Building on socioemotional wealth and upper echelons theory, this paper investigates family firms’ behaviors in terms of their earnings management strategies. Our results indicate an inverted U-shaped relationship between discretionary accruals and family involvement in firm management and control (i.e., family members in C-suite positions). Furthermore, there are significant associations between the expertise and experience of C-suite managers and earnings management when the relationship is moderated by family involvement in firm management and control. As such, this study provides a unique contribution informing the accounting, family business, and corporate governance literatures. The study results indicate the types of firms that are more or less prone to earnings management behaviors, finding that accounting choices differ according to diverse characteristics, namely, the expertise and experience of C-suite managers and the level of family involvement in Csuite positions. These characteristics together affect firms’ preferences for discretionary accruals and incomesmoothing activities. The findings introduce several practical implications for regulators, family businesses, investors, lenders, and external auditors.
This study combines three strands of research (family business, accounting, and corporate governance) by investigating whether family involvement and the characteristics of boards of directors and committees in terms of members’ expertise and experience affect accounting choices. Our research is motivated by the expansion of the family business field, by the importance of earnings management studies in the financial accounting field, and by the growing number of corporate governance studies addressing the outcomes that certain board and committee characteristics generate regarding firm performance, firm value, and financial reporting quality, among other factors. Family ownership is likely to be concentrated in the hands of families (La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes, & Shleifer, 1999), reducing the traditional agency problem (type I agency conflicts) of ownership and control (Fama & Jensen, 1983; Jensen & Meckling, 1976). However, traditional principal-agent problems in family firms lead to principal–principal conflicts (type II agency conflicts) (Singla, Veliyath, & George, 2014), in which the dominant family owner can extract the firm’s wealth to the detriment of minority shareholders (Miller & Le Breton-Miller, 2006; Morck & Yeung, 2003), manipulate earnings out of self-interest (Fan & Wong, 2002), or reap private benefits (Villalonga & Amit, 2006). Family firms’ governance practices might face additional complications or barriers regarding the selection of adequate professionals, while ensuring the preferential treatment of next-generation family members (Pérez-González, 2006). In this scenario, family members, long-tenured family accountants, and even close friends often constitute a majority on the board. Recruiting family-proximate professionals can lead to several distortions in the management and control of firms, giving rise to bargained skepticism because of excessively emotional bonds (Gomez-Mejia, Cruz, Berrone, & De Castro, 2011; Gomez-Mejia, Cruz, & Imperatore, 2014) with the firm and strong dependence on the firm’s financial results. In contrast, outsiders bring the sets of skills and knowledge required to enforce financial reporting quality.