In this edition of faculty spotlight, we sit down with Dr. Ted Paterson, Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at Oregon State University. Dr. Paterson talks about his research and experience as an Excellence in Family Business Awards judge.

Can you share a little about your business background and experience (and any connection to/experience with family business, if applicable)?

Growing up I watched two of my grandparents found and grow family businesses (both real estate operations in Southern California). Both of these businesses ended up passing along to one of the sons in each family. Although I was not directly involved in the operation of these businesses, I learned a lot about how the business and the family interact in family-owned businesses.

After completing my undergraduate education I began a decade-long career as a financial advisor. In this capacity I, along with two business partners, managed assets, secured insurance, conducted financial planning, and provided business consulting for our clients. This was also a business that had a family aspect to it because my brother-in-law was one of my business partners.

What are your current research interests?

My general approach to organizational research is to focus on what we can learn from studying individuals, leaders, and organizations that exemplify excellence. This broad research agenda has led me to study individual thriving at work, ethical behavior and voice, and identity in the workplace. I have also conducted research that assesses the degree to which the academic research we do at Universities is relevant, interesting, and useful to managers. Of particular relevance to the Austin Family Business Program, my first published research project was on the role that religion plays in family businesses. 

Are there any observations from your research that you think might be of interest to family business owners or family members?

One of the more practical insights from the research that I have conducted is that in order for people to have a sense of forward progress at work (which we referred to as thriving at work), they need to experience both learning and vitality (or energy). It is the joint experience of learning and vitality that results in feelings of growth and development for individuals. In order to help people have this experience at work, organizations can focus on two aspects. First, supervisors needs to provide a supportive work environment where their contributions are valued, their voices are heard, and they can look to their leaders for career support. Second, employees need to have sufficient psychological resources (hope, resilience, optimism, and efficacy). What is encouraging here is that there is evidence that each of these psychological resources can be developed with simple interventions in the workplace.

Another recent finding that I have published may also be of interest to family business participants. In this study we examined the relationship between five different roles that individuals are asked to fill at work (organization member, team member, job holder, occupational member, and innovator). We found that these (and potentially other) roles form a hierarchy that represents one’s identity at work. What is important for managers to understand is that these role-based identities cannot all be equally important at once. So, if you want your people to be loyal and dedicated to their teams, they will likely have to see another one of their roles decline in importance. When we throw in a family and/or individual identities to the mix, it is clear that family business owners in particular need to be aware of the unintended consequences that their employment policies and systems may have on their employees’ role commitments.

You were a judge for the 2018 Excellence in Family Business Awards. What insights about family business did you take away from that experience?

I was struck by the immense variety and diversity of enterprises that fall under the umbrella of family businesses. It was quite impressive to learn about the wide array of ventures that Oregonians have founded and the impact that they are having on their families and the broader community. Learning about some of the systems and policies that these family businesses had put into place to manage the complex dynamics of a family-owned business was really interesting. Having participated as a judge in the Excellence in Family Business Awards gave me an even greater appreciation for the important role in society that family-run businesses play.


Ted A. Paterson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Management who received his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska in 2014. Prior to his doctoral studies he was a financial advisor for nearly 10 years. Dr. Paterson's research interests center on positive organizational behavior, leadership, ethics, and identity.