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Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 50, Issue 5, pp 758–782 | Cite as

The myth of the stay-at-home family firm: How family-managed SMEs can overcome their internationalization limitations

  • Jean-François HennartEmail author
  • Antonio Majocchi
  • Emanuele Forlani
Point

Abstract

The prevalent view among family-firm internationalization scholars is that family management discourages internationalization. This is because selling abroad is said to require more specialized managers and more resources than selling at home, and yet family firms are unwilling to recruit non-family managers with the required international skills and to dilute their control to obtain the necessary finance. We hypothesize that this argument overlooks the possibility that managers of family-managed SMEs choose business models that both minimize the above-mentioned limitations and leverage the strengths of family governance. Specifically, we argue that selling quality products in global niches allows family-managed SMEs to internationalize without the cosmopolitan managers and the high financial investments required for selling mass-market products abroad; at the same time a global niche business model requires the long time horizon and the high level of social capital that family governance can provide. Modeling a firm’s foreign sales through a gravity model, we test this hypothesis on a large sample of SMEs from four European Union countries. We find that family-managed SMEs have fewer foreign sales than other type of SMEs, but that the difference is partially bridged if family-managed SMEs have adopted a global niche business model.

Keywords

small and medium enterprises family firms internationalization theories and foreign market entry global niche strategies internationalization gravity models 

Résumé

Le point de vue dominant parmi les chercheurs travaillant sur l’internationalisation des entreprises familiales est que le management familial décourage l’internationalisation. La raison est que l’on suppose que vendre à l’étranger nécessite davantage de managers spécialisés et plus de ressources que vendre dans le pays d’origine et, pourtant, les entreprises familiales sont réticentes à recruter des dirigeants n’appartenant pas à la famille et ayant les compétences internationales nécessaires, et à diluer leur contrôle pour obtenir les financements nécessaires. Nous faisons l’hypothèse que cet argument ne tient pas compte du fait que les dirigeants de PME familiales choisissent des modèles d’affaires qui à la fois minimisent les limites mentionnées ci-dessus et optimisent les forces de la gouvernance familiale. Plus spécifiquement, nous argumentons que vendre des produits de qualité dans des marchés de niche permet aux PME familiales de s’internationaliser sans dirigeants cosmopolites et sans les investissements financiers élevés nécessaires pour vendre des produits de masse à l’étranger ; en même temps, un modèle d’affaires orienté vers un marché de niche nécessite un horizon à long terme et un niveau élevé de capital social que la gouvernance familiale peut fournir. En modélisant les ventes à l’international des firmes par un modèle gravitationnel, nous testons cette hypothèse sur un large échantillon de PME de quatre pays de l’Union européenne. Nous trouvons que les PME familiales ont des ventes moins importantes à l’international que d’autres types de PME, mais que la différence est partiellement comblée si les PME familiales ont adopté un modèle d’affaires orienté vers un marché de niche.

Resumen

La opinión dominante entre los estudiosos de la internacionalización de las empresas familiares es que la administración familiar desalienta la internacionalización. Este es debido a que vender en el extranjero requiere gerentes más especializados, y más recursos que vender localmente, sin embargo, las empresas familiares no están dispuestas a contratar gerentes que no sean de la familia con las habilidades internacionales requeridas y diluir su control para obtener las finanzas necesarias. Nosotros postulamos la hipótesis que este argumento pasa por alto la posibilidad que los gerentes de las empresas pymes administradas por la familia eligen modelos de negocio que tanto minimizan las limitaciones mencionadas anteriormente y apalancan las fortalezas de la gobernanza familiar. Especialmente, argumentamos que vender productos de calidad en nichos globales permite a las empresas pymes administradas por la familia internacionalizarse sin gerentes cosmopolitas y sin las altas inversiones financieras requeridas para vender productos de consumo masivo en el extranjero; al mismo tiempo un modelo de negocio de nicho global requiere un horizonte de largo plazo y un alto nivel de capital social que la gobernanza familiar puede dar. Modelando las ventas en el extranjero de una empresa mediante un modelo gravitacional, testeamos esta hipótesis en una amplia muestra de pymes de países de la Unión Europea. Encontramos que las pymes manejadas por la familia tienen menos ventas que otro tipo de pymes, pero que la diferencia es parcialmente compensada si las pymes administradas por la familia han adoptado un modelo de negocio de nicho global.

Resumo

A visão prevalecente entre os estudiosos de internacionalização da empresas familiares é que a gestão familiar desencoraja a internacionalização. Isso ocorre porque é dito que vender no exterior exige gerentes mais especializados e mais recursos do que vender domesticamente e, no entanto, as empresas familiares não estão dispostas a recrutar gerentes fora da família com as habilidades internacionais necessárias e com isso diluir seu controle para obter o financiamento necessário. Nós propomos a hipótese de que este argumento negligencia a possibilidade de os gerentes de PME gerenciadas por famílias escolherem modelos de negócios que tanto minimizem as limitações acima mencionadas quanto aproveitem os pontos fortes da governança familiar. Especificamente, argumentamos que vender produtos de qualidade em nichos globais permite que as PME gerenciadas por famílias se internacionalizem sem os gerentes cosmopolitas e os altos investimentos financeiros necessários para a venda de produtos de mercado de massa no exterior; ao mesmo tempo, um modelo de negócio de nicho global requer o horizonte de tempo de longo prazo e o alto nível de capital social que a governança familiar pode fornecer. Modelando as vendas no exterior de uma empresa por meio de um modelo de gravidade, testamos essa hipótese em uma grande amostra de PME de quatro países da União Europeia. Concluímos que as PME gerenciadas por famílias têm menos vendas no exterior do que outros tipos de PMEs, mas que a diferença é parcialmente compensada se as PME gerenciadas por famílias adotarem um modelo de negócio de nicho global.

概要

研究家族公司国际化的学者们的普遍观点是家族式管理不鼓励国际化。这是因为在国外销售被说成是要比在国内销售需要更多的专业管理人员和更多的资源,然而家族企业不愿意招收具有国际技能的非家族经理并淡化其获得必要融资的控制。我们假设,这个论点忽视了由家族经营的中小企业的管理者选择最大限度减少上述局限性同时充分利用家族治理优势的商业模式的可能性。具体而言,我们认为,在全球独特位置销售优质产品允许家族经营的中小企业进行国际化,而无需在国外销售大众市场产品所需的都市经理及高额金融投资。同时,一个全球独特的商业模式需要长时间跨度和家族治理可提供的高社会资本。通过重力模型对企业的国外销售建模,我们用来自四个欧盟国家的中小企业的大样本检验这个假设。我们发现,家族经营的中小企业在国外的销售比其它类型的中小企业少,但如果家族经营的中小企业采用了全球独特的商业模式,差异会被部分弥补。

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful comments from Alain Verbeke and an anonymous referee, and from Eleanor Westney and Jorma Larimo, as well as from participants at seminars at Hanken, the University of Bologna, the University of Sussex, the Global Strategy Journal Workshop on Family Firms in the Global Economy at Politecnico de Milano, and from reviewers and participants at the Academy of International Business, the European International Business Academy, the 6th Aalborg Conference on International Business, and the 10th Workshop on Family Firm Management Research at the University of Bergamo. The authors also acknowledge financial support from the Cariplo Foundation International Recruitment Call “The internationalization of Italian firms: the role of intangibles, managerial resources, and corporate governance,” and thank the Centro Studi Luca d’Agliano for allowing access to the EFIGE database.

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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-François Hennart
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antonio Majocchi
    • 2
  • Emanuele Forlani
    • 3
  1. 1.Tilburg University Center for Research in Economics and BusinessAlphenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Dipartimento scienze economiche e aziendaliUniversità di PaviaPaviaItaly
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Scienze economicheUniversità di BolognaBolognaItaly

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