The consequences of the recent economic crisis have shown the need for promoting certain key skills in future entrepreneurs to create enterprises that are capable of producing added value, generating employment and remaining solvent or growing in a competitive and highly volatile environment. Such an example is the European Commission’s statement, which in mid-2009, already considered that developing an economic, social and educational environment that fostered entrepreneurial skills among young people and that provided a proper environment for entrepreneurship was the main action plan to combat youth unemployment [1
]. To that end, countless measures have gone into effect in Spain, with more or less success, starting with Act 14/2013 of Support to Entrepreneurs and Investors (Ley de Emprendedores
) promoted by the Government of Zapatero and ending with a large number of programs of study and university studies adapted and more oriented to the labor market and entrepreneurship [2
However, in taking a first glance at the media, one may observe that the global economic and financial crisis has resulted in a marked crisis of values, a certain lack of ethics and, in some cases, a significant disregard for the legal, environmental and even social setting [5
International cases, such as Volkswagen (prosecution falsifying pollution levels in some of their models) and Lehman Brothers (product commercialization without any ethical consideration), or national cases, such as Bankia (they sold toxic financial products), highlight that, in times of crisis, certain business leaders place their self-interest above the interests of other stakeholders and, naturally, above those of the general public. They prioritize results based on individual benefits over stakeholder or customer interests, with scarce considerations in terms of sustainability or ethics. This phenomenon is the so-called short-term culture [10
]. Therefore, the issue is not simply a matter of creating more businesses, but rather, a model based on organizations with strong sustainable values in the long term.
Confronting this dichotomy, the present study aims to clarify the effects of promoting entrepreneurial skills in future leaders and, more precisely, to observe whether, in a crisis environment, negative consequences prevail in the form of short-termism for the future entrepreneur/manager or, on the contrary, whether entrepreneurial skills have a positive effect on the future entrepreneur/manager’s perception as regards managerial sustainability, which is defined as the achievement of economic goals that are socially and environmentally responsible [14
A survey was developed and distributed to contrast the present theory. A total of 339 students who had taken a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) in 2013–2014 and 2014–2015 responded to this survey; they were asked about relevant aspects related to entrepreneurial skills, the commitment to the environment and the commitment to society. It is precisely in this respect that the present study adds value to the existing academic literature. [17
] emphasize the scarcity of studies relating entrepreneurial skills to social and environmental values in different environments and the lack of articles focused on sustainable entrepreneurship from the perspective of the organizational leader’s skills and values instead of the traditional managerial perspective.
MBA students present a suitable profile for performing this type of study, because their academic background is very diverse, and additionally, once they finish their studies, they typically perform tasks in which entrepreneurial skills are very present [18
], either because some of the MBA students decide to create their own business or because they tend to be employees occupying executive positions. The analysis of aspects related to skills and entrepreneurial initiative has already been explained in prior studies with MBA students [19
This article makes a series of original contributions to research conducted in different ways. First, the study analyzes the impact of entrepreneurial skills on the disposition to begin a sustainable business venture. Second, it also analyzes a group destined to be an essential part of the future business sector: MBA students. Third, it performs an empirical study in a crisis environment. Forth, the study incorporates a methodological novelty by utilizing a second-order construct that adds the primary entrepreneurial skills to the model to contrast. Fifth and finally, it introduces future lines of research that, to date, have not been addressed and may provide useful and necessary information for a proper definition of the public policies intended to promote the creation of sustainable enterprises.
The rest of the article is organized as follows. Section 2
offers a literature review regarding entrepreneurial skills and sustainability. Section 3
describes the methodology through an empirical study. Section 4
presents a quantitative analysis. The last section of this document is devoted to the analysis of the obtained results, the conclusions based on the empirical study and the proposals for future lines of research.
2. Literature Review
2.1. Entrepreneurial Skills in a Crisis Environment
Economic crises are a recurring subject in economics [23
]. They are characterized by periods of limited growth, recession or stagnation of the GDP (gross domestic product), with consequences in the distribution of resources and a range of social effects [24
During the years 2008 and 2009, the global economy experienced its most severe financial crisis since the 1930s [25
]. This recession led to the collapse and government bailout of some of the most important financial institutions in Europe and the U.S., in some cases, forcing the partial nationalization of these institutions, in addition to the reformulation of the main monetary and fiscal policy programs and the adoption of structural measures [28
The effects of this crisis have been thoroughly studied in the literature, although there is no consensus on establishing how the economic crisis affects entrepreneurial activities. According to [24
], the crisis situation may act as an agent of change for discovering new opportunities and generating innovation. However, for other authors, such as [30
], crisis situations negatively affect entrepreneurial attitude, reducing the recognition of new opportunities and the investment in innovation; therefore, one of the characteristics observed is the decline in entrepreneurship in these moments of crisis [31
Other studies regarding the crisis conclude that, in times of deep recession, businesses adopt a series of internal measures to maintain their profitability [32
] and ensure their long-term survival. Some of the internal measures described by [32
] are imitated by entrepreneurs who create enterprises in times of crisis [33
In addition to the internal measures, several external factors favor the creation of enterprises in certain areas and cities, such as policies supporting entrepreneurial initiative [34
To outline policies that foster entrepreneurship [4
], one must be aware of basic competences, so that entrepreneurs can perform their role efficiently. In this context, a thorough understanding of such skills helps guide educational policies and curricula, taking into account the growing weight of the subjects and content related to the entrepreneur’s skills and the entrepreneurial projects not only in business schools and economics and business faculties, but also in the field of science [2
Due to the increasing significance of entrepreneurship in the educational system, the question that arises is which entrepreneurial skills are required and which educational approach is the best. In one of his most cited studies on entrepreneurial skills, [18
] concludes that, for the entrepreneur to be successful in an entrepreneurial initiative process, he or she does not require a single skill, but a set of skills that should show a certain balance amongst them. Amongst these required competences, three major entrepreneurial skills, recognized by the academic literature, can be distinguished. [35
] propose three basic skills that are necessary to perform a successful entrepreneurial task. One skill is the competency of alertness, which measures the entrepreneur’s ability to recognize new business opportunities where others cannot identify them. The second is the creative competency, which measures the ability to provide a different and innovative approach when faced with a new problem; and finally, there is self-consciousness, which is a competency of self-criticism and the ability to evaluate your own ideas and the ideas of others with the aim of improving.
The available empirical evidence shows that students who possess such entrepreneurial skills generally obtain more rapid entry into the job market than those who do not possess them, added to the fact that their positions match their academic and competency-based profile, reducing youth unemployment generated by the economic crisis [4
Therefore, based on the existing literature, the following hypotheses are proposed:
H1: Creativity is a part of the basic competencies that an entrepreneur should possess, and therefore, it has a direct and positive effect on entrepreneurial skills.
H2: Alertness is a part of the basic competencies that an entrepreneur should possess, and therefore, it has a direct and positive effect on entrepreneurial skills.
H3: Self-consciousness is a part of the basic competencies that an entrepreneur should possess, and therefore, it has a direct and positive effect on entrepreneurial skills.
Sustainability references the transformation of an organization’s management model towards the achievement of economic goals in a socially- and environmentally-responsible manner [14
Management is not any more about trying to maximize profits. Some practices by managers during the financial crisis without taking into account environmental and ethical considerations have been overwhelmingly rejected by the society. There is an increasing demand for leadership and management that considers social objectives and includes in the definition of the company aims some related to the environment. Through their innovations and business practices, businessmen and entrepreneurs with a profound sensitivity to sustainability have an impact on greater social awareness about other ways of managing and determining organizational goals [17
]. The introduction of environmentally-responsible objectives and social aims into their business facilitates long-term sustainability and has positive effects on customers and society. Therefore, the term sustainable entrepreneurship has been introduced to refer to entrepreneurs who incorporate these concerns into their way of acting.
Sustainable development is characterized by activity that is less focused on models of management and technical procedures and more oriented toward personal initiative and the individual or entrepreneurial group skills to achieve corporate success and social change through social and environmental innovation [14
]. Therefore, in addition to their entrepreneurial skills, sustainable entrepreneurs should possess an environmental and social consciousness [37
]. The combination of entrepreneurial skills and environmental and social commitment enables sustainable entrepreneurs to consider their professional life as a creative act [38
]. In addition, these entrepreneurs possess the capacity to modify and prioritize organizational goals so that social and environmental objectives become a relevant part of the organizational objectives. Consequently, sustainable entrepreneurship is performed by innovative businesses that offer products and services with social and environmental benefits to a specific portion of the market who value these benefits [39
], for example green consumers [40
Sustainable entrepreneurship includes both social and environmental aspects, and both have been analyzed by the existing academic literature. On the one hand, the literature on social entrepreneurship defines it as the achievement of social objectives and its financing [41
], thus contributing to solving social problems and creating value for society [17
]. On the other hand, the literature on environmental entrepreneurship defines it as the search for profitable business opportunities that solve environmental problems [50
]. Both social and environmental entrepreneurs have effects that go beyond their business, playing the role of social change agents, as well.
This type of entrepreneurship has recently emerged as a managerial initiative that contributes to sustainable development, including both social and environmental aspects [55
However, contrary to the above-mentioned literature regarding sustainability, there are certain studies that state that, in times of crisis, short-term goals related to personal survival prevail over ethical, social or environmental aspects [10
Therefore, based on the contribution made by most of the existing literature, future managers should possess entrepreneurial skills and environmental and social commitment, which contribute to the sustainability of the firm. Accordingly, the following hypotheses are proposed:
H4: The entrepreneurial skills possessed by entrepreneurs have a direct and positive effect on their environmental commitment.
H5: The entrepreneurial skills possessed by entrepreneurs have a direct and positive effect on their social commitment.
To summarize, Figure 1
displays the model to be contrasted. The model suggest the existence of a relation between entrepreneurial skills that can be understood as a combination of at least three different skills (creativity, alertness and self-consciousness); and environmental and social commitment by entrepreneurs and managers. The existence of such a relation would be important because firm performance and community welfare increase when firms make a decision and define strategies including these two dimensions.
5. Analysis of the Results and Conclusions
The statistical analysis validates all of the hypotheses proposed in the present study. First, it is important to highlight that, as suggested by [35
], entrepreneurial skills, i.e.
, creativity, alertness and self-consciousness, have a strong presence in future entrepreneurs, mainly the skills of creativity and awareness. The obtained results prove the validity of Hypotheses H1, H2 and H3 and reaffirm the results obtained in other works, such as that by [24
]. Future business leaders who were trained in times of crisis possess a greater ability to detect new business opportunities that were most likely not previously considered [37
]. In addition, the present study seems to indicate that the subjects of the study have developed an inherent ability to solve problems and face difficult situations by applying differential perspectives as a consequence of an adverse environment. It seems logical that, in a crisis environment where adversities prevail over good news, any actor who works efficiently in this environment can develop the required skills to confront these problems. In this manner, creativity prevails as a basic entrepreneurial skill in hostile environments.
Everything seems to indicate that educational policies, such as reorienting programs of study and public policies for entrepreneurial development, have at least managed to maintain the main entrepreneurial skills in business leaders and future entrepreneurs, despite the adverse effect that the crisis could cause on these individuals, as noted in the literature [4
However, the main contribution of the present study lies in the fact that it confirms that entrepreneurial skills are positively related to a greater environmental commitment and socially responsible management. The statistical analysis validates Hypotheses H4 and H5, which assert the existence of a positive relationship between entrepreneurial skills and entrepreneurs’ social and environmental commitment. Therefore, it is clear that future leaders bet on sustainability as a business model and that the crisis did not make them eliminate these two ethical values from their business scope. The present study cannot claim that the crisis was beneficial or detrimental to social and environmental commitment, given that the methodology applied and the available data do not allow such an analysis. However, the study can affirm that the crisis has not affected these basic values and can also affirm that entrepreneurial skills have a positive effect on management as regards business ethics.
Environmental commitment and a business that takes into account social aspects represent significant positive externalities and are aligned with a growing opinion trend in favor of another type of resource management, wherein general interests prevail over self-interest. It involves a social commitment demanded by a growing fraction of the population, for whom consumers or workers value a business commitment beyond the generation of profits. The increasing significance of corporate social responsibility is a clear example of this trend.
The obtained results allow for certain recommendations that can guide decisions on educational policies and continuing training. On the one hand, there is the need for programs of study and teaching methodologies that take into account the promotion of entrepreneurial skills, in addition to the necessary reflection on the social and environmental implications of the different types of management. On the other hand, in the current context of continuous change, growing youth unemployment and economic crisis, continued training becomes a relevant tool. The opportunity cost associated with the use of these resources implies the need for managerial efficiency. The results of this study suggest that training in entrepreneurial skills could improve students’ abilities to find a job or start a business venture [4
] and also helps them to manage businesses following the values demanded by our society. Consumers are demanding from companies that the firm has behaved considering its environmental and social impact [69
], but also, there is an increasing number of rules and new regulations that push in favor of this commitment (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2000 [70
]). The balance between regulation and consumers’ demands depends on the cultural and social context. Europe is a clear example with some common regulations according to the European Union regulation, but different pressure from consumers depending on the country.
Public policies will increasingly take into account the UN sustainable development goals. Entrepreneurs have to consider that our cities and communities must be sustainable, be aware of the climate change effects of our decisions in terms of productive process and consumer behavior and the importance of reducing social inequalities, for instance facilitating access to new technologies, or education to everyone, or to promote gender equality inside the organizations. The way we teach our future managers needs to include that they learned how to take into account these items in their decision-making process. These development goals do not only apply to education, the industrial policy designed to support the growth of small and medium-sized companies also will consider the contribution of these firms to the goals of common society.
This study invites future studies on the subject. For example, it might be interesting to add other constructs to the model, more precisely in its final section, analyzing the effect of entrepreneurial skills not only on social and environmental commitment, but also on the commitment to quality management practices, fulfilling the triple bottom line business model. Another possibility might be to segment the sample by gender or source study to detect possible differences between sub-samples.
Finally, it is important to note that this study is subject to the limitations of the methodology employed. The main limitation resides in the fact that the surveys were conducted in a certain area; thus, it might be difficult to extrapolate the results to other countries due to the different economic situations or legal environments.