The Internationalisation of the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise : The Aware Manager
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Abstrac: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have traditionally focused on their domestic markets. However, in the last few decades, SMEs have become increasingly active in international markets. SMEs have benefited immensely from a worldwide process of economic, financial, cultural and technological integration. From a holistic perspective, internationalisation is both an inward and outward process. This research focuses on the SME manager, who is the key decision-maker in the SME and the driving force in its internationalisation. Most literature on internationalisation is based on trade-related activities. However, this research uses the notion of awareness. The SME manager needs to be alert and well informed about his surroundings in order to cope with international threats and overseas market opportunities. The empirical work consisted of face-to-face interviews, followed by a large postal survey conducted in five countries: the UK, France, Finland, Australia and Mexico. A total of 2,500 questionnaires was sent with a response rate of 22%. Remarkable similarities were found in the characteristics of the SME manager. He is likely to be a middle-aged, well-educated male, with a degree in engineering or business. He speaks a foreign language, is well travelled and may well have lived abroad. Most SMEs were found to be engaged, directly or indirectly, in some sort of international activity, usually importing products and parts. SMEs do not necessarily follow a pattern of incremental internationalisation as they have a wide range of options and many of these managers pursue opportunistic strategies. The information acquisition of the SME manager was analysed, as information is a prerequisite in the internationalisation of the SME. The manager gathers and acquires external information that needs to be internalised, and integrated with that which the manager already has to create new knowledge. SME managers prefer informal means to acquire the information they need, often from customers, suppliers and competitors. SME managers, wherever they are, have very similar needs and problems, have similar education, apply similar management theories and have access to similar information. Similarities outweigh the differences; it seems the business culture has become as international as the English language. Other research has focused on the differences, perhaps missing the similarities. For most SME managers, market considerations, such as customer preferences, are far more important than cultural considerations.