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Who it is and what it does: finding the "Heffa-Preneur".


The Entrepreneur--fact or fiction? Mover of economic phenomena or incidental character? Certainly the identity of the entrepreneur intrigues us. We know one when we see one. Or, perhaps, the entrepreneur is one because (s)he likes the sound of the word and claims it for personal reasons. For years the debate has continued on what constitutes an entrepreneur.

Since the mid-nineties, (really the mid-eighties), little substantial research has been focused on the entrepreneur (Carland, Carland & Stewart, 2000). While some of the fault of this deficiency can be contributed to entrepreneurial curriculums, or lack thereof (Hebert & Bass, 1995), or the lack of rigor in research (Jackson, Watts & Wright, 1993), much of the fault has to do with our refocus from the entrepreneur to entrepreneurial activity as advocated by Bygrave and Hofer (1991) and Gardner (1991).

The authors advocate that the entrepreneur is still a worthy subject of research, even though we may also follow the trail of entrepreneurial activity. In other words, both research venues may be fruitful for us. The authors offer an historical respective in an effort to stimulate discussion on the value of such an approach.


The search for the source of dynamic entrepreneurial performance has much in common with hunting the Heffalump. The Heffalump is a large and rather important animal. He has been hunted by many individuals using various ingenious trapping devices, but no one so far has succeeded in capturing him. All who claim to have caught sight of him report that he is enormous, but they disagree on his particularities. Not having explored his current habitat with sufficient care, some hunters have used as bait their own favorite dishes and have then tried to persuade people that what they caught was a Heffalump. However, very few are convinced, and the search goes on (Kilby, 1971, 1).

The above statement made by Peter Kilby, borrowing a construct from A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, is one of the most characteristic analogies ever made regarding the study of the entrepreneur. Unfortunately, even after three additional decades since the statement was made, the search continues. As we will see, in further consideration of the search for the Heffalump, a lot has been "observed" but not much is fully known or understood. We do know more about the Heffalump than Milne originally presented.

For example, based on folk lyric, the Heffalump has three ears. He should surely be easy to spot. And, he is enormous, measuring 14 feet from ear to ear. Testimony is that he is deaf even with extra auditory equipment. These characteristics should surely make him easy to find--as should be equally true with the entrepreneur.

And then, there are other characteristics (discovered at different times). For example, independent observers have noted that his eyes are red, his nose is green and his tail is turquoise blue. Surely, if we saw this fellow, we would recognize him. One observer has even reported that the Heffalump has been known to audibly snarf. Surely we can recognize him by the sound.

The hunt has even (allegedly) isolated the location of the Heffalump. He is known to reside in the land of Vildesmeer, which is not too far from Fleeglestown and a bit further from Glarf. With all that help, surely the Heffalump could be found. Alas, he hasn't. Not anymore than the entrepreneur?

One researcher even went so far as to stake a professional career on the sighting of a Heffalump, stating that if the evidence presented was not finally accepted, he would be content to become a bingle.

More seriously (directly) a major dilemma faced by researchers can be drawn from another observation made by G.L.S. Shackle in The Entrepreneur:
 The entrepreneur is a maker of history, but his guide in making it
 is his judgment of possibilities and not a calculation of
 certainties. (Hebert & Link, 1982, viii)

This statement draws attention to two salient points regarding any study of entrepreneurs. First, the importance of the entrepreneur should never be ignored when exploring economic development. Second, any study will be obviously inhibited by the entrepreneur's use of non-quantifiable methods of accomplishing tasks-judgment. What this implies is that many of the activities of the entrepreneur will remain a vast terra incognita due to the intuitive reactions to opportunities that he may make in lieu of logical business decisions. Furthermore, the quote highlights the difficulty of separating what the entrepreneur is from what the entrepreneur does.


Current entrepreneurial literature lacks consensus regarding the definition (the identity) of the entrepreneur (Wortman, 1987; Carland, Carland & Stewart, 2000). In this paper, the authors set out to trace the evolution of thought about the entrepreneur and entrepreneurial activity through several stages of development. A somewhat parallel approach to that of Wren's (1987) paradigm for the study of the development of management thought will be used. Wren's stages, which tend to follow major changes in economic, social and political doctrines include: (1) pre-classical stage; (2) classical stage; (3) neo-classical stage; (4) the modern stage; and, (5) current impetus.

Many attempts have been made to classify the entrepreneur and entrepreneurial activity. As we shall see, the long history of the discussion has resulted in quite a few perspectives, sometimes apparently contradictory, on entrepreneurs and their importance to the economic process. This paper is an attempt to summarize those perspectives and, hopefully, help to clarify our collective points of view. The entrepreneur is, by all accounts, important to economic theory and practice, but just isn't well understood. The paper is offered as a tentative framework for the discussion of this very important phenomenon--the Heffalump, oops! the Entrepreneur.

One is reminded of the efforts of several blind men to describe an elephant. Perspective was important in that effort too. Only by stepping back and looking at the whole thing do we really appreciate what it is we are looking at.


Surely, none of us doubts that the entrepreneur has been among us as long as economic Activity--long before the corporation was even imagined. Obviously the term is new, but the person and activities are as old as history. Early writers who spoke of the phenomenon that we now call entrepreneur were not very complimentary. Aristotle, along with many other Greek observers, held disdain for the entrepreneur based on their support of the zero-sum economic activity theory. This theory held that gain obtained by one individual had to be the result of another man's loss (Aristotle, 1924). The fact that merchants were not allowed citizenship in Greece during this period (Wren, 1987) was probably an outcome of the "constant wealth" or zero-sum philosophy.

Merchants often put their possessions and their lives on the line for sizable potential rewards. Interestingly, while the Greeks seemed to view wealth as a fixed commodity, they did not necessarily view any given city-state's wealth as fixed. Wealth redistribution from other peoples seems to have been okay. Military leaders of this period participated in campaigns with the hope that their risk would lead to substantial economic benefits (Hebert & Link, 1982). These benefits amounted to a forced redistribution from one economy to another. We can almost think of their activities as being economic. Both kinds of persons obviously expected non zero-sum returns for their risk taking. They weren't called entrepreneurs, but these "adventurers" existed nonetheless. The difference in attitude toward them seems to have lain in an inherent belief that wealth redistribution was okay and might be in the national best interest, while wealth creation was not really a viable concept. Alas, Vildesmeer was too far away and the Heffalump wasn't really perceived even if he passed by.

Religious philosophy often represented another inhibiting factor toward entrepreneurial activity during this period. These philosophies also precluded observation and discussion of economic risk-taking. Weber (1958) postulated that:
 ... the ascetic character of [the Catholic Church's] highest ideals
 must have brought up its adherents to a greater indifference toward
 the good things of this world. (p. 40)

By analogy, the Heffalump wasn't really even allowed to pass by. Wealth was often viewed as an evil thing. So, the Heffalump with his wares might even be shot on sight since he didn't fit into the environment. It was not until the mid-eighteenth century that the term entrepreneur and the economic impact of the entrepreneurial activity began to be seriously noticed.


French School

Richard Cantillon (1680-1734), a French banker and businessman, in his Essai sur la nature du commerce en general, was among the first to recognize the role of the entrepreneur in economic development (Hebert & Link, 1982). Cantillon's theory of the entrepreneurial individual was someone (from any economic class) that had the foresight and desire to assume risk and take the initiative to attempt to make a profit in an uncertain world. This is the essence of the first formal definition of the entrepreneur. Cantillon's remarkably familiar view of the entrepreneur went on to stress that this individual would provide a good at the right place, at the right time and at the right price to satisfy a consumer's need (Spengler, 1960). He further argued that the risk involved was not only monetary, but also one associated with opportunity costs of time and expertise (Kanbur, 1980).

Numerous other French economists closed ranks with Cantillon in recognizing the specific existence of the entrepreneur. Three of his compatriots wrote of the entrepreneur but really added nothing to the definition. Specifically, Francois Quesnay (1694-1774), Nicolos Baudeau (1730-1792, and Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) recognized the role of the agricultural entrepreneur (appropriate to the economy of the day), but only Turgot saw implications outside agrarian activity. These French economists saw the entrepreneur as intelligent, wealthy, and a profit seeker (Hebert & Link, 1982).

A little later, another Frenchman-Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) provided notable advancement to economic thought. Say stipulated that the entrepreneur represented the catalyst for the development of products- he was a "superior laborer" (Hoselitz, 1960). Say's work did not, in itself, provide for significant advancement in entrepreneurial thought as that was not his focus. He did not feature "a force for dynamic economic change". However, kernels for advancement of economic speculation on the entrepreneur were now in place.

English School

At the same time that French economic thought was making a place for specific inclusion of the entrepreneur, the English School had its own theorists who began to notice our risk-taker. The best known in the field was Adam Smith (1723-1790). Smith failed to specifically separate the entrepreneur from various other kinds of "industrious people." However, he did offer numerous indirect references to the entrepreneur's role in the economy. For example, Smith recognized innovation as a hallmark of professional activity (Hebert & Link, 1982).

Another Englishman, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), took Smith's philosophy one step further. He categorized the entrepreneur as a "contractor" and one who, through invention, would prosper (Bentham, 1962).

German School

Another country offering a wealth of entrepreneurial pre-theorists, at about the same time, was Germany. J.H. von Thunen (1783-1850) and H.K. von Mangoldt (1824-1868) were two of the more prominent German economists who began to consider entrepreneurs and their contributions to economic wealth. Von Thunen was best known for his description of gain being awarded based on risk involved and ingenuity used (Kanbur, 1980). Mangoldt, on the other hand, recognized innovation as being an important factor of enterprise, yet did not see this as a method of dynamic growth (Hebert & Link, 1982).

The World

The western world did not hold a monopoly on observing entrepreneurial activity during this period. For example, even though specific identities of Japanese economic theorists of the era are not known, we can identify a strong entrepreneurial spirit in Japan's sphere of influence.

"The economic responsiveness demonstrated by these [Japanese] merchants as entrepreneurs leaves little doubt that they could respond to the economic opportunities [as] successfully [as] their European counterparts" (Yamamura, 1973, 182).

It is not surprising, considering the economic climate of the period associated with the industrial revolution, along with a noticeable "shrinking" of the world of commerce that the entrepreneur began to receive so much attention by economic theorists. Dynamic growth was occurring in much of the world (in contrast to the zero-sum game) and an explanation for this phenomenon was needed.

Economic theorists had begun to lay the groundwork for explaining entrepreneurial impact on economic growth. However, consensus on the identity of the entrepreneur or entrepreneurial roles was not even a target, much less an achievement for these thinkers. The entrepreneur was seen variously as: a risk taker (Cantillon, Baudeau, Thunen, Bentham and Mangoldt); a superior laborer (Say & Smith); a highly intelligent person (Cantillon, Quesnay, Baudeau, and Turgot); and, as an innovator (Smith, Bentham, and Mangoldt). This was the period in which the industrial revolution reached its full momentum. This obviously colored the sense of the entrepreneur that emerged during that time. Would scholars of subsequent periods (after 1870) offer any better insights?


As the global economy flourished, theories purporting to identify the entrepreneur abounded. Although the scope of this paper does not allow for an extensive discussion of each, a few eminent scholars do deserve particular consideration.

Max Weber

The full-blown emergence and explication of the protestant work ethic marked the first major transitional period in the development of and specific interest in entrepreneurial thought. Max Weber and his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism should probably be considered a watershed in this development. In addition to emphasizing the importance of economic expansion associated with the movement, Weber offered an explanation and rationale for the existence of two entrepreneurial types.

There was first, that type of entrepreneur that epitomized the protestant ethic as was purposed by the traditional Calvinist:
 The form of organization was in every respect capitalistic; ... But
 it was traditionalistic business; if one considers the spirit which
 animated the [businessman]: the traditional role of profit, the
 traditional manner of regulating the relationships with labour, and
 essentially traditional circle of customers and the manner of
 attracting new ones. All of these dominated the ... business and
 were at the basis of the ethos of this group of businessmen ... The
 ideal type of capitalistic entrepreneur ... avoids ostentation and
 unnecessary expenditures, ... [is] embarrassed by ... social
 recognition, ... and gets nothing out of his wealth except having
 done his job well (Weber, 1958, pp. 67-71).

It was, however, his recognition of a second type of entrepreneur for which Weber gained recognition as a philosopher in the field of entrepreneurship. As will be discussed in more detail in conjunction with consideration of Schumpeter's contributions, it was Weber's "charismatic leader" that served as the vehicle for explaining certain significant changes that were occurring in the economy (Carlin, 1956). Weber described this leader as follows:
 What happened [to disrupt the traditional state of the economy was]
 ... some young man ... would change his marketing methods ... would
 take details into his own hands, would personally solicit customers
 ... would introduce low prices (Weber, 1958, 67-68)

Weber, at this point, tended to support the negative connotation that was so often projected onto this second type of entrepreneur. He went on to suggest that:
 [The entrepreneur's] entry on the scene was not generally peaceful.
 A flood of mistrust, sometimes hatred, above all of more
 indignation, regularly opposed itself to the first innovator (p.

Other Neo-classical Scholars

Although many other truly prominent individual scholars lent their names to the field of entrepreneurial thought during this period, little substance in identifying the exact nature or purpose of the entrepreneur was developed. Generally, the entrepreneur, although recognized, was just a pattern in the wallpaper of the economy. The emphasis was on the emergence of big business. Certainly no consensus as to the "who" and "what" of entrepreneurial phenomena was arrived at amongst these giants in economic thought.

The British School was represented by the likes of Alfred Marshall, Francis Y. Edgeworth, and John Maynard Keynes. Marshall simply echoed the sentiment of the French economist Say that the entrepreneur was a "superior laborer." He did, however, stress that the entrepreneur would, of necessity, exhibit "leadership abilities" (Marshall, 1961). Edgeworth's view of the entrepreneur added little to the observations made by Marshall. Keynes followed the Marshallian doctrine of superior laborer, yet espoused the original concept of "animal spirits"-or a spontaneous urge to action (Keynes, 1964). There is a hint of "inspiration added to motivation" in his thinking.

As the American economy blossomed, so did thinking among entrepreneurship scholars. Among the most widely read and respected were Francis Walker (1840-1897), Fredrick Hawley (1843-1929), John Bates Clark (1847-1938), and Frank Knight (1885-1972). Walker, who actually preceded Marshall, stressed the elements of decision-making and leadership (Hebert & Link, 1982). Hawley reiterated the well-accepted doctrine from Cantillon of risk taker, but placed even more emphasis on the importance of the individual to economic growth (Hawley, 1892). Clark seems to have disagreed with the notion of entrepreneur as "risk-taker" and described the entrepreneur as more of a coordinator of economic activity (Clark, 1907). Knight, to whom risk meant nothing if the uncertainty could be insured, provided two major contributions to entrepreneurial thought:
 First, he [Knight] provided a very useful emphasis on the
 distinction between insurable risks and non-insurable uncertainty.
 Second, he advanced a theory of profit that related this non-
 insurable uncertainty on the one hand to rapid economic change
 and on the other to differences in entrepreneurial ability. (Hebert
 & Link, 1982, 69)

Joseph Schumpeter

Undoubtedly, the most influential scholar in the area of entrepreneurial thought during the Neo-classical period was Joseph A. Schumpeter (1883-1950). As alluded to previously, Schumpeter's entrepreneur was Weber's charismatic leader. To Schumpeter, the entrepreneur was an innovator and was directly responsible for dynamic change in the economy (Carlin, 1956).

Schumpeter was perhaps the first theorist to view the entrepreneur from a multi-faceted perspective. Our subject was no simple phenomenon to him. As a consequence of this more holistic point of view, Schumpeter challenged some notions that seem to have been tacitly, but well, accepted in his time. Remember that the emphasis on the entrepreneur had been developing over a two hundred year period. While Weber's work provided a watershed, Schumpeter began to describe the new recognition and theory of the reality.

Among his more controversial ideas was the proposition that the entrepreneur was not, per se, a risk taker. Although this notion continues to receive considerable debate, some observations of other ideas espoused by Schumpeter help to explain this apparent departure from the "obvious": the idea that Schumpeter's entrepreneur was so superior in ability that there was no risk in failure; or that it was the capitalist, not the entrepreneur, that was at risk (even though the entrepreneur might be a capitalist) (Kanbur, 1980).

The most unique feature ascribed by Schumpeter to the entrepreneur was his "intuitive nature":
 Here the success of everything depends on intuition, the capacity of
 seeing things in a way which afterwards proves to be true, even
 though it cannot be established at the moment, and of grasping
 the essential fact, discarding the unnecessary and, even though
 one can give no account of the principles by which this is done
 (Schumpeter, 1934, 85).

Before entering the Modern era of entrepreneurial thought, it is important to gather those characteristics of the entrepreneur that were in vogue at the end of the Neo-classical period.


As the United States entered a period of economic depression and then World War II, thinking and writing about entrepreneurs declined. What was needed was a large and well-organized economic system to help the nation through those very trying economic times. Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial activity had not disappeared--it's just that their relative priority as an area of investigation had been reduced by larger or more pressing matters.

When the economy recovered from these back-to-back "big hits", the entrepreneur was still there. Modern research was very much shaped by the "social-man" philosophy that had come out of the long period of upheaval in thought. The importance of the individual had, understandably, decreased during that period. In addition, research into phenomena like the entrepreneur had moved from a purely economic perspective to that of a multidisciplinary perspective.

Social-Man Approach

The 1950s and 1960s ushered in a period of affiliation in the place of earlier individualism. This general social-philosophy influenced research in the period. As a consequence, the emphasis of most researchers during this period was that of group interaction rather than personal accomplishments. Obviously, this social-philosophy was a bit counter to what had occurred earlier in thinking about entrepreneurs. Hence, the shift from Neo-classical entrepreneurial thought to early Modern entrepreneurial thought was significant. This new emphasis can be seen in the writings of two prominent theorists from the early part of the period:
 ... for, only in a very small firm can a single individual perform
 all of Marshall's entrepreneurial functions. In most enterprises, a
 hierarchy of individuals is required to perform them. Thus, the
 entrepreneur is in essence an organization. (Harbison, 1956, 364)

There is no theoretical reason why important innovation in role behavior could not rise from inner-conditioning independently of all exogenous factors ... The given innovations or superior ones usually seem to be in process of introduction by several executives. (Cochran, 1965 p. 28)

Harbison was not the only scholar to hold this view that stressed the organization and the individual's place in it. Strauss originally presented this sentiment of the firm as the entrepreneur in 1944 (Gartner, 1988).

Interdisciplinary Approach

Even as the prevailing social-philosophy of the era quickly gave way again to a much more individualistic tone, the emphasis on the entrepreneur as "social-man" quickly gave way to the entrepreneur as individual, as in earlier thought. Numerous researchers (in various disciplines) again found excitement in the entrepreneur as an object of study. The personal characteristics of the person who was the entrepreneur (what the Heffalump is) began to receive a lot of research attention. Therefore (as is apparent in Table 3 below), numerous possible traits of the entrepreneur were proposed and discussed.

Greater and lesser scientific rigor accompanied the various propositions and discussions thereof. Much of the research was based on an eclectic borrowing of ideas from a wide variety of disciplines. With all the foment implied by such an exciting time in the research, it should be no surprise that consensus on the phenomenon of the entrepreneur never developed. Unfortunately, (as will be discussed shortly), this lack of a consensus may very well have shut the door for many researchers interested in furthering and enriching the study of the entrepreneur.


As we have seen, the state of thinking on the entrepreneur is kind of "up-in-the-air". No theoretical consensus has developed. We're pretty sure we'll know one when we see it. We know, in fact, that we have seen them. But, the eyewitness accounts vary significantly dependent largely on the point of view of the observer. That's okay because the observer has no particular reason to have any particular point of view. The discussion reached a (probably desireable) state of flux and then it mostly shut down. This lack of a universally agreed upon framework has gained considerable attention since the discussion tapered off (Hoy, 1988; Carland, Hoy, Boulton & Carland, 1984; Wortman, 1987; d'Amboise & Muldowney, 1988; Hisrich, 1988).

The unfortunate reduction in the discussion that sort of left it unfinished has led some to suggest giving up the search for the Heffalump. Hisrich (1988), for example, proposed that a true scientific theory would (or could) never be developed, and if we continued the search, the entrepreneurial discipline would lose respectability. Gartner (1988) suggested that we declare the existing findings as characteristic of "Everyman" and urged the field to discontinue the search.

It seems that after the 80's, researchers, indeed, gave up the search. We have become content to investigate activity rather than intent. What entrepreneurs do has become the focus and not what they are. At the end of that day, we'll know that the Heffalump hears poorly and that he occasionally snarfs loudly, but we still won't have seen one.

There are those who still want to actually see a Heffalump. Some are still vigorously searching (e.g. the Carlands). For those that continue to look for the land of Vildesmeer where the Heffalump lives-we applaud you and your work. Surely, in Vildesmeer, we will eventually be able to see the Heffalump. But we have to keep looking, even after we get to Vildesmeer.


As is often asked within our political circles-Are we better off now than we were thirty years ago-in terms of understanding entrepreneurial behavior? It is the belief of these authors, that the answer is no, not really. We agree that an elephant is not the same thing as a tree or a snake, but we haven't yet seen for sure what an elephant is.

We seem to have, for whatever reasons, given up on the difficult road. We have elected instead to pursue the downhill path--the path of least resistance. A road more easily navigated, yet one that will surely lead to entrepreneurial research going the way of the dinosaur. Certainly, there is excitement to be found in describing the activities, and their effects, of entrepreneurs and those things are much more easily observed. But if that is all we ever get from the investigation, we will have missed a wonderful opportunity to add to true understanding of why that all happens.

It will not be easy, this search for the mythical creature in a place without maps, but we must pick up the torch and begin anew our search for the Heffalump. If we do not, not only will our understanding of entrepreneurial activity be severely limited, but we will also lose those potential new researchers coming out of doctoral programs that have new curiosities and considerably more energy to contribute to the search. If we don't continue the search for the Heffalump now, who'll take it up later--and when? Will we never see him? Will we only hear the stories and miss the joys of the hunt?


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William T. Jackson, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin

Corbett Gaulden, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin

Walter (Buddy) Gaster, Southeastern Oklahoma State University
Table 1: Pre-Classical & Classical Perspective on the Entrepreneur

Column 1 Column 2

 Disdain Greeks
Semi-heretical Religious authorities
Superior laborer, force for dynamic French School
and economic change, risk taker
Industrious people, contractor, inventor English School
Economically responsive Japanese

Table 2: Neo-Classical Entrepreneurial Traits

 Trait Researcher
 Risk taker Hawley
 Superior (charismatic) leader Marshal, Edgeworth, Keynes,
 Waler, Weber
 Not a risk taker Clark, Knight, Schumpeter
 Intuitive Schumpeter
 Spontaneous actor Keynes
 Superior Laborer Weber, Say

Table 3: Entrepreneurial Characteristics

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3

 1954 Sutton Desire for responsibility
 1959 Hartman Source of formal authority
 1961 McClelland Need for achievement
 1963 Davids Ambition, independence, self-confidence
 1964 Pickle Drive, human relations skills
 1971 Palmer Risk taker
 1973 Winter Need for power
 1974 Borland Internal locus of control
 1977 Gasse Personal value orientation
 1978 Timmons Drive, moderate risk taker
 1980 Sexton Energetic

Source: Carland, Hoy, Bolton & Carland, 1984
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Title Annotation:MANUSCRIPTS
Author:Jackson, William T.; Gaulden, Corbett; Gaster, Walter
Publication:Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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