Laura Jackman, Assistant Professor in Entrepreneurship at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, examines what job titles SMEs owners adopt.
It has long been the subject of much debate – who is an entrepreneur? What makes someone an entrepreneur? Are they born with these institutive business minds or can you in fact become one? Another key area, especially for academics like myself, is can you teach someone to be or act with entrepreneurial spirit? And although there has been much deliberation, little agreement has ever been reached with regard to what constitutes an entrepreneur.
Perhaps we should be asking what titles do SME owners adopt in general and why do some call themselves an entrepreneur, and others don’t? This I feel is an interesting angle and one I was asked to comment on recently. Not particularly ground-breaking as such, but I feel asking this question might shed some insight into identity, self-perception and even the aspirations of the SME owner and the positioning of their company.
SME as a term scoops up a wide range of businesses. There are the sole-traders and micro-enterprises at the very small scale, moving up to small businesses (categorised in the EU as having between 10-49 employees), and then to the medium companies employing 50-250 people. That is a diverse grouping that involves some vastly different ways of operation, and that’s not even incorporating the different markets and industries.
My interest is not only around the term or even title of entrepreneur, it expands into who refers to themselves as director, MD or CEO. What do these titles mean to people and why do they choose them? Is it to do with the size of the company, the position they hold or desire to hold within the market they operate in? If that is the case, is the role one allocates oneself on start-up an indication of their business and personal aspiration?
For some, the term director may result from the legal status of their company. On incorporation of a limited company you become a director of it, but at what stage do you move to managing director and then to CEO or do you simply start as you mean to go on? I suspect, again it is largely to with the number of employees as well as going back the question of status, desire and/or future aspiration. More questions subsequently arise - does the title of the owner matter? Do companies who have MDs or CEOs grow quicker and perform better?
The title or role of an entrepreneur is a particularly tricky one and even in the entrepreneurship classes that I lead, is always a matter of great debate – there is nothing to break the ice better with a new class than asking them to share what they think an entrepreneur is and what makes one! A typical discussion usually starts with the most well known entrepreneurs that spring to people’s minds such as Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and even JK Rowling.
This then rolls onto what these people have in common that would make them an entrepreneur, after all JK Rowling wrote books, albeit a staggeringly popular series of books that was then transformed into one of the world’s most successful franchises, but that’s by the by. Students often settle on the fact they have all created something new and then made it big, whether it be, well everything in Richard Branson’s case, computing in Alan Sugar’s case or books for Rowling.
Nevertheless, the term 'entrepreneur' will be forever debatable. In fact, some people reject it completely. Those who are self-employed, sole-traders or freelancers actively prefer to associate with their job role and function such as writer, cleaner, electrician etc. They are often reluctant to associate themselves with the term entrepreneur.
So, with all that in mind, the real question is – does it matter how someone chooses to refer to themselves with respect to the operation of their business? From sole trader to CEO of a high growth and high innovation tech company, their contribution both economic and social and their personal value achieved on an individual level is what’s most important. I’m sure some people will disagree and I actively look forward to a bit of debate.
Laura Jackman is assistant professor in Entrepreneurship at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University. Laura teaches on Entrepreneurship courses for the MBA and has delivered a wide range of courses across several institutions.
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