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Corporate entrepreneurship in the public sector: exploring the peculiarities of public enterprises

  • Entrepreneurship is predominantly treated as a private-sector phenomenon and consequently its increasing importance in the public sector goes largely unremarked. That impedes the research field of entrepreneurship being capable of spanning multiple sectors. Accordingly, recent research calls for the study of corporate entrepreneurship (CE) as it manifests in the public sector where it can be labeled public entrepreneurship (PE). This dissertation considers government an essential entrepreneurial actor and is led by the central research question: What are the peculiarities of the public sector and how do they impact public enterprises’ entrepreneurial orientation (EO)? Accordingly, this dissertation includes three studies focusing on public enterprises. Two of the studies set the scope of this thesis by investigating a specific type of organization in a specific context—German majority-government-owned energy suppliers. These enterprises operate in a liberalized market experiencing environmental uncertainties like competitiveness and business transformation. The aims and results of the studies included in this dissertation can be summarized as follows: The systematic literature review illuminates the stimuli of and barriers to entrepreneurial activities in public enterprises and the potential outcomes of such activities discussed so far. The review reveals that research on EO has tended to focus on the private sector and consequently that barriers to and outcomes of entrepreneurial activities in the public sector remain under-researched. Building on these findings, the qualitative study focuses on the interrelated barriers affecting entrepreneurship in public enterprises and the outcomes of entrepreneurial activities being inhibited. The study adopts an explorative comparative causal mapping approach to address the above-mentioned research goal and the lack of clarity around how barriers identified in the public sphere are interrelated. Furthermore, the study bases its investigation on the different business segments of sales (competitive market) and the distribution grid (natural monopoly) to account for recent calls for fine-grained research on PE. Results were compared with prior findings in the public and private sector. That comparison indicates that the barriers revealed align with aspects discussed in prior research findings relating to both sectors. Examples include barriers associated with the external environment such as legal constraints and barriers originating from within the organization such as employee behavior linked to a value system that hampers entrepreneurial action. However, the most important finding is that a public enterprise’s supervisory board can hinder its progress, a finding running counter to those of previous private-sector research and one that underscores the widespread prejudice that the involvement of a public shareholder and its nominated board of directors has a negative effect on EO. The third study is quantitative (data collection via a questionnaire) and builds on both its predecessors to examine the little understood topic of board behavior and public enterprises’ social orientation as predictors of EO. The study’s results indicate that social orientation represses EO, whereas board strategy control (BSC) does not seem to predict EO. Regarding BSC, we find that the local government owners in our sample are less involved in BSC. The third study also examines board networking and finds its relationship with EO depends on the ownership structure of the public-sector organization. An important finding is that minority shareholders, such as majority privately-owned enterprises and hub firms, repress EO when engaging in board networking. In summary, this doctoral thesis contributes to the under-researched topic of CE in the public sector. It investigates the peculiarities of this sector by focusing on the supervisory board and social oriented activities and their impact on the enterprise’s EO in the quantitative study. The thesis addresses institutional questions regarding ownership and the last study in particular contributes to expanding resource dependence theory, and invites a nuanced perspective: The original perspective suggests that interorganizational arrangements like interfirm network ties and equity holdings reduce external resource dependency and consequently improve firm performance. The findings within this thesis expose resource delivery to potential contrary effects to extend the understanding of interorganizational action with important implications for practice.

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Author of HS ReutlingenTremml, Timo
Publisher:Universität Hohenheim
Place of publication:Hohenheim
Referee:Bernd Ebersberger, Sabine LöbbeORCiD
Referee of HS Reutlingen:Löbbe, Sabine
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Publication year:2021
Date of final exam:2021/03/25
Tag:board; entrepreneurship; governance; public enterprise
Page Number:117
Dissertation note:Dissertation, Universität Hohenheim, 2021
DDC classes:330 Wirtschaft
Open access?:Ja
Licence (German):License Logo  Open Access