Transcending Death Through Organizational Birth

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Fox, Matthew J.


Wade-Benzoni, Kimberly A

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In this dissertation, I develop and test a theory linking the legacy motive to entrepreneurship. After examining evidence in support of the desire to make a lasting impact as a source of motivation for the founders of new organizations, I propose that the importance of this motive has been overlooked, due to a lack of conceptual clarity regarding the legacy construct. I argue that examining the relationship between entrepreneurship and the legacy motive contributes greatly to understanding of both phenomena. I develop a theory of entrepreneurial legacies, in which I explain how understanding the connection between the legacy motive and entrepreneurship requires recognizing the variety of lasting impacts different people can choose to pursue. I then examine the implications of the different desired legacies for the entrepreneurs and their organizations, particularly for critical funding decisions at the beginning of the new venture, and for decisions related to succession, when the organization needs to replace the founder. Next, I conducted two studies to examine the effects of the legacy motive on entrepreneurial decision making. In the first study, I tested the relative strength of the legacy motive among firm founders and those who work for others. I developed new measures of the intended benefits and beneficiaries of a legacy, to examine their relationship to each other and related variables using an online sample of engineers. I found that engineers high on the legacy motive are more likely to indicate founding the firm they currently work for, own more of their current employer, and have filed more patents. In the second study, I conducted a qualitative examination of medical startups, examining the processes that led executives in these firms to the current stage of their careers, and the elements of their work lives that they experience as meaningful. Finally, I discuss the implications of the link between the entrepreneurship and the legacy motive, and the different ways in which people define what makes these two constructs meaningful.





Fox, Matthew J. (2015). Transcending Death Through Organizational Birth. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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