Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice:
A Historical and Behind-the-Scenes Perspective
By D. Ray Bagby, Ph.D.
The Early Years
Although Karl Vesper had established an interest group in entrepreneurship within the Academy of Management (AoM) in 1974, the word entrepreneurship was used rarely prior to 1980. Small business was the field from which the entrepreneurship field primarily evolved. The new field was also aided by the development of the field of business policy (a.k.a. strategic management) which began to grow in the late 1970s. This latter field was focused on the general and long-term management of a firm, and tended to focus on large established firms and was not interested in startup aspects, at least in the early days. The Business Policy and Strategy Division (BPS) was one of the first nine divisions of AoM announced in 1971. About 65% of the people involved in the founding and growth of the field of entrepreneurship during the early 1980s identified as members of the BPS Division.
Small business as a field had begun to develop in the late 1940s. The University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) began to host the Rencontres de St. Gall, a biennial meeting to discuss research on small and medium-sized firms in 1948. A limited number of scholars from around the world were invited, and it continues today. In 1952 they founded the journal Internationales Gewerbearchiv (IGA) to publish small business research. Publication was in the German language and it continues under the name Zeitschrift fur KMU und Entrepreneurship (ZfKE).
In the United States, President Eisenhower’s administration authorized the establishment of the U.S. Small Business Administration on July 30, 1953 to “maintain and strengthen the nation’s economy by enabling the establishment and viability of small businesses.” It was also to aid in economic recovery of communities affected by disasters. This act was a catalyst for the formation of the National Council for Small Business Management Development (NCSBMD) in 1955. This organization attracted academics and consultants who had an interest in assisting in the development of small businesses in the U.S. In later years, members from Canada were added to its rolls. Annual meetings were generally hosted at universities, with the last such one being held at Baylor University in 1981.
By this time, because of the growing number of Canadian members and interest of those from other countries, the name of the organization had been changed during 1978-79 to the International Council of Small Business (ICSB). And in 1979, the Canadian members formed the first affiliate organization, the Canadian Council for Small Business. In 1981, the U.S. Affiliate of the ICSB was formed, but the name was changed in 1984 at a meeting organized by Max Wortman to the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE).
In 1963 the Journal of Small Business Management began publication as a partnership between NCSBMD and West Virginia University to publish research in the growing field. This partnership continued until the 1990s when ICSB would take total control of the journal. Then in 1976 the University of Baltimore (UB), in conjunction with Dr. Narendra G. Bhandari, launched the American Journal of Small Business (AJSB).
The Emergence of Entrepreneurship
In the late 1970s and early 1980s courses in entrepreneurship began to appear in more business school curriculums. By 1984-85 three schools began to offer multiple courses with concentrations/majors in entrepreneurship; they were Babson College, University of Southern California and Baylor University (BU). This was also when I became the Executive Editor of AJSB.
By this time Dr. Bhandari had moved to another university and two other people had been successively appointed to run the journal. Unfortunately, the journal had suffered some decline from its earlier success, which is not uncommon when succession is based upon a small pool of people, not unlike in family firms. One of my predecessors told me upon my appointment in April 1984 that I was receiving a good deal because I would get a three-hour reduction in teaching load and he spent less than three hours a week working on the journal. This revelation undoubtedly explained most of the problems I encountered initially.
When I began, the journal had a separate office, but no typewriter. The only administrative help consisted of six hours of time by a young college work-study student. There were no paper back-up files for subscriptions that were being maintained on a computer by a high school student who seemed to be prone to making errors. The journal was obviously in financial distress and had no well-defined mission. It was trying to be all things to all people and only an editorial review process was being used to select manuscripts. Printing was done at a local newspaper, which I was told was the most economical way (and that also turned out to be wrong). In order to use that printer, typeset files had to be proofed by me and then cut and pasted in the desired format to be printed. This was not an effective use of editorial time, but the early days had to be spent trying to establish some form of administrative control.
Fortunately, my mentor, Vince Luchsinger, was incredibly supportive and even donated his Osborne computer (with 4” screen) to the journal to allow me to assume better control of the administration and to work more efficiently. Then a new department chair, Roger Roderick, devoted a new office (near mine) for the journal and eventually obtained a part-time administrative assistant that freed me to begin to work on other more important matters. For example, I no longer had to keep the subscriber data base, print mailing labels, sort journal mailings according to USPS second-class postage regulations and deliver them to the post office in my car to be mailed.
hortly after assuming my duties, I attended the 1984 meeting of USASBE (where the name was modified). This allowed me to be introduced to many new people who were leaders in the field and to learn more about the industry in which I was operating. Such introductions and knowledge were particularly important, if you understand that when I became an editor, I had only my first manuscript accepted for publication, but not yet published.
While I was later able to meet the editors of other journals in the field, the most important development was the impending launch of the Journal of Business Venturing (JBV) by Elsevier Publishing and edited by Ian MacMillan, then at New York University. I had already decided that AJSB should be positioned as a scholarly journal and realized that this new journal would raise the credibility of the field. I also realized that having only one high quality outlet was risky for authors of quality papers and decided to position AJSB as the alternative publication outlet for those papers. This clarity of mission and primary goal informed later decisions. However, other events helped to shape the path of the journal.
First, I was visited by a sales representative from the Sheridan Press and soon learned how important a printer was in the publication process. Not only did Sheridan permit more efficient operation and better-quality publications, but they were also less expensive than the process being used. Second, one of my graduate students was a graphic design artist whom I was able to hire to improve the physical appearance of the journal. It was designed to be more like the Academy of Management journals of the day, for obvious reasons. Third, Gene Gomolka, then VP of Publications for USASBE, approached me about becoming the official journal of USASBE, and we began that relationship in 1987. Under the arrangement, members of USASBE received a subscription to AJSB and members were considered for positions of the staff of the journal, when deemed qualified. The interest group for entrepreneurship that had been formed years earlier within AoM met at the 1984 annual meeting and I recall that there were less than 30 of us there. However, the energy was great and under the leadership of Bill Gartner and other young scholars it grew rapidly and became a division in 1986. When Jack Pearce was serving as the first Chair, Entrepreneurship Division, he asked if we could form a relationship between the division and the journal, similar to that of USASBE. Unfortunately, the Board of Governors of the Academy was not favorable to such an arrangement in those days. And this relationship would continue to prove elusive for several reasons even in later years. Still the increasing membership and the growing quality of research generated by the division members and the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference (BCERC) meetings began to provide growth and credibility to the field and better-quality manuscripts for the journals.
When the mission and primary objective became clear, it was also clear that the journal needed to attract people with good reputations to publish in the journal and serve on the editorial staff. Some of the earliest scholars to get on board were Neil Churchill, Chuck Hofer, Frank Hoy, Duane Ireland, and Robert Ronstadt. As things were beginning to improve, Duane Ireland invited me to interview for a faculty position at Baylor University. When I was interviewing in early 1988, Dean Richard Scott asked if there was anything that might keep me from accepting an offer. I replied that I had spent almost four years building up AJSB, and if I were to leave the University of Baltimore it would certainly collapse. So, he asked if UB would be willing to sell the journal, and I thought that was a definite possibility because it would allow them to retrieve the financial investment they had made. I was offered the position, able to broker the sale of the journal to BU, and this was undoubtedly the best thing that could have happened to the journal.
In late spring 1988, Duane Ireland and I met with Frank Hoy to discuss a new name for the journal and how we could continue to improve it. The name was problematic for several reasons, including that many had already been claimed at the Library of Congress, though several never actually were used. At the BCERC meeting in June, Frank and I were meeting for breakfast and happened upon Neil Churchill, who suggested the name Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. While it was an interesting possibility, we continued to think about it. After arriving at Baylor later in June 1988, the name problem continued to vex us. A college work-study student in the Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship observed the stress it was causing, especially because we had an impending issue that needed to be published. So, she suggested that we all gather to pray about it. And the rest is history! Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice (ET&P) began publication in the fall of 1988, free of debt and with much better support than it had ever had. Terry Roller in the Fine Arts Department at Baylor provided the graphic design that would define and identify the journal for years to come.
The Growth Period
More people were becoming involved in publishing in the journal and in making the editorial decisions, so that quality levels were continuously improving. Two who would serve for a long time and make significant contributions were Barbara Bird and Jim Chrisman, both of whom would ultimately serve as Senior Editors. In 1991, Frank Hoy became the Editor of the journal. Having the editorship rotate was one of the things we thought may be helpful to the reputation of the journal. Of course, these were the days when manuscripts were mailed in paper format for submission. So, the change of mailing address caused some confusion, and more importantly caused people to believe that the journal was owned by the University of Texas-El Paso. This misconception ended the grand experiment of rotating the editor position. However, Frank had laid a good framework for the future, using Marilyn Taylor as Associate Editor and introducing cases into the content, for example. While hereafter I would retain the top position of Executive Editor, decision editors were added to the staff. The first four were: Bill Bygrave, Jim Chrisman, Kelly Shaver, and Mike Wright. Thus, others were able to be introduced into the decision-making process and influence journal content. And this proved to be beneficial for a variety of reasons.
In the early 1990s the journal was still primarily a U.S. dominated/oriented publication, although some Editorial Review Board members from Canada and Europe were beginning to appear. Around 1994-95, Sara Carter, whom I had met at the 1988 USASBE meeting when she was a doctoral student, asked me why we never published any manuscripts from Europe. At the time, we had an acceptance rate of around 15% and we had only received one submission from Europe in the previous year, so I asked her to do the math. Sara, by the way, would go on to make very solid contributions to the journal, from ad hoc reviewer to Senior Editor.
Sara had asked an insightful question and from that time on a concerted effort was made to increase international diversity of both content and participation. Fortunately, this was not difficult as both AoM and the BCERC were experiencing increased participation from people outside of the U.S. Also, the introduction of the Internet helped overcome the problems of sending paper manuscripts for review from overseas locations; email became the new standard for submission and the review process.
Interestingly, an international publication would very soon have a significant impact on the credibility of ET&P. In the latter part of the 1990s, Jim Chrisman called to tell me that the Financial Times had included ET&P on their list of the top 35 most influential business journals in the world. Though many of us had thought quality was improving, this recognition would prove to be invaluable. Attempts to be included in the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) were not meeting with success, which was not an unusual outcome. For example, Ian MacMillan confided to me that it took five tries for JBV to be accepted.
Still, this was an important and necessary rite of passage and it prompted me to consider partnership with a commercial publisher. Although I had resisted offers for years because of wanting to keep prices low in order to foster wider distribution, the goal of obtaining SSCI inclusion began to tip the scales. However, it was not the only reason for considering such a move. Technology was increasing online considerations and becoming more international required expanding logistics for the distribution of paper copies. After considering the options Blackwell Publishing was selected. They had a good reputation based on a journal orientation, and they were an international firm that was the best fit with the journal mission and its needs.
Coming of Age
In 2002, publication began in partnership with Blackwell and in 2003 we became included in the SSCI, beginning with the Fall issue (Vol. 28, No. 1). Two years later when our first impact factor was announced as about 1.5, the journal received great traction. Believe it or not, an impact factor over 1.0 was relatively rare and considered very good in those days. In 2006, the impact factor increased to 2.1 and it was one of the few years that we exceeded that of JBV; the Journal of Marketing was #1 then at 4.8. But as Dean Shepard, who became editor of JBV, and I discussed some years later, it is not about winning or having the highest ranking. We needed each other to prosper and improve. As the field grew and more quality journals emerged, it would be better for all.
Blackwell proved to be an excellent choice for a partner. For example, they worked with ScholarOne and developed Manuscript Central, an online platform, which changed the way manuscripts could be submitted, evaluated, published, etc. ET&P began to use this system in 2007.
Another beneficial partnership developed in 2003 with the Theories of Family Enterprise conferences, begun by Jim Chrisman, Jess Chua and Lloyd Steier. We would devote a special issue each year to articles selected from the conference by a vigorous review process. One of the more exciting outcomes was the fact that one of the articles from the May 2005 special issue, by Michael Ensley and Allison Pearson, was featured on the May 7, 2005 Today Show on NBC, beginning with a wonderful close-up of the journal cover and logo. I do not think many scholarly journals can claim an appearance on the Today Show. Pure serendipity, but we will take it! This partnership continued until 2018, and I believe had a profound effect on the overall success of the journal and the field.
Perhaps one of the most notable accomplishments was that articles published in ET&P won the Greif Center Research Impact Award at the AoM meetings in 2015, 2017 and 2018. This award is based on the most citations over the previous ten years.
For about ten years, I had formed a relationship with Cynthia Nalevanko at Sage Publications. She was interested in recruiting the journal to SAGE, but I had been comfortable with Blackwell, even after it was acquired by Wiley. However, I had mentioned my problem finding a successor to her. So, at a dinner in conjunction with the 2014 AoM meeting in Philadelphia, she presented me with an offer from SAGE to purchase the journal. Such a transfer would allow the editor position to rotate throughout the field and provide Baylor with an extremely favorable return on its investment in the journal. In 2015, with the support and concurrence of Dean Terry Maness and Kendall Artz, then the Chair of the Entrepreneurship Department, and the Baylor administration, a contract was executed to transfer ownership of the journal on December 31, 2017 (when the contract with Wiley expired). We believed that it was the best course of action for the journal, the field of entrepreneurship and Baylor. And Johan Wiklund was chosen to be the Editor-in-Chief beginning with the January 2018 issue.
Under Baylor, the journal had flourished and grown. The 2019 impact factor, based upon the last two years of articles accepted under our administration, was 10.750 and ranked us as the #2 journal in the field of business.
In this brief history, I have tried to focus on “inflection points.” While I have tried to mention those people who contributed significantly to the success of the journal, obviously I was not able to include everyone. I do want now to mention my administrative assistants/managing editors who played a significant role, but were behind the scenes, so to speak. They were: Fadene Shirley, Valerie Baffa, Sarah Downs, Sharon Johnson Bracken, Anne Merchant and Amy Easley. Their contributions cannot be overstated. Hopefully, others who were not mentioned will be known by their visibility on the staff/editorial review boards over the years because it was truly a team effort. While I am able to provide the overall perspective, it was the work of hundreds of dedicated people who are responsible for the journal’s success. I do want to mention also my mentor in graduate school and dissertation chair, Angelo DeNisi, who taught me the research skills I needed. And I also want to thank Danny Miller for his support and encouragement throughout my tenure and particularly for his service as a Contributing Editor in recent years. What a blessing to have been able to work with so many talented and wonderful people!
It was my pleasure to serve as Executive Editor from April 1984-December 2017. However, Baylor University deserves so much of the credit for its growth and development. Thanks to BU, the journal is in good hands and positioned well for the future. May ET&P always be a significant contributor to the field.