Entrepreneurs in business for reasons beyond profit are often identity driven, which can affect their firms’ ability to survive tough economic times when others don’t, according to research by a Clemson University business professor.

The research was conducted by Erin Powell, assistant professor of management at Clemson and Ted Baker management professor, Rutgers University. They found textile industry entrepreneurs to have motivations and a resiliency that helped their businesses persevere in a U.S. business sector that had seen a loss of more than 200,000 jobs since the mid-‘90s.

Textile, entrepreneurs, identity

Management’s Erin Powell researched textile industry entrepreneurs and their motivations.
Image Credit: Patrick Wright

Powell, who held management positions in the textile industry before joining Clemson’s faculty, and Baker conducted 150 hours of interviews with entrepreneurs in the Southeast who stuck with the faltering textile industry when much larger manufacturers were moving operations to Central America and Asia.

“There were commonalities in those we interviewed – resilience, resourcefulness and a sense of pride in believing they were fighting the good fight,” Powell said. “It was also clear that, though they knew profit was important to their business’s longevity, they also saw their firms as a vehicle to express who they were and what that wanted to become.”

Powell and Baker said many of these entrepreneurial “survivors” had lost or left the jobs they had with larger manufacturers for up to 25 years. “These people had to re-create themselves because their employer pulled up stakes, but many saw an opportunity and seized on it. We’re talking about a group of people whose workplace was a shell of what it used to be, but they were still excited about being in business and what the future might bring.

“The bottom line with this group of business people is if the focus is not just on money, but complemented by other reasons for staying in business, it creates a resource in itself. These other motivations become a resource to draw on when the giant profits are not realized,” Powell said.

The researchers said these industry survivors also exhibited a strong sense of responsibility to themselves, their families, employees and the broader community.

“These are hardworking, resolute people who, despite daunting economic and industry conditions, don’t give up, and they have strong ties to their communities and believe consumers will, in turn, reward their dedication to remaining local by purchasing their products.” Baker said. “You can learn a lot about entrepreneurs by studying how they deal with resource constraints and adversity.”

Powell and Baker cited a couple of lessons that can be learned from their research, for entrepreneurs and those who might finance one of their ventures.

“For the aspiring entrepreneur, the romanticized perception of making money, exiting the business and starting over, may be more of an anomaly,” Powell said. “Fact is, it’s going to take hard work and a persevering person who will need to understand sacrifices must be made in the long haul,” Powell said.

Powell and Baker said financial institutions may want to take a closer look at the entrepreneurial motivations and resiliency when considering making a long-term investment.

“The entrepreneur brings values to a business and a community that are sometimes overlooked by those who finance business start-ups,” Powell said. “It would behoove financial institutions to look closer at these entrepreneurs because they are really invested in what they do. Long-term, it’s better for the community and ultimately can be for the financial institution also.”

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