Origins and Opportunity: 150 Years of New Zealand Entrepreneurship

By Hunter, Ian; Wilson, Marie | Journal of Management and Organization, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Origins and Opportunity: 150 Years of New Zealand Entrepreneurship


Hunter, Ian, Wilson, Marie, Journal of Management and Organization


ABSTRACT

In this examination of New Zealand entrepreneurship in the period 1840 to 1990, we document the origins of New Zealand entrepreneurs, and explore the differences between New Zealand, UK, and United States entrepreneurial history. Historical data is further analysed to depict the rise of alternative entrepreneurial growth strategies and the evolution of industry and financing structures, unique to the New Zealand business environment.

Keywords: entrepreneurship; New Zealand; business history; origins

François Crouzet's (1982) book, The First Industrialists: The Problem of Origins, was an important addition to a debate that has continued in economic history for many years: Who are the enterprising class? What are their origins? Using systematic analysis of 226 founders of large industrial firms in Britain between 1750 and 1850, Crouzet dissected the 'rags-to-riches' myth of the self-made man where one rises from abject poverty to a lofty position of wealth, popularized through works such as Self-Help by Samuel Smiles (1859). Through examining the social and occupational origins of pioneers on a more systematic basis, Crouzet demonstrates that very few industrial founders were from the lowest orders of society. Instead, the origins of most were firmly in the middle classes, where the acceleration of industrial and economic growth produced by the Industrial Revolution, permitted them the opportunity to pursue greater levels of upward mobility. Crouzet's work brought a new level of precision to previous accounts of entrepreneurship in Britain, aiding our understanding of the entrepreneurial class. However, what of other countries and territories? What can origins-type research tell us about the pattern of entrepreneurship in these places?

In this paper, we make a contribution to this international research stream from a New Zealand perspective, using a case analysis of 178 entrepreneurs. Collectively, the business careers of these entrepreneurs span approximately 150 years of New Zealand history, from annexation as a British Colony in 1840 until the 1990s. Because of this, the article also addresses an obvious gap in existing New Zealand historical research as concerns the entrepreneur.

While contemporary interest in the New Zealand entrepreneur is well-documented from obstacles to internationalization (Chetty 2003), and financial and regulatory requirements (McMillan 2004; Frederick 2004) to issues of industry (Spiller & Erakovic 2004; de Bruin 2005) and ethnicity (Zhu, Frederick & Walker 2004), little research has been undertaken on the historical profile and economic behaviour of the New Zealand entrepreneur in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Ville 2000; Hunter & Morrow 2006). Was the background of the New Zealand entrepreneur different from that identified by Crouzet and others? Are their patterns of enterprise unique?

This article is structured in three parts. Part 1 offers a brief literature review of origins research considering both UK and United States research on the origins of the entrepreneurial class as well as research done on the nature of New Zealand entrepreneurship. In Part 2 we examine the methodology adopted for the study, considering some of the particular problems inherent in undertaking historical research on entrepreneurship, particularly within the New Zealand context. Part 3 presents the findings of an analysis of 178 New Zealand entrepreneurs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We consider these as two cohorts. Splitting the sample by century provides opportunity to make comparisons between the nature of 19th century and early 20th century New Zealand entrepreneurship, and extend existing research (Hunter 2005). We suggest that while there are some clear similarities across both centuries as regards New Zealand entrepreneurship- such as use of personal capital, use of networks, and the proliferation of family businesses-there are also differences concerning the outward orientation of entrepreneurs, the influence of foreign-born entrepreneurs, strategy, and firm structure. …

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