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An in-depth interview of around two and a half hours with a woman entrepreneur was executed on 18 September 2008. The interview was semi-structured, aiming to elicit the respondent’s account of how she (SB) became an entrepreneur and the experience and learning acquired along the way. An audio recording of the interview was made with the respondent’s consent and then transcribed. The transcript was then analyzed and distinct themes were extracted for the purpose of comparing them with themes extracted from similar interviews conducted by past researchers.
Rae and Carswell in seeking to determine the research question as to how people learn to act entrepreneurially used the life story or biographical approach. These researchers referred to past literature in asserting that such a method has become accepted as a research method; and that it has been found useful in eliciting new and deeply contextual insights into the entrepreneurial process. Thus in this interview the same approach was used to achieve the same objective. An analysis of the transcript enabled similar themes as discovered in the research by Rae and Carswell to be extracted.
SB in telling her story said that as a child she was quite and shy. She was an observer who loved to observe the lives of others. It puzzled her as to why people with ‘rich faces’ lived in dilapidated houses. A person with a rich face as defined by SB is one whose parents lived well owing to the efforts of the grandparents. This person’s parents squandered the wealth thus leaving him/her without wealth. However, SB feels that a person with a ‘rich face’ is rich and could have done something to improve his/her life. It would be different if this person were the descendent of two generations of poverty that would result in a ‘poor face’. SB expresses her disgust for the poor as she feels they are to be blamed by failing to make efforts to extricate themselves from their poverty. SB narrates that as a child she admired rich people who were philanthropic. She notes that her grandfather who was a landowner and farmer in Pontian, Johore; loved to donate to the poor and was fond of performing the Hajj or Umrah.
As a child the competitive streak was alive in her. This is a recollection from her childhood years: “Look at my hands. They are rather ugly! In the village, we would help one another when it was time to harvest the coffee. My mother’s advise would be to pick a lot so that I would get a lot; unlike my cousin’s mother who would tell her to pick carefully so as not to damage her hands. The rich people have a lot…I wanted a lot. If I work hard I can get a lot. I love to win; I love to compete with other children. When it came to picking coffee, I would outdo my cousin, as she would be able to collect say three tins of coffee as opposed to my collection of eight tins. I had this belief that if one worked well, hard and honestly the end result would be good”
SB had six siblings. Being the second child and only girl, she had to play the role of a mother in caring for the other siblings and managing the house. She did not then welcome the responsibility thrust upon her owing to her gender but upon reflection said that perhaps in a way it made her more competitive. However, when it came to educational opportunities her parents were open minded and allowed her to pursue an education. With respect to the socio-economic background of her family this is what she said: “My parents were farmers. They loved to plant and expanded their land holdings. My mother’s family was wealthy and when young she had lived in Mecca. She loved beautiful things and was a perfectionist when it came to food preparation or cleanliness. Even after she married my father her life was comfortable in terms of food and clothing. I too grew up in a comfortable zone. I did not feel that I was poor neither did I feel that I was rich”.