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Ascetic Entrepreneurship- an Elite Prosopography

Published on
17 October 2016

David Kee (DBA Graduate 2016) is currently an assistant professor of management at the Caster College of Business at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, and also the faculty liaison for the Waldron Entrepreneurship and Family Business Center. His research thesis is a qualitative study that aims to advance the theoretical construct of ascetic entrepreneurship and its influence on successful entrepreneurship from the societal to the firm and the individual levels. His study relied on a particular research methodology called prosopography.

Thesis Overview

Why would a billionaire businessmen drive a 15-year-old automobile,travel in 2nd class and rarely take vacations? One the other end of the spectrum, why not buy a mansion, a jet, a yacht, an island in the Bahamas, and the last available Renoir or Picasso? Both extremes exist. The question is which one is more likely to add value, create wealth, and grow industries or innovation over the long term? And which one will do so with honesty and integrity?

Based on Max Weber’s well-established model of The Protestant Ethic, this study investigated the relationship between ascetic entrepreneurship and company performance. As research literature hardly addresses the lives of successful company founders, this study borrowed an approach known as prosopography used by sociologists and historians to determine characteristics shared by elite actors in history.

Prosopography is a research methodology that studies and analyzes collective biographical evidence from a variety of primary and secondary sources. The researcher assesses common characteristics based on evidence drawn from an interpretive questionnaire.

By narrowing the research down from 42 successful entrepreneurs to an elite group of six, the results of this qualitative study demonstrated that there is a mediating relationship between asceticism and entrepreneurial success. There is a moderating relationship between asceticism and firm performance. And finally, there is strong evidence of long-term returns for the economic model of asceticism (low consumption combined with high productivity).

Managerial Summary

Managers and entrepreneurs have always looked to the past to find role models who have succeeded where others have failed. They seek ways in which to share their own enthusiasm and determination with the rest of their organization. They work to develop their own ethic for success. This study provides managers and entrepreneurs with food for thought to overcome these challenges.

Asceticism, as first presented by Max Weber, is a prescription not only for economic prosperity, but also ethical behavior. The ascetic economic model of low consumption and high productivity is a formula that can applied across all businesses. The benefit is obvious as it leaves an increased portion of profits to be reinvested in the business. In addition, customers and suppliers are comforted by ascetic individuals and companies as they reinforce the belief contracts will be honored, work will be done efficiently and resources will be managed responsibly.

In this era of tight budgets, recurring ethical challenges and decreased productivity, this study provides managers with insights to alleviate these trends. The ascetic's focus on others, devotion to stringent resource management and motivation to succeed over the long term is a path that can help managers address modern workplace issues.

Ascetics are substantially more generous with their resources, whether it be time or fi nances. An astonishing number of charitable foundations have been created by ascetic individuals. This track record provides entrepreneurs with possible paths to building a meaningful legacy.
Finally, it is a rare enough occurrence for academic research to be easily relevant to practitioners. One of the advantages
of prosopographical research is that its biographical narrative provides a rich and interesting read that is easier for managers to comprehend.

Key Points

  • Asceticism provides a moral foundation for individual enterprises, entrepreneurial upstarts, company behavior and societal ethics.
  • Prosopography is a methodological tool that demonstrated its effectiveness for entrepreneurship research.
  • Prosopography helps to solve the scarce evidence dilemma, provides a deeper psychological understanding of an individual and offers an explanatory mechanism for the ethical behavior of individuals, companies and society.

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