A phenomelogical study of how South African entrepreneurs experience and deal with ethical dilemmas

Robinson, David Alan (2003) A phenomelogical study of how South African entrepreneurs experience and deal with ethical dilemmas. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




This research sets out to examine how entrepreneurs experience and deal with ethical dilemmas. An entrepreneur is defined as a person who creates something of value and assumes the risk of establishing and managing a business around it. An ethical dilemma comes about when the entrepreneur must choose between alternatives and where the morally correct choice is unclear. This may be due to conflicting personal values or loyalties, tensions arising out of the realization that the moral action is not in line with his self-interest, cross-cultural conflict, or moral ambiguity. Because of the nature of entrepreneurship, the entrepreneur typically lives with ever-present threats arising from limited resources, competition, and the risk of business failure. His actions must simultaneously ensure survival, maximize profit, limit risk, counter threats, optimize the use of resources, and reward him with a feeling of satisfaction. It is hardly surprising that conflicting priorities sometimes ensue. It is also widely believed that these entrepreneurial pursuits supersede the more general need to act in morally appropriate ways. This is a phenomenological study, based on interviews with seven entrepreneurs in established service-oriented ventures. They were asked to describe their business, any dilemmas they have experienced, how they were handled, and what challenges they experience as entrepreneurs in South Africa today. Using phenomenology as my vehicle for data collection and analysis, I sought to enter the lived-worlds of my participants to discover the essence of how ethical dilemmas are experienced in the entrepreneurial milieu. The study’s findings reflect that each entrepreneur has a distinctive world-view, which is represented by a complex mosaic of virtue ethics, deontology, utilitarianism and metaethical perspectives. The permutations are numerous, thus negating the possibility of typecasting entrepreneurs. Instead this research introduces the reader to aspects of entrepreneurial reality such as the complexity of cultural diversity, the freedom to limit the amount of personal energy given to business, and the existence of a more sensitive, searching inner soul beneath the apparent hard-nosed business-oriented public image. While examining entrepreneurial dilemmas in depth, this research introduces the dilemma drum as a tool to portray the argument form of any dilemma by making explicit the ethical component inherent in every business decision and facilitating its effective resolution in a non-prescriptive way. The findings identify certain individual characteristics of participant entrepreneurs that are unlike anything in the mainstream literature, dispelling notions of the entrepreneur as a societal misfit, an essential innovator with vision and flair, or a compulsive risk-taker, while confirming success as the key motivator rather than money per se, the importance of significant others, and the influence of culture and gender. They provide fresh insights into the psyche of the entrepreneur, which include: the existence of inner conviction - marrying the concept of goal-directedness with that of making a contribution to society; exercising the virtues in order to support a delicate balance between business and ethical imperatives; learning to respect energy flow; an alternative morality based on attracting and allowing benevolent or serendipitous events to happen naturally and redefining success as ‘being able to create what is needed as and when needed’; focusing one’s energy on the telos; developing a personal marketing formula suited to a culturallydiverse society; and the anxiety associated with being out-there on one’s own. The general statement, which is ultimately distilled from the seven situated descriptions, introduces a theory of entrepreneurial ethics that presents a new and different view of the lived-world of entrepreneurship, consisting of: Firstly, the key components of entrepreneurial success – having clear goals, energy, making a contribution to society, being connected, getting others on board, and work as an extension of self; secondly, what drives entrepreneurs – goal-orientation, sense of personal excitement, inner conviction, autonomy, and external recognition of success; thirdly, the entrepreneurial ethic – concern for credibility, commitment to service, contributing to quality of life; fourthly, the nature of entrepreneurial dilemmas - conflicting responsibilities, authenticity and credibility, risk and expansion, and awareness of diversity; fifthly, how entrepreneurs deal with ethical issues in their own distinctive ways – by holding fast to authentic virtues, bowing to community expectations, avoiding friction, adopting a ‘come-what-may’ or ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude, or pursuing a higher purpose where both parties benefit; sixthly, entrepreneurs’ world -views – beliefs, goals, ways of deriving satisfaction, virtuous behaviour; pen-ultimately, the challenges facing entrepreneurs in South Africa – overcoming the legacies of apartheid, containing crime, fostering an acceptable business ethic, and facilitating reconciliation between ethnic groups; and lastly, finding the power within – that illusive entrepreneurial spirit – self-reliance, looking beyond immediate obstacles, grasping opportunities, and understanding serendipity.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Entrepreneurship, South Africa, Business ethics, Decision making
Subjects:H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Commerce > Management
ID Code:2048
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:04 Oct 2011 13:21
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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