So what are "family businesses," exactly - and how big a chunk of the American economic landscape do they occupy?
Depends who's counting.
They represent 20 percent of all US businesses, if the definition is multiple generations of the family directly involved in running the business, and at least one family owner significantly involved in management, according to Joseph Astrachan, an entrepreneurship professor at Kennesaw State University in Marietta, Ga.
The number, his research says, jumps to 55 percent if the firm's founder or a descendent runs the business - with perhaps only one family member directly involved in day-to-day operations.
It hits 91 percent if the family has some strategic control over the business and intends for it to remain in the family.
The Boston-based Family Firm Institute, however, estimates that 80 percent of North American companies could be called family businesses. FFI, widely considered to be the industry's trade association, says that figure is widely used, though it declined to cite its criteria. Included in that group: a third of Fortune 500 firms.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society