Skill depth or breadth: The entrepreneur’s balancing act

A significant marker of a leading business school is the creation of new knowledge. Goizueta faculty, using rigorous methodologies, focus on researching important problems that affect the practice of business. The following is a sampler of recently created new knowledge.

Peter Roberts, professor of organization and management; Giacomo Negro, associate professor of organization and management; and Anand Swaminathan, Goizueta Chair and professor of organization and management, analyze a sample of Toronto restaurants to test the jack-of-all-trades theory of entrepreneurship, which suggests that founders of new ventures need to accumulate diverse skills. The researchers examine the effect of such broader skill acquisition on the new venture’s output—in this case, the quality assessment of a restaurant’s food by critics and patrons. They find
that when founders start restaurants as chefs, their ventures receive superior food quality ratings if they have more prior kitchen experience. However, prior ownership experience—which broadens the skill sets outside the kitchen – is associated with lower food quality ratings.

The transition from technical specialist to more generalist entrepreneur is not necessarily productive or easily reversible, the authors argue, adding, “with the contradictions inherent across the boundary that separates kitchen work and the more commercial ownership work, it seems important that founders with ownership experience resist the
urge to continue working in the kitchen.” This insight potentially has more general significance, and the researchers recommend future research to test it in different industry settings. Strategic Organization (2013).

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