University of Tasmania

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Entrepreneur as brand: a creative industry case

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 19:01 authored by Fillis, I, Kim Lehman

Aim - We utilise a case study approach to investigate how a privately funded art museum, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), has risen to become a key visitor destination on the island of Tasmania, Australia. At the heart of our investigations is its owner and founder the entrepreneur and professional gambler David Walsh. His portfolio on the same site includes a vineyard and winery, a boutique beer brand, a series of art and music festivals, and a luxury small boutique hotel. Conventional notions of how to launch and build a new venture have been overturned through the activities of Walsh and his ability to identify and exploit opportunities. As an art collector Walsh is also an entrepreneurial consumer. Many of his customers as also consumers of the MONA brand, and come to the museum and associated festivals and events almost as a places of pilgrimage in his created brand community. What Walsh has achieved within a short time frame cannot be readily explained by normative entrepreneurship theory. His achievements fit the unconventional entrepreneurship label and appear driven by his passion and individual personality traits. What is evident is that his personality and his entrepreneurial business interests are inseparable. The public view of MONA the museum and David Walsh the person appear blurred. In an effort to understand this phenomena it is necessary we use the integrated lens of entrepreneurial marketing, effectuation and branding to frame the research. Our analysis shows how the entrepreneur and his persona can work together to build a brand known for its quirky, passionate and irreverent product lines. Walsh has created MONA via the influencing effects of his entrepreneurial marketing, effectuation and art collector competencies. These dimensions can be broken down further into how they have shaped his ambition and vision, his personal brand, his decision making style, idea generation and creativity. Walsh's effectual approach has helped him to leverage his creativity into innovative outcomes through the exploratory, non-predetermined paths which he explores. Other influential competencies include self-belief, imagination, intuition, flexibility, and non-standard solution finding. David Walsh the entrepreneurial marketer and art collector has succeeded in making MONA just as much about himself as it is about being an arts and cultural destination:

Methodology - We use a mixed methods case study approach to providing insight. Firstly, the research design utilised semi-structured interviews with key staff members (involved at the managerial, curatorial and marketing levels). We also used a considerable range of secondary data including analysis of corporate publications, media statements, social media and other website data, and longitudinal biographical research. Where possible we utilised participant observation via site visits and event attendance. We chose to take a biographical approach to our research on David Wash, as it helped us to understand human action and lived experiences in social and other contexts. In particular we felt that we could achieve a heightened understanding of Walsh's behaviour, motives, and personality in this way. We then triangulated the data in order to ensure rigour and accuracy.

Contribution - We show that personal and product branding can complement the drive and ambition of an innovative entrepreneur in overcoming many obstacles to create a successful new venture. This brand identity is shaped by successful exploitation of competencies connected to imagination, vision and the realisation of non-standard solutions. There are lessons here for other entrepreneurs (existing and future) both within the arts and cultural sphere and in the wider SME community. Innovative SMEs such as MONA have a unique product but they are also assisted by the creativity, innovation and foresight of their founder. The challenge here is to see how future success can be secured in other ventures where innovative owner/managers can exploit their brand in the marketplace in order to create demand.


Publication title

ISBE 2017 Conference Proceedings






Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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Event title

ISBE 2017

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Management; Marketing

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    University Of Tasmania


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