Ownership Competence

Nicolai J. Foss*, Peter G. Klein, Lasse B. Lien, Thomas Zellweger, Todd Zenger

*Corresponding author for this work

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Research Summary: Ownership is fundamental to firm strategy, organization, and governance. Standard ownership concepts—mainly derived from agency and incomplete contracting theories—focus on its incentive effects. However, these concepts and theories neglect ownership's role as an instrument to match judgment about resource use and governance with the firm's evolving environment under uncertainty. We develop the concept of ownership competence—the skill with which ownership is used as an instrument to create value—and decompose it into matching competence (what to own), governance competence (how to own), and timing competence (when to own). We describe how property rights of use, appropriation, and transfer relate to the three ownership competences and show how our theory offers a fresh perspective into the role of ownership for value generation. Managerial Summary: Business owners own with different levels of competence, and differences in ownership competence matter for value creation. We argue that ownership competence consists of competence about what to own (matching competence), competence about how to own (governance competence), and competence about when to own (timing competence). We clarify the role played by each of the three competences for value creation. We also show how the importance of ownership competence for value creation alters depending on ownership concentration, life cycle effects, uncertainty of the environment, and the efficiency of resource markets. With our paper, we prepare the ground for a fuller understanding of the strategic role of owners for value creation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)302-328
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 22. July 2020


  • Assets
  • Economic value creation
  • Ownership
  • Theory of the firm

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