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Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship




Jan Lepoutre

Promotor: Prof. Dr. Aimé Heene

Co-promotor: Prof. Dr. Ir. Erik Mathijs

Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor in Applied Economic Sciences Promotor Prof. Dr. Aimé Heene Universiteit Gent Co-promotor Prof. Dr. Ir. Erik Mathijs Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Begeleidingscommissie Prof. Dr. Aimé Heene Universiteit Gent Prof. Dr. Ir. Erik Mathijs Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Prof. Dr. Bart Nooteboom Universiteit van Tilburg (Nederland) Prof. Dr. Johan Lambrecht Hogeschool Universiteit Brussel Examencommissie Prof. Dr. Roland Paemeleire Decaan-voorzitter, Universiteit Gent Prof. Dr. Patrick Van Kenhove Academisch secretaris, Universiteit Gent Prof. Dr. Aimé Heene Universiteit Gent Prof. Dr. Ir. Erik Mathijs Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Prof. Dr. Johan Lambrecht Hogeschool Universiteit Brussel Prof. Dr. Bart Nooteboom Universiteit van Tilburg (Nederland) Prof. Dr. Pratima Bansal Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario (Canada) Prof. Dr. Marc Buelens Universiteit Gent, Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School Prof. Dr. Ir. Guido Van Huylenbroeck Universiteit Gent I dedicate this work to Jessica, To my unborn son and (hopefully) more children to come, To Papá, for your will to change the world, And to everyone that does not look to the ground while walking, but lifts his eyes up to be amazed by what this beautiful life has to offer.

“(…) Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you.

Give birth again To the dream.

Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts Each new ho

–  –  –

Acknowledgements Whenever, as a result of yet another Google search for articles or books, or serendipitously stumbling upon one while strolling through a library, I would come across a doctoral dissertation, the first thing I would look for, even in stressful periods with little spare time, would be the “acknowledgements” section. I guess I consider it a way to understand the person, the soul behind the work. Just like it helps to have met someone at a conference to better understand his or her work and where it comes from, it sort of helps to have this background about a person. But the most important reason for looking up the acknowledgments would be because it also made the work more human. Behind those thousands and thousands of words was actually a human being with the equally human necessities for fun, sharing doubts, eating, drinking, and – who knows – even going to the bathroom. It made the concept of actually finishing a PhD a little less impossible. After I would finish reading the acknowledgements, I would usually start dreaming about the day that I would be writing my own acknowledgments section and that thought would fill me with hope and inspiration. And here I am, actually writing my own acknowledgments section. Dear reader, if you would also be one of those people like me that likes to read acknowledgment sections: IT IS POSSIBLE!!! Yet, there is one substantial condition: I would never have been able to do this without the help and support of a number of very important people… And I am extremely happy that the moment has come to thank them.

Before anything, I would like to thank my supervisors and mentors, Prof. Dr. Aimé Heene and Prof. Dr. Erik Mathijs. Aimé, your interest in my work and the comments you made throughout my doctoral process have acted as a continuous push to improve my analyses and refine its implications. As a mentor, you have thought me the value of disciplined care for theoretical rigor and the importance of valuing every word in writing research findings. I would also like to thank you for your openness to new ideas and approaches, both in research and education. It was an honor to be involved in the teaching and planning of the “Corporate Social Responsibility” course, which I believe truly reflects the motto of our university “Durf Denken” (dare to think). That you have given me the freedom to develop my ideas in this course was an inspiring and welcome change for research and dissertation work. Erik, your trust in me as a researcher and your openness to my ideas from


the very beginning of this journey at Stedula have encouraged me to grow as a multidisciplinary researcher and to be dedicated to bringing new analyses to the research on agricultural firms. This dissertation would certainly never have been written without your support in developing multi-disciplinary ideas.

Yet I have had the formidable fortune to have two additional mentors as part of my guidance committee. Thank you, Prof. Dr. Bart Nooteboom, not only for your guidance and critical reflections on small business and entrepreneurship literature, but also for the interesting and challenging discussions on quality in science and organizational research and many broader topics alike. Prof. Dr. Johan Lambrecht, thank you for inspiring me to qualitative research and for sharing your experience in small business research throughout the last years. I find it an honor to defend my dissertation to the both of you.

I also want to thank all the members of the examination committee. I have gotten to know all of you over the past years and I am looking forward to hearing your comments. Prof.

Dr. Marc Buelens, I hope we can continue the fantastic exchange of ideas I have enjoyed over the last two years. Your academic wit combined with an unparalleled ability to explain complex processes with enthusiasm and humor has made every encounter with you a true “experience”. Prof. Dr. Pratima Bansal, thank you very much for inviting Mike and me to the Ivey Research Series, the great comments on our work and for being such a wonderful host in London. Prof. Dr. Ir. Guido Van Huylenbroeck, thank you very much for your support during the first years at Stedula. Your membership of this dissertation committee makes this a true Stedula dissertation. Prof. Dr. Roland Pameleire and Prof. Dr. Patrick Van Kenhove, I thank you for the responsibilities you have taken within the faculty and for the efforts you make for representing our faculty in both academic and social life. I thank all of you for taking the time for being member of my examination committee and hope you enjoyed reading my work.

This dissertation would not have been possible, however, without the collaboration of a number of very important people in the actual process of collecting and analyzing the data.

Mike Valente, after we met at the Academy of Management in Atlanta, I instantly knew a joint collaboration of both our data sets would yield interesting findings and we would both learn a lot from working together. But I could not have known what a kind, patient, critical and intelligent person you are. Thank you for all the fun skype times analyzing our data, and vi


many more thanks for the trip to Ontario and Victoria last year. I hope I manage to get to your cottage soon!! Two of the most important people for my dissertation were ir. Griet Grillaert and ir. Adrien Saverwyns. Without you I could not have had such easy access to the Flemish ornamental horticulture sector and VMS. Your reflections and time for interviews taught me a lot about this fascinating sector. Flemish ornamental horticulture would be truly different without your influence. I also thank all the growers, the key informants and the “strategy 2020” group for making time on several occasions for interviews and round tables. I was only able to collect the findings in this dissertation because you made time for that. I have gained deep respect for the profession of ornamental horticulture and in particular for those that engage in the ambitious project of VMS in this process.

Although at times I felt that my social life was reduced to four walls, a computer screen, papers and coffee, I have been fortunate over the years to share my doubts, problems, visions, ideas, laughs and sighs with many people as well. I therefore firstly would like to thank all my colleagues at Stedula. Thank you Steven Van Passel for the laughs, the inspirational talks, the trains to The Hague, CPeX and for teaching me to be pragmatic. Thank you Frank Nevens, for your openness, your energy and your innovative approaches to bridge science with practice. Thank you Joost Dessein, for opening the world of social sciences to me. You truly made me look at things in a different way. Thank you Marijke Meul, Elke Rogge, Annelies Mulier, Koen Foncke, Ignace Verbruggen, Xavier Goossens, Luk Sobry and Karin Van Peteghem for the wonderful times in Gontrode. I also want to thank Dirk Reheul and Jeroen Buysse (UGent); Ludwig Lauwers, Dirk Van Liedekerke and Nicole Taragola (ILVO); Jose Gavilan, Koen Carels, and Dirk Van Gijseghem (AMS); and Hennie Van der Veen, Wietse Dol, Foppe Bouma and Sjaak Wolfert (LEI) for the collaboration during my Stedula time.

I am also very grateful for the great atmosphere at the Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: thank you Annick Willem, Anne-Line Balduck, Sebastian Desmidt, Nikolay Dentchev and Edgar Izquierdo! Besides sharing many laughs and pondering organizational developments in the faculty, the mere presence of having you as ambitious scholars around has encouraged me to further push my own limits and quality as a researcher. Thank you also Mia De Meyer, Gust Devolder and Inge Degraeve for all your support and kind help whenever I needed it. Life is so much easier with you around.


I also want to thank Dirk Le Roy, Peter Wollaert, Luc Van Liedekerke, Mieke Vercaeren, Magali Decloedt, Jelle Janssen, Dirk Coeckelbergh, Herman Siebens, Dries Elsen, Maarten Crivits, Yves Fassin, Wim Vandekerckhove, Céline Louche, and Nigel Roome for the occasions in which we were able to reflect on putting sustainable development into actual practice and scholarship in Belgium.

And then a big thank you to you, my dear friends, who will probably agree with me on the following phrase: AT LAST!!!!! Thank you Arnout, Birgit, Bert, Bram, Catherine, Ellen, Filip, Joke, Jan, Liesbet, Lionel, Mark, Rein, Roseline, Siegfried, Stijn, Vinnie, Willem, Wim and so many others for the squashing, surfing, snowboarding, discussions, sharing joy and frustrations, parties, weekends, travelling, and so many other things that I needed to blow off some steam at times. I cannot even begin to tell you how important you were for me in following through on my ambitions. It’s funny how I sometimes had the best ideas while I was simply explaining something to you over a beer or dinner.

Mamá en Papá, Rit, Bob en Paul; Mama en Papa, Gert en Nancy, Gerry en Christa, Jelmer en Inès, Eveline, Emma, Roxanne, Arno en Olivia and my entire family: Rejoice!!

You can finally expect to say something new when they ask you what it is I am doing (and maybe this time it will actually sound a little bit more like actually working). Although there are a million things I want to thank you for, I want to thank you especially for showing me the value of realizing the best of what is inside me. Although you have been my most critical audience, you have also been my most loyal audience. This has made me stronger and has pushed me to become, so I believe, a better person. There is no way I can thank you for having done that. But I’ll start by being home a bit more from now on!

And finally, Jessica, my home, my best friend, my everything. Your drive, your interest and passion, your encouragements, your scrutiny, your love and especially your patience are hidden in every single word in this dissertation. Thank you for being my “woman of the desert” while I looked for my “Personal Legend”. Up to the next dream!

–  –  –

Table of Contents Acknowledgements

Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations



List of publications and conference presentations based on this dissertation.............. xxxii

1. General Introduction

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