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Developing an entrepreneurial identity by Patricia Lewis (Brunel School of Business and Management, Brunel
University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, UK, e-mail:
The Case Study section of the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation serves two purposes. First, the case studies presented areconcerned with problematical issues that are pertinent to students of
英国论文网entrepreneurship. Thus they constitute appropriate teaching and learningvehicles on a variety of postgraduate and undergraduate programmes. Eachcase study is accompanied by a set of guidelines for the use of tutors. Second,it is envisaged that those engaged in entrepreneurial activities will find thecases both interesting and useful.The case in this issue concerns an ex-corporate manager who is in theprocess of establishing and developing her own business after being maderedundant from her senior management position. It is based on two in-depthdiscussions, one held in the first year of setting up the business, the secondoccurring after the business had been up and running for 18 months.Focusing on the question of identity, the story illustrates the complex issuesinvolved in the transformation, development and maintenance of identityduring such a transition. The case is a real-life one but all names arepseudonyms.
Gillian Gavin has been working in marketing in a variety of countries over the past 14
the business ‘took off’. Up to that point,Gillian had been coaching clients on aone-to-one basis and was finding that shehad no difficulty attracting clients, butthe nature of the coaching work meantthat she was unable to build volume, andwithout this she would not be able tobuild a sustainable business. Recognizingthis problem signalled to her that sheneeded to develop different mediums forthe delivery of her coaching service,which while bearing her personal mark,did not rely on her personally to deliverthem:
. . . my background is in telecommunications.
I’m in marketing, telecommunications, and
I’m a coach, so it’s bringing the three together
. . . the thing with coaching is time, it’s a timebusiness. You don’t coach, you don’t get paid,so from a business model point of view Istarted becoming a lot smarter and saying‘OK, if I’m going to build sustainability intothe business, this model isn’t going to work’.So that’s one of the reasons I’ve developed acoaching computer package because it hasprograms on there that people can buy and it’sonce again my creativity, my knowledge,bringing that all together, packaging it in a waythat’s useful for them and they can buy thatany time of the day or night. . . Each timeyou’re creating a revenue stream for the samething, it’s all revenue streams, plus you’regetting the message out to people in a massmarket and obviously I need to make#p#分页标题#e#
money. . .Identity work
Gillian’s shift from corporateemployment to business ownership hasnot only meant a significant change inher working environment, it has also ledto a significant change in her sense ofidentity. Accounts of identity configurationin the modern world tend to place anemphasis on the emergence of new typesof identity formation (Giddens, 1991;
Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002). Asself-confirmation is no longer securedthrough traditional sources such asfamily status, the importance of paidwork as a source of respected andesteemed identity has increasedsignificantly (Collinson, 2003). Thusshifts in the type of work an individual is
involved in, particularly transformationalshifts such as a move from paidemployment to business ownership arelikely to lead to significant shifts in anindividual’s sense of self and character.
Gillian was experiencing just such ayears. Two years ago the London-basedtelecommunications company she wasworking for closed down and she lost herjob as a senior marketing director. Thecompany had been experiencing adifficult trading situation during the yearprior to its closure and was having, asGillian describes it:
. . . waves and waves of redundancies and Iwas trying to manage a team through that sortof situation and I felt that my skills wereinadequate and I wasn’t coping well and I hadto make people redundant and I wasn’t giventhe right support so I hired a coach and I gotcoached through the whole process. I alsodecided that I wanted to learn how to become a
coach and learn coaching skills so I did acoaching course and then 4 days later the
company went bust.
http://www.ukthesis.org/Thesis_Writing/After this happened she took some timeto think about her future, decidingbetween seeking employment again and
setting up her own business. In looking ather circumstances and the job market atthe time, she decided to opt for the latter.
The business started out as a businesscoaching service targeted at individualswho wanted to start their own business,
but also with a view to working withlarge corporate organizations in thefuture:
. . . I’m a business coach so I’m coaching
people on how to start their business,
especially from a marketing point of view, and
I’m starting to build the corporate side of my
business which is going into strategy,
innovation, teambuilding for big companies
through coaching, consultancy and training.
As originally conceived, the business was
very labour-intensive because, according
to Gillian, coaching is a relationship that
is ‘. . . week, by week, by week’. Six
months after the launch of the company,
Case study
transition. As well as losing her job as a
senior corporate manager, Gillian also
felt she had lost a sense of who she was#p#分页标题#e#
and was left feeling like ‘. . . a nobody’.
This meant that she had to rebuild her
identity and who she was from scratch.
However, in the second year of setting up
and running the business, Gillian stated
that she was now:
. . . unemployable, I just couldn’t work for
anyone full-time again. I mean I could do
project work or go in and work a couple of
days a week, but to go in and have a full-time
job, I could never do it . . . I mean, I’ve screen
tested for TV shows, I’ve been asked to
present with top best-selling authors, and all
these things have happened which would never
have happened if I was doing 9–5.
In reaching this position, Gillian has
experienced a continually changing sense
of her own identity. She is not surprised
that she ended up running her own
business because previously, while in
Mexico, she had freelanced while she
was between jobs, and really liked the
freedom this situation gave her. However,
she felt at the time that Mexico was the
wrong country in which to embark on
independent business ownership, but that
the UK in contrast was the right country.
On setting up her business, Gillian
recognized that this would mean
significant changes in how she did things
and how she understood her own
It’s taken me a year to realize I’m a business
woman and what I did was swing right out into
the entrepreneurial way and I built my
business in a real entrepreneurial way, really
loose and it didn’t work for me. So what I’ve
done is bring in some of the corporate
structure which you probably wouldn’t find in
a lot of entrepreneurs . . . because there are
things from the corporate world that do make a
lot of sense.
On first establishing her business and in
working out ‘who she was’ at that point
in time, Gillian perceived a Cartesianstyle
dichotomy between her former
corporate position and the identity
derived from that, and her new position
of owning a business and the sense of self
attached to these new circumstances.
Originally for her these identities,
particularly the corporate identity, were
bounded and stable (Valins, 2003). In
making initial comparisons between her
former position and her current situation,
she did feel that the latter did not have
the same type of gravitas (eg working at
home as opposed to working in a
corporate office) as her senior management
position had. Her new position
meant that she would experience
difficulty in trying to sustain a corporate
identity because the social facts attaching
to her situation had changed (Goffman,
1997). She no longer possessed the#p#分页标题#e#
organizational authority, the office, the
salary package, the business card, the
company car, which had supported her
previous corporate identity. As a way of
dealing with this experience of loss,
Gillian began developing and adopting
the identity of entrepreneur, which
presented her with something to aim for,
and which differed from the previous
corporate identity that she was unable to
maintain. As part of this transformation,
Gillian paradoxically tended to perceive
her old corporate identity in negative
terms, perhaps as a way of coping with
its loss:
. . . all that corporate stuff is anal and boring
and oh my God I’m an entrepreneur.
However, as time went on Gillian
recognized two things: first she
developed some discomfort around
adopting the label ‘entrepreneur’ because
of the lack of structure that attached to
this. Second she felt wholesale take-up of
this identity was a little premature, given
the type of business she currently owned,
although she saw the potential to adopt
this fully in the future. Having reached
this position, and to develop a sense of
comfort and acceptance of herself, she
went back to her old corporate identity
and introduced aspects of this into her
new business identity, creating a sense of
. . . Right, I plan out things, I draw flow
process charts, so I’m actually integrating my
corporate . . . because there’s a lot of sense in
doing that and thinking and planning before
you set out. So the transition then is from
becoming a coach, which I’ve never been
happy with, to being a business woman, an
entrepreneurial business woman . . . I’d say
I’m an entrepreneurial business woman. I see
‘entrepreneur’ more as an adjective, it’s the
way you do things, like the marketing is
entrepreneurial, so it means it’s loose, creative,
innovative, different..so I’d say I am entrepreneurial.
Am I an entrepreneur, I guess for me I
haven’t built a successful business because I’m
still, you know . . . financially it’s still got to
build up . . . I mean, if I created something and
sold it then I would say I could feel . . . I could
say I’m an entrepreneur. For me, I would say
more I run my own business rather than saying
I’m an entrepreneur, but I actually like the
word entrepreneur, there’s a certain amount of
energy in it and I realize . . . I’ve just read the
book by the owner of the Coffee Republic. It’s
really really good and I really identified with
that and she’s very corporate, but she is a
classic entrepreneur, but she wasn’t when she#p#分页标题#e#
started. I think it’s sort of like when you’re
intrinsically something, you don’t label it, do
you get what I mean? But everybody says to
me ‘you’re a serial entrepreneur’ but I would
never say . . . I’ll try it tonight and see how it
goes because it sounds quite cool, doesn’t it?
Gillian’s experience of her changing
identity demonstrates the stability and
stubbornness of aspects of identity even
in situations of extreme change. Although
her new circumstances made it difficult
for her to hold on to her former corporate
identity, neither could she let it disappear
completely along with her corporate job.
In particular, she had a continued
commitment to structure, planning and
professionalism in doing business. In this
sense, her corporate identity can be
understood as a ‘stubborn identity’,
which allows her to do three things: first,
she can stabilize and secure her new
identity by connecting it to what she was
And that’s what would work for me, saying
I’m an entrepreneur, and that bit says to me
because I still have (my existing projects) and
I’ve got another project I want to start next
year. I’m an executive coach with two
companies, people . . . even my PA says ‘it’s
all really confusing, who are you?’ I’m like,
I’m an entrepreneur, I’ve got my fingers in lots
of pies. There’s also the sense of being . . .
‘I’m an entrepreneur’ says to me that I start
businesses, I set businesses up and that’s the
piece that I’m really good at. I’m not really
good at taking the business through the long
term . . . and that’s why I say bringing the
corporate in . . . as so many entrepreneurs start
and it just evolves organically, and there’s a
certain amount of romanticism about that, but I
believe you can have that and have structure
and then you create a framework that grows as
the business grows. So for example, my
business has business processes. I’ve got flow
diagrams about how things work, so you’re
setting up a framework, a structure, and you
feed the good ideas through it and there’s a
delivery . . . and a couple of my other friends
who have been self-employed for a lot longer,
they’re coming to the same realization and that
they’re . . . it’s not . . . there’s something about
the structure, having the structure and doing
the thinking and the planning combined with
the entrepreneurial spirit and the idea and the
Case study
concept. It gives me speed to market. People#p#分页标题#e#
who have been talking about projects still
haven’t got them out there. I get them out . . . I
get them out, I move quickly because if you
set the infrastructure . . . this is my thing . . . if
you set the infrastructure up for delivering the
message, as soon as you’ve got something new
the infrastructure is there, you just pump it out
and it’s very quick.
Second, she can differentiate herself from
the broad population of small business
owners in general and the population of
coaches in particular:
I am professional . . . I’ve realized because
that’s the core value, and in developing the
Website I worked with entrepreneurial people
who weren’t professional and that’s what
didn’t work for me. There’s a certain amount
of professionalism, of the way things are done
and that guarantees the quality of the service
that you give to your customers . . . I raise the
bar, I raise the bar and that’s the feedback I’ve
been given. People say you raise the bar . . . I
show them . . . I sort of show them how they
can be more professional in their business and
as a result grow their business. It’s not that
small businesses are not professional . . . how
do I describe it? . . . things like the logo and
the branding, I had one client, they were
notorious . . . it was terrible and they were
trying to portray an image of being a Rolls
Royce training company and the marketing
materials were terrible and the training they
had plastic, yellow . . . it was just so unaligned
and I worked with them on aligning the brand
and now the whole look and feel, looks like a
Rolls Royce training company. It’s about . . .
you can have a small ‘Mum and Pop’ store . . .
you know a lot of people can look at my
Website and not realize I work from the
kitchen table, and who says I have to have a
big office to have a Website like that? You can
be really professional just from wherever you
are . . . I think a lot of businesses start out and
they’ve got a crappy business card and a little
tatty brochure, which is terrible and it’s like
how can you. . . ?
Third, the various dimensions of her
corporate identity form a central part of
the service she is developing for clients:
The key thing though is that there’s a lot of
people with great ideas, but they need to do
something and they need to have the skills and
structures to do it, you know . . . this is my
theory . . . I bring structure, I tell them how to
at least package their product and get a
message out and what they need to do. That
gives them structure so that they can plug their
idea in and it just goes out, because so many#p#分页标题#e#
people have great ideas but they don’t do
anything with them, and that’s what the
founder of Coffee Republic raises in her book,
and I’m like ‘yeah’. I’ve coached so many
people with great ideas, but it’s the difference
between thinking and doing.
In creating her business, what Gillian has
experienced is a constant movement
between her old and her new identity:
. . . the professional brings in the structure and
the entrepreneurial sits down and does the
mind maps and the strategizing and I’ve often
wondered . . . whether the professional might
dampen . . . or because I’m stuck doing
business processes I might miss out on a wow!
or an aha! moment or a great idea, whether the
professional structure dampens the
entrepreneurial spirit, but then what I do is try
and give each one its time. Like give myself
time to just be totally ideas and you know . . . I
give myself the time to do that, but at the end
of the day you don’t make money from just
sitting down and writing ideas. I’ve got to
build a business, it’s about building the
Nevertheless, despite some concern over
this coexistence, the emergence of a
hybrid identity created out of the constant
movement between her old and new
sense of self provides Gillian with a
feeling of security in herself, which she
believes gives both her and her business
Exactly, I’m credible, but what it does is bring
credibility and people say they can trust me
and a lot of that comes from the
professionalism, like when I run a workshop
everything is branded: handouts, the structure
is very professional and that’s helped me get
some really good speaking opportunities
because it brings credibility.
However, Gillian does not want to claim
that the credibility of her business solely
emerges from her old corporate identity.
She also emphasizes the importance of
her new entrepreneurial self:
The thing is, the thing that I think is that you
get a lot of business consultants and coaches
who tell you how to do it. My philosophy is ‘I
want to do it’ and then tell people how I did it,
and that’s what I think brings a lot of the
credibility as well. Yeah, lead by example and
that brings a lot of the credibility, because a lot
of the feedback I get from my peers is that I
raise the bar for them as well and they’re like
‘if Gillian can do it, so can I’, you know, so I
show them what’s possible. . . It’s quite hard
for me because I’m always out of my comfort
zone trying different things. I like to try them
so I can then write about the experience and#p#分页标题#e#
say what works and what didn’t work, and
that’s part of the product. . . The thing is, it’s
built from me as an entrepreneur . . . you’ve
got the Business Links and you’ve got formal
government . . . but they all do it from a place
of being a company. They don’t know what it
is like to be an entrepreneur, so they structure
their services from a point . . . and I used to do
this when I marketed telecommunications: you
market to SMEs from a place of being a
corporate, not from the place of being an
entrepreneur. . .
Alhough Gillian tries to create a balance
between her old identity of corporate
manager and her new identity of
entrepreneurial business woman or
entrepreneur, there is a lot of moral
ambiguity around the label
‘entrepreneur’. While she states above
that this identity ‘sounds quite cool’, and
she uses it in reference to herself when
discussing her business; when asked
specifically to define her identity she is
loath to use ‘entrepreneur’ as her new
identity and refers to herself as
‘entrepreneurial’; ‘a founder’; ‘a creator’.
In addition, although she presented a
positive account of ‘the entrepreneur’,
she also expresses some reservations
about the intentions of the entrepreneur
as an individual:
To me, when I say I’m an entrepreneur, in a
sense it means venture capital,it means high
stakes, it means equity, it means bond holders,
it means high finance . . . and there’s also
something cold and steely about being ‘I’m an
entrepreneur’ . . . it sounds sort of . . . to me it
sounds sort of, you buy companies and you
sell them, so there’s no emotion attached. . . It
has got . . . for me it has that sort of wheelie,
deally, you know ‘I’m an entrepreneur’, yeah
you know . . . it doesn’t have much sort of
heart in it, whereas I’m a founder, I’m a
creator, it’s got something . . . it’s more, it’s
something you’ve created or founded,
something solid . . . entrepreneur has a feel of
taking ‘this’ and then passing it on, it doesn’t
have the sense of creating.
Nevertheless, despite the ambiguity
surrounding her views about the
character of the entrepreneur, overall it
still is an identity that, from her
perspective, is desirable:
. . . it’s a great idea, but you know what, I sort
of tend to lack around the idea . . . you know,
I’ve read about the Coffee Republic and her
passion and the passion . . . I would do
anything for it and I still haven’t found . . . I
still haven’t really ever felt that, so that’s why I#p#分页标题#e#
think I’m not a true entrepreneur, I’m a
professional entrepreneur and that maybe one
day I’ll see a product, see something that I’ll
just be so passionate that I’ll go off and do it,
you know, but I’m still . . . not cautious, but I
still plan and think before I leap.
Case study
Beck, U., and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002),
Individualization, Sage, London.
Collinson, D. L. (2003), ‘Identities and
insecurities: selves at work’, Organization,
Vol 10, No 3, pp 527–547.
Giddens, A. (1991), Modernity and Self-
Identity, Polity Press, Cambridge.
Goffman, E. (1997), ‘On cooling the mark
out: some aspects of adaptation to
failure’, in Lemert, C., and Branaman,
A., eds, The Goffman Reader, Blackwell
Publishers, Oxford.
Valins, O. (2003), ‘Stubborn identities
and the construction of socio-spatial
boundaries: ultra-orthodox Jews
living in contemporary Britain’,
Transactions of the Institute of
British Geographers, Vol 28, pp 158–
See overleaf for ‘Teaching Note’
Case study
Gillian Gavin –
developing an
entrepreneurial identity
1. Synopsis
A former senior marketing director
establishes her own coaching business.
As well as developing the business, she is
also in the process of developing and
transforming her identity because of the
new circumstances in which she finds
herself. On first establishing the business,
she made a stark differentiation between
her old corporate self and her new
entrepreneurial self, adopting the latter
wholesale. However, she did not feel
completely comfortable with this and
began to reintroduce elements of her old
corporate identity into how she ran and
developed the business.
2. Learning objectives
• to explore the issue of identity
formation within the context of
establishing a new business;
• to consider how the abrupt loss of a
previous ‘large firm’ identity
impacts on the development of a
new identity in a small business
• to explore how this process may
impact on the development of a new
• to examine the interaction that
occurs between an old and new
• to assess how material
circumstances may encourage or
deter an individual from taking up a
certain identity; and
• to explore the policy implications of
the entrepreneurial identity
formation process, in a policy
context in which solutions to
economic problems are invariably#p#分页标题#e#
presented in terms of the need to
encourage ‘more entrepreneurs’.
3. Analysis and in-class
This case is probably best used to explore
the issue of entrepreneurial identity
formation in a policy context in which
the identity ‘entrepreneur’ is highly
valued, while at the same time being
surrounded by a significant level of moral
ambiguity. The focus here is on an excorporate
manager who, one might
assume, would be willing to take up this
identity to replace the lost corporate
identity. However, identity formation
within the context of loss is more
complex than simply replacing an old
identity with a new one.
Issue 1: The process an ex-corporate
manager goes through in the early stages
of setting up a new business, with a
particular focus on how that individual
perceives him or herself in the context of
the new business. This question might
be considered within the context of a
consideration of the possible differences
that might exist between an ex-corporate
manager who is ‘pushed’ into business
ownership and an ex-corporate manager
who is ‘pulled’ into business ownership.
This case centres on entrepreneurial
identity formation within the context of
loss, but a loss that was not chosen by the
individual. How would such a context
influence an individual’s perception of
his or her new circumstances and sense
of self within these circumstances?
Issue 2: The orientation of individuals to
the identity ‘entrepreneur’. Most work
on the character of the entrepreneur tends
to focus on the traits of this particular
individual and how we might identify
entrepreneurs. Its orientation tends to be
one that focuses on who we should or
should not include in the category
‘entrepreneur’. There is also an underlying
assumption that individuals are eager
to adopt this label. However, there is very
little research on how individuals
themselves orientate to this identity and
the circumstances and reasons surrounding
why they will or will not accept this
Issue 3: The moral ambiguity
surrounding the character of the
entrepreneur. The entrepreneur as an
identity has a long history, with negative
and positive traits attributed to it, both
historically and in contemporary times.
Up to the late 1970s the label
‘entrepreneur’ was a form of abuse within
the UK context. How does this impact on
current views of this economic character?
How does this affect people’s take-up of
this identity?
Issue 4: The coexistence of a new
entrepreneurial identity with an older
corporate identity. How important are#p#分页标题#e#
Gillian’s two identities to the success of
her business? Is one identity more
important than the other? How does she
prevent one identity from dominating the
Issue 5: In establishing an entrepreneurial
identity, how important is
recognition from peers? In working out
who we are, it is often the case that we do
this through a process of knowing who
we do not want to be, before we feel
completely certain about who we do want
to be. How has interaction with other
business owners affected Gillian’s
establishment of a new business?
4. Discussion questions
The following are case-end questions:
(1) Would a male business owner be
more likely to ‘take up’ the identity
of entrepreneur than a female
business owner?
(2) How does the process of identity
formation within the context of
establishing a new business impact
http://www.ukthesis.org/Thesis_Writing/on the development of the business
(3) Do you agree with the association of
the identity entrepreneur with
significant business success?
(4) Does Gillian Gavin strike you as
someone who will achieve
significant entrepreneurial success in
the future? Why?


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