Entrepreneurship is substantially appreciated as an indispensable component of socio-economic development because it significantly contributes to economic survival and welfare, employment, and scientific advancement (McMullan, Long, & Graham, 1986; Obschonka, Hakkarainen, Lonka, & Salmela-Aro, 2017). Countries take advantage of entrepreneurship to increase employment and reduce the poverty rate sharply (Neneh, 2019), especially under the tremedous impact of technology development on venture creation (Briel, Davidsson, & Recker, 2017). Moreover, in the blooming context of the world start-up economy (Startup Genome, 2020), young generations, including undergraduates, are motivated and orientated to establish business early in their life.
The number of Vietnam start-up companies has skyrocketed for the last ten years, and the country has earned the top 5 ecosystem position in the Southeast Asian region (Cento Ventures, 2021). This achievement is the result of the country’s economic development process and government support policies such as “Support Innovative Start-up Ecosystem in Vietnam until 2025” National Program (ISEV) (Vietnam Ministry of Science & Technology, 2018). According to the ESP Investment Fund and Cento Ventures report, Vietnam ranks third in its people’s positive attitude towards entrepreneurship and the growth of creative entrepreneurial ecosystems in the Asian region (VnEconomy, 2021). However, there have been several scams in real estate, forex trading, and multi-level sales; thousands of victims have lost billions of Vietnam Dong of savings to the scammers. The context raises a question of which motive has driven people to commit to such inhumane start-ups and whether internal causes such as personalities play a role.
The linkage between psychological personality and entrepreneurship has been widely investigated (Antoncic, Kregar, Singh, & Denoble, 2015; Hamilton, Papageorge, & Pande, 2019; Şahin, Karadağ, & Tuncer, 2019). These articles generally applied the Big Five model when examining a person’s characteristics, which are more likely to be on humans’ ‘good’ side. Cooper & Artz (1995) argued that self-employment is driven by moral motives – inspiration for participating in activities that produce positive results or resolve others’ problems. On the other side, Hmieleski and Lerner (2016) stated that the dark side of people affects their intention to start a business and counterproductive motives. The dark side refers to three negative personalities of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. The results are not consistent between the two groups of undergraduates and postgraduates. Recently, some research in the Western context additionally examined the ‘hidden’ side of an entrepreneur (DeNisi, 2015; Kraus, Traunmüller, Kailer, & Tiberius, 2020; Tucker, Lowman, & Marino, 2016). However, limited research investigates the relationship in Asian cultures. The gap is a lack of literature on selfish or negative personalities, entrepreneurial intention, and motivation in the Vietnam context.
This paper aims to fill the gap using data from an online survey with undergraduates in Vietnam universities and structured equation modeling (SEM) analysis. The contribution of this research is to evaluate the influences of the three selfish personal traits on the students’ entrepreneur’s intentions and motives to start a business in a new context of an emerging economy. On that basis, the authors offer some implications for relevant stakeholders to help improve students’ entrepreneurial capacity in Vietnam. The next section is a literature review followed by methodology, results, discussion, implications, limitations and conclusion.
Literature Review and Hypothesis Development
Entrepreneurial Intention and Motives and Selfish Personalities
The intention is an effective predictor of behavior (Ajzen, 2011), and entrepreneurial intention guides individuals' efforts to establish their own business (Do & Dadvari, 2017; Thompson, 2009). Individual variables (i.e., age, gender, education, family background, and education) influence people’ start-up intention (Fatoki, 2014; Hatak, Harms, & Fink, 2015; Quan, 2012; Smith, Sardeshmukh, & Combs, 2016); however, personality is considered to have a more significant impact (Crant, 1996). Personality is a distinctive attribute of considerations, sentiments, and practices that are used to distinguish humans. It internally forms, develops, and remains over a lifetime. As there are various ways to form a unique personality, many researchers came up with professional systems and models to measure typical personalities such as the Big Five Model, Myers Briggs Type Indicators and Dark Triad. Regarding entrepreneurial intention, negative personalities may be influential, in addition to popular attributes of an entrepreneur such as the determination to act, innovativeness, and risk-taking (Littunen, 2000).
The selfish individual is someone who concerns excessively or exclusively for himself or herself and is likely to take selfish behaviors. As a popular term in psychology, the Dark Triad with three elements of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism is a typical example of the selfish personalities (Paulhus & Williams, 2002), leading to selfish behaviors such as gambling other people’s money (Jones, 2013). The selfish characteristics are socially harmful (Jonanson & Tost, 2010). They can be different but share the similarities of egocentric, cruel, and destructive nature (Jonason & Webster, 2010) and are associated with selfish behaviors such as acting dishonestly to take advantage of other people (Furnham, Richards, & Paulhus, 2013).
Individuals with strong Machiavellian tendencies have a self-centered desire and a high possibility of manipulating others to achieve their personal objectives (Haynes, Hitt, & Campbell, 2015). They generally show no emotion with things that happen around them, only care about their self-interest, and hardly concern about the consequences. Narcissists prefer the feelings of privilege and an inflated sense of their importance and ignorance of others (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell, & Bushman, 2008). To maximize their wealth (Boddy, 2006, 2015), people with psychopathy can take anti-social activities that violate norms and conventions (Boddy, 2014) to gain control power (Deutschman, 2007) over their desired short-term benefits.
Kramer, Cesinger, Schwarzinger and Gelléri (2011) found a positive and significant influence of the selfish dark triad on start-up intention. According to Baumol (1996), entrepreneurial activities can be classified into three categories of productive, unproductive, and destructive. Regardless of an entrepreneur having productive or unproductive motives, their decisions impact on the business orientation and results as well as national economic growth (Sauka & Welter, 2007). On the one hand, productive entrepreneurial motives induce a positive value creation process for society (Baumol, 1996). These motives are more likely to engage in win-win situations for all parties. The vital activity that an entrepreneur with productive or pro-social entrepreneurial motives possesses is establishing a legitimate organization, which has a proper certificate of business registration for an organization aligned with the code of law (Sauka, 2008). Pro-social entrepreneurial motives are not a temporary action but a series of activities that create positive values for people and society, especially in a long time, facilitating the prediction of succeeding works (Acs, Boardman, & McNeely, 2013).
On the other hand, unproductive or selfish relationships happen when there is an imbalance between values brought by parties (Cook, Cheshire, Rice, & Nakagawa, 2013). This relationship is a highly zero-sum game, which contrasts with the win-win situation in the pro-social entrepreneurial motives. In order to decrease other people’s prosperity, selfish entrepreneurs tend to take activities such as rent-seeking and manipulation (Baumol, 1996; Sauka, 2008). Moreover, the businesses of these people have a significant association with illegal and ‘black' activities (e.g., drugs, deception, and extortion), which goes against social norms (Sauka, 2008).
Social Exchange Theory and Life History Theory
Venturing is a profit-making process by utilizing resources of which human relations in their social context represent an important type of capital. The social exchange theory implies that a relationship's worth is the difference between the give and the received (Cook et al., 2013). According to O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks and McDaniel (2012), individuals are more likely to build and focus on relationships that they acquire maximum welfare with minimum or zero expenditures, which comes up with the idea of social exchange theory. These individuals have a desire for temporary relationships to take all advantages as they can and abandon these “friends" for acquiring new resources from “new friends.” Life history theory explains the social behavior of individuals, which was derived from general evolutionary theory. The combination of personality traits with life history perspectives (Wilson, 1975) illustrates the chances of fast strategy (focus on immediate or short-term outcomes) or slow strategies (focus on survival, long-term investment) a personality might present. Indeed, people with dark triad personality traits have strong motivation to follow the fast-life strategy (Jonason, Baughman, Carter, & Parker, 2015) and start a new venture (Hmieleski & Lerner, 2016). These two theories are the foundation based on which the following hypotheses are developed.
Narcissism is the trait that received the most intense discussion (Kraus et al., 2020) has been explored as having a positive association with the start-up intention (Cai, Murad, Ashraf, & Naz, 2021; Hmieleski & Lerner, 2016). According to Mathieu and St-Jean (2013), narcissism is positively associated with self-efficacy, locus of control, and risk-taking. Moreover, narcissistic people are dominant and desire fame (Boddy, 2015; Jonason, Luevano, & Adams, 2012). Hence, start-up intentions have been assumed as a respected and seductive professional decision (Magister, 2013), congruent with the self-claimed importance of narcissists. Entrepreneurs are higher achievement-oriented in their actions than non-entrepreneurs (Kollmann, Christofor, & Kuckertz, 2007). As ambition to own achievement is an aspect of narcissism, perhaps this personality is one of the motivations for a person to start their own business.
According to social exchange theory, self-interest activities widely exist within the economic field where competition and rapacity manipulate the actions of individuals (Ekeh, 1974). Roloff (1981) commented that self-interest is not a negative thing if it is recognized and becomes the pointer of interpersonal relationships to promote both parties' self-interest. However, this positive aspect is not familiar with narcissists who strive for immediate benefits by acting in ways harmful to their counterparts. Besides, a person with a high level of narcissism exhibits anti-social behaviors. In the role of principals, narcissists only care for their power and go against criticism (Resick, Whitman, Weingarden, & Hiller, 2009). These characteristics make narcissistic-inclined people defy many actions to achieve their own self-interested business goals and do not bring many economic benefits to society and related parties such as staff, partners, customers. The arguments suggest three sub-hypotheses H1 (a, b, c).
H1. Individuals’ levels of narcissism have a positive impact on their start-up intention (H1a), selfish start-up motives (H1b) and a negative impact on their level of pro-social start-up motives (H1c).
Machiavellianism is considered a factor influencing positively on the intention to establish a new business (Cai et al., 2021; Hmieleski & Lerner, 2016). As Machiavellians represent the “darkest” and the most selfish characteristics, with which they can exploit other people to satisfy their interests (Li et al., 2020; Wenzhi, Wu, Chen, & Shu-Jou, 2017) with self-motivation. Besides, Zettler, Friedrich, & Hilbig (2011) commented that Machiavellians have a high demand for results and a strong determination to achieve goals. Owning and running a business is a visible achievement well recognized by the society, and this because an attractive target of Machiavellians; it gives them the feeling of possession, power, and wealth (Hmieleski & Lerner, 2016; Rapp-Ricciardi, Widh, Barbieri, Amato, & Archer, 2018).
Do and Dadvari (2017) point out that people with dark triad personality traits in general, and Machiavellianism in particular, evaluate the future as uncertain and unforeseeable; so they favor a fast-life strategy to satisfy their immediate needs and achieve quick gains. As focusing on short-term results can provide Machiavellians with more certain benefits, they tend to ignore the uncertain long-term resource investments ( Jonanson & Webster, 2010). Therefore, the new destructive business orientation is aggressively competing for individual rewards, which replaces cooperation between parties to increase investment returns of both sides. With a tendency to exploit people to gain self-interests by conducting non-value-added work (Dahling, Whitaker, & Levy, 2009), Machiavellians are less likely to be aware of business ethics (Simmons, Shafer, & Snell, 2013). From the earlier empirical evidence, it could be inferred that Machiavellians have a strong incentive to start a new business, but they are likely to engage in crafty, valueless business practices for the society as in the hypotheses H2 (a, b, c) below.
H2. Individuals’ levels of Machiavellianism have a positive impact on their start-up intention (H2a), selfish start-up motives (H2b), and a negative impact on their pro-social start-up motives (H2c).
Psychopathy is a psychological trait that its possessors often loathe social standards and possess amusement to oppose norms (Mathieu & St-Jean, 2013). Psychopaths may reach high social positions as productive leaders who are intelligent and charismatic (Brunell et al., 2008). In addition, successful managers and entrepreneurs have a higher psychopathy level than others. The overconfidence in their intellect pushes sympathy away from psychopaths (Kramer et al., 2011) and the lacking induce them to engage in unethical and violent actions on the way to their goals (Cai et al., 2021). Besides, psychopaths have a strong desire for self-promotion and impression by status, dominance, prestige, and finance, which might be well demonstrated in an entrepreneurial career. Therefore, previous articles indicated that a high level of psychopathy within individuals positively correlates with start-up intention (Cai et al., 2021; Kramer et al., 2011).
Easily dominated or vulnerable individuals are the target group for persons high in psychopathy to taken advantage of while giving out insignificant expenditure ( Wilson, Demetrioff, & Porter, 2008). In addition, power, prestige, and control are beautiful to psychopaths who always want to achieve short-term economic benefits and ignore adverse effects on the environment. Being conscienceless, they do not have sense of social responsibility as either individual or corporate (Boddy, 2015). To sum up, psychopaths will neglect the interests of related parties and society or the environment to seek their interests. In general, the start-up motives of psychopaths are expected to have a positive orientation toward value-extracting for themselves and a negative association with creating overall value for others as stated in hypotheses H3 (a, b, c) following.
H3. Individuals’ levels of psychopathy have a positive impact on their start-up intention (H3a), selfish start-up motives (H3b), and a negative impact on pro-social start-up motives (H3c).