Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Business


Faculty of Business and Law

First Supervisor

Professor Alan Brown

Second Supervisor

Dr Janice Redmond


This research sought to identify factors that contribute to occupational therapists developing management competencies when they become small business owners providing professional clinical services. This is an important for several reasons and precipitated by the Australian government’s introduction of incentives that encourage health professions to move from employment in public hospitals into the private sector, coupled with a recognition that occupational therapists receive no formal business training in their professional education, and the reported high levels of business failure in the small business sector. A review of the literature established the value of small business to the Australian economy, growth in the health sector generally, and increasing opportunities for allied health professionals to consider starting their own small business. Such a move requires occupational therapists to gain mastery as business managers in addition to their existing professional clinical knowledge and skills.

The context of the research was set with a review of the literature on management development in small businesses, which indicates that professionals starting their own small business often have poorly developed management skills, and some experience high rates of failure. Theories on management development in small business were reviewed, and the conclusion drawn that a gap in knowledge on how occupational therapists develop their management skills existed. These gaps in the literature gave rise to the principal research question, that being ‘what factors contribute to the success of occupational therapists as small business owners providing professional services?’ Four related questions focused on motivations for starting a business, the management competencies needed, learning management competencies, and perceptions of business success.

The study used a qualitative exploratory approach. Twenty-six female occupational therapists, who were small business owners were interviewed on their experiences of becoming a business manager. Purposive sampling ensured diversity across backgrounds, prior experience, clinical specialisations, and the age of the business. A thematic analysis of data built an understanding about why and how occupational therapists develop their management capabilities in small business.

The principal factors affecting the development of the participants’ business and management skills were the interactions between their initial motivations for start-up, career aspirations, and engagement with external business environments. The participants learnt their business skills through a combination of formal learning prior to starting their businesses, and informal learning once they started their businesses. Lower-level learning occurred in the more routine and operational processes, the ‘know-how’ aspects of the business. However, most of their higher level learning was through discontinuous events that had serious consequences for their businesses if not addressed. These higher-level learning events resulted in participants understanding that ‘know-why’ change was needed, and a transformation in their understanding about themselves as business managers. The participants were central in determining the level of interaction between the resources and capabilities in their internal environments, and engagement with external environments that enable the development of their business and management capabilities.

The findings led to a theoretical proposition on how occupational therapists make the transition to develop their management capabilities and become successful small business owners. A model of business starts with the nascent business owner assessing their business capabilities, learning to identify environmental opportunities and risks, and finally learning to identify and respond to new opportunities and changing circumstances in the external environment, was developed.