“Fake it till you make it”, “Move fast and break things”… So many Silicon Valley slogans that have tough skin. Why are entrepreneurs tempted to engage in such fraudulent or destructive actions? A research project by Guillermo Mateu, researcher at Lessac (Laboratory of Experiment in Social and Cognitive Sciences) of the Burgundy School of Business, associated with Lucas Monzani, Alina Hernandez and Jose Martinez, has highlighted the typical profiles of these ready-to-do entrepreneurs anything. to get there. Decryption.
What causes some entrepreneurs to engage in deceptive or fraudulent behavior?
Our study took place in two phases. The first part concerned 82 French students who were destined to become business creators. It was followed by an analysis of a set of 64 Latin American entrepreneurs. The first group, like the second, clearly showed that men are more likely to cheat than women. Because traditional gender stereotypes, male or female, influence behavior at the head of a company. Men are expected to be aggressive, competitive and achieve results, while women are expected to be empathetic, listening, compromise and have a win/win attitude.
Did the study of the second group of confirmed entrepreneurs also reveal behavioral specificities?
In the second group of creators, we have shown that regardless of gender, an entrepreneur is also one subject to social pressure to succeed at all costs, of the “I will break everything to achieve my goals” type. He is tempted to adopt hypercompetitive behavior to harm competitors. It involves questionable business practices. But the good news is that this double profile, of man and entrepreneur, can be rebalanced towards better practices if the person is a positive and authentic leader. In other words, the more an entrepreneur has values and clear ethical codes, the less likely he is to engage in fraudulent behavior.
However, the temptation is great, for example in the research and development phase, to embellish the reality of certain studies in order to find funding. What is the limit to set?
Being optimistic is one thing. Cheating is another because sooner or later this behavior leads to destruction, with the risk of losing everything. Elizabeth Holmes, the creator of Theranos, was found guilty of fraud on her company’s technological evidence and financial results. She is convicted of defrauding her investors and will end up in prison. Meta (ex-Facebook) is under federal investigation for deceptive marketing that uses user data for advertising purposes. Ford or Volkswagen are overtaken by the scandals about the fraudulent reduction of polluting emissions from diesel and petrol engines during homologation tests. Boeing, which was fined 2 billion euros, deliberately misled the FAA in the case of the crash of its 737 MAX. In other words, as an entrepreneur or manager, never pretend even after you have succeeded!
How to resist the pressure from society and investors who expect entrepreneurs to succeed at any cost?
Society, the family, education or business schools have a big role to play break these masculine and entrepreneurial stereotypes. Teaching “business ethics” in business schools first appeared in Europe about ten years ago. Yet it is key to resisting fraudulent behavior. It is about building strong values. Then cheating reveals a lack of confidence in oneself and in one’s project. An entrepreneur must therefore be sure of himself and his ethical values.