Prof Honored for Influential Entrepreneurship Work
Strategic Management Paper from 1996 Remains One of Most Cited in Field
Oct. 28, 2009
While many businesses have come and gone during the last decade, UT Dallas Professor Gregory Dess’ landmark research paper on entrepreneurship has weathered the test of time and laid the groundwork for future research.
The Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management awarded Dess, an internationally recognized business strategy expert who holds the Andrew R. Cecil Endowed Chair in Applied Ethics in the School of Management, and co-author Tom Lumpkin the “Foundational Award” at its August IDEA Awards dinner in Chicago.
The annual gathering of research pioneers, thought leaders, emerging scholars and top-tier journal editors recognizes entrepreneurial work considered foundational, leading or promising.
The academy honored Dess and Lumpkin, professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University, for a theoretical paper they published in the Academy of Management Review in 1996 for its “classic and highly influential contribution to entrepreneurship research that serves as a legacy for scholarly work in the field.” The work, “Clarifying the Entrepreneurial Orientation Construct and Linking it to Performance,” has been cited in nearly 1,400 papers and journal articles since publication.
Dess and Lumpkin worked on the study when Dess was a professor at UT Arlington and Lumpkin was a doctoral student. They have since co-authored many papers and are currently wrapping up the fifth edition of Strategic Management, a textbook used in universities worldwide.
The award-winning paper explores relationships between a firm’s entrepreneurial behavior and its performance by explaining how five primary dimensions — innovation, risk-taking, proactiveness, competitive aggressiveness and autonomy — combine with particular business practices to create high performance.
“We’ve all heard the saying that if you torture the numbers enough, they’ll confess,” Dess said. “With so many sophisticated quantitative modeling and analytical techniques available, I think sometimes researchers lose track of the question. But there are some really excellent empirical papers, so we’re just pleased that they did give some consideration to a purely theoretical paper.”
Although prior work on the subject argued that entrepreneurship is an essential feature of high-performing firms, earlier researchers were unable to capitalize on the studies for future investigations on the link between entrepreneurship and performance.
“We were able to synthesize a lot of previous research that identified certain aspects of the whole idea of being entrepreneurial and what it means, and then were able to link certain outcomes, depending upon what was happening in a firm’s environment,” Dess said.
What they learned, he said, was that “if you’re in a rapidly moving dynamic environment, it’s probably better to be entrepreneurial – take risks – than to be in a very static, slowing environment where the goal is to maybe lower costs, for example.”
One aspect of the study focused on firms’ “risk-taking behavior,” or their willingness to incur heavy debt or make large resource commitments to seize opportunities in the marketplace, potentially yielding high returns. Companies that encourage innovation, but don’t have efficient methods to measure risks may stumble, Dess said. A company that spends money on innovation should track progress by setting benchmarks “so they’re not throwing the proverbial good money after bad.”
The study, Dess said, has practical implications for managers: “In two words: avoid truisms. There are so many articles out there that say to be first or forget it. Only the risk-takers succeed. One article in Forbes was titled ‘Innovate or Die.’ So there are all these truisms that are simplistic that managers grasp on to.”
“I’m not saying you need to read every academic article out there, but at least be sensitive to the fact that relationships can be more complex than that. It’s not always a linear relationship: the more, the better, and that’s what we try to get at in the paper,” Dess said.
Dess recently ranked in the top 50 on a list of scholars who have had the greatest impact on the field of management over the last quarter-century. In an article published in the Journal of Management in April 2000, Dess was ranked No. 36 in a list of 150 top business scholars most often cited in scholarly journals from 1981 to 2004.
He received a Bachelor of Industrial and Systems Engineering degree from Georgia Tech, an MBA from Georgia State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. In 2000, he was inducted as one of 33 charter members of the Academy of Management Journal’s Hall of Fame.
He came to UT Dallas in 2002, from the University of Kentucky, where he held the Carol Martin Gatton Endowed Chair in Leadership and Strategic Management. In addition to strategic management, his primary research interests center on entrepreneurship and knowledge management.
Although the subject matter in his graduate classes in strategic management is demanding, Dess provides comic relief from the serious, sometimes tedious, business of learning with his wicked sense of humor.
“The role of a professor, after all, is not to create disorder, but to preserve it,” Dess said, paraphrasing one of the many humorous quotes from famous baseball player Yogi Berra.
Dess incorporates “academic” humor both in and outside the classroom. Laughter is always alive and well in Professor Dess’ classroom.
“In my classrooms, there’s usually a split vote. Half the class dislikes me, and the other half hates me. I set rather realistic goals,” Dess joked. “As long as I don’t get hit, I consider it a good semester.”