Link Between Family Dynamics and Business Success

KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 8, 2022) — After years of success growing her own business and promoting small business development in her community, Sara E. Davis made an unexpected pivot into academia. Her second career as an educator and researcher now allows her to help more businesses than ever and has brought her to Kennesaw State University’s Family Enterprise Center.

Sara E. Davis Postdoctoral Researcher for Kennesaw State University's Family Enterprise Center

Davis joined the center in Fall 2022 as a postdoctoral researcher to continue her work on how family businesses set goals and make decisions, especially around succession planning. She will also assist other researchers, present at academic conferences, and co-teach courses on succession planning for the Mini MBA for Family Enterprise Next-Generation Leaders program.

Working with the FEC has a been a goal of Davis’s since she became a family business researcher.

“This is the oldest family enterprise center in the world and there have been some phenomenal advances coming out of here,” Davis said. “Being in an environment where they are not only studying the same broad topic of family business that I am, but they have access to the specific target audience I am looking at is a perfect balance. I couldn’t have picked a better place to be.”

Davis’s research goals include examining the influence of family dynamics on business decisions. While all businesses have challenges establishing lines of communication, setting goals, and addressing employee burnout, navigating those challenges is potentially more difficult when involving family. She is working with an approach called relational model theory to better understand these issues and help family businesses navigate them.

Mark Hiatt, executive director of the FEC, is confident Davis’s work will have a direct impact on the center’s ability to advise their family business clients.

"Sara's research into intra-family business dynamics is a very exciting area with real-world applications," Hiatt said. "It is a major focus in family business research circles. This research effort on her part directly supports the university's community outreach mission of helping family businesses succeed."

Davis earned her undergraduate marketing degree and her Master of Business Administration from Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. and soon after became a Realtor. By specializing in first-time homebuyers and creating educational materials specific to their needs, Davis sold $1 million in property during her first six months. While working in real estate, Davis also worked as marketing director for Downtown Huntington Partners, which develops and promotes small businesses in the community. 

Both jobs appealed to Davis’s passion for teaching others to succeed. When her alma mater offered her an instructor position, Davis knew she was ready to become an academic. She soon earned a Ph.D. in Management from Mississippi State and began focusing her research on family enterprises.

In addition to furthering her research, Davis is looking forward to working with family businesses directly in the mini-MBA program, an intensive leadership development program for family business leaders.

“In order to run a family business, not only do you have to run a business, but you also have to manage a family,” Davis said. “I hope what they get from us is an understanding of how to make their transition into a leadership role as smooth as possible and, as a result, their business thrives. I love to see people be successful.”

-Patrick Harbin