Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Stewart Thornhill


Underperforming ventures are those whose performance falls short of the owner-manager’s expectations for a long period of time but whose future is not a clear failure. Persistence decisions about underperforming ventures are influenced by the environment and individual characteristics. Previous research leaves two research gaps. First, our knowledge about which and how individual characteristics may affect owner-managers’ persistence decisions is still limited. Furthermore, owner-managers assume multiple roles in society and have opportunities to imagine a different future. Their decisions thus are affected by role demands and perceptions of the future. The growing interest in contextualizing entrepreneurship suggests the importance of putting persistence decisions in a broad social context and investigating the complexity of owner-managers’ persistence decisions when owner-managers are facing multiple influences from the decision context.

To fill in the above two research gaps, I put persistence decision making in a decision context consisting of venture attachment, family time pressure, social approval pressure, and personal options outside the venture. In this dissertation, I strive to address one research question: how do the decision context and two self-images—psychological capital and fear of failure—jointly influence owner-managers’ persistence decisions? I designed a metric conjoint experiment to answer this question. The experiment consists of 33 decision scenarios, each of which is a combination of a certain level of the above-mentioned four decision context factors. Ninety owner-managers of small- and medium-sized enterprises participated in my study, and were asked to indicate the extent to which they would want to persist with a hypothetical underperforming venture under each scenario. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to analyze the data.

The analysis yielded three important findings. First, owner-managers’ persistence decisions are influenced by all four decision factors, but in different manners. Venture attachment and social approval pressure are positively related to the likelihood of persistence, whereas family time pressure and the number of personal options are negatively associated with the likelihood of persistence. Owner-managers give the highest weight to venture attachment, followed by the number of personal options, family time pressure, and social approval pressure. Second, owner-managers’ persistence decision making is a balancing act between different present roles and between the present roles and perceptions of the future. For example, family time pressure weakens the relationship between venture attachment and the likelihood of persistence, whereas social approval pressure strengthens the relationship between venture attachment and the likelihood of persistence. The opportunities for imagining a different future, represented by the number of personal options, also attenuate the impact of venture attachment on the likelihood of persistence. Finally, psychological capital and fear of failure do interact with the decision context to influence owner-managers’ persistence decisions after controlling for several personal and environmental factors. More importantly, different components of psychological capital and fear of failure play different roles in explaining the heterogeneity of owner-managers’ persistence decision policies. Whereas psychological capital is an approach-oriented factor and functions as a set of psychological resources that owner-managers can draw upon to strengthen the impact of some motivational factors (e.g., social approval) on persistence, fear of failure is an avoidance-oriented factor and drives owner-managers to make decisions in a manner to avoid upsetting important others, shame, embarrassment, or an uncertain future.

This dissertation makes important contributions to entrepreneurial persistence research, venture attachment research, the fear of failure literature, and the psychological capital literature.