International Family Enterprise

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"Enabling Internationalization Excellence for Family Enterprises"

IFE, 2017


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The president of France Emmanuel Macron is currently visiting Finland. Yesterday, he started his speech with a few phrases of Finnish. In Denmark, he started with a few words of Danish. His pronunciation of Finnish was not perfect, but actually, pronunciation was not the point at all. The Finnish faces around him, and of the ones seeing this on TV, were all smiles.

According to my research findings, in addition to spending free time together one of the most important ways of getting closer to the customer or partner is to know some historical facts and a few words of the language of the target country.

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“In communication, 10 % is words”

For my research, I interview founders of internationalizing small firms. As a norm, they struggle with the scarcity of time, money or other resources, but at the same time, they all seem to dream big and possess a rather solid belief in who they are and what they are doing. You may or may not relate, but at least it seems to be the case for the majority of small business owners, entrepreneurs, and managers in charge of operationalizing strategy that I meet and interview. And, what becomes vital for many of the start-up founders, investors too seem to somehow become spokesmen of those “dream big” ventures, sharing something of that initial belief.

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The Value of Networks of Networks for Internationalization

Asking from existing trustworthy network ties about new potential networks seems to have been an efficient way to expand internationally through history. However, according to our research project, current family entrepreneurs could use this approach more efficiently. Firstly, it does not cost anything. Secondly, time is saved, since the element of trust is more present there – being that the introduction to the new contact is done via someone who already trusts both parties.

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Internship for PhD Students: Why Not?

Last September 2017 I started my journey towards PhD degree, and as a crucial part of it, the data collection of our research project started in the beginning of 2018. Having visited and interviewed a bunch of interesting family SMEs in Finland, I feel confident that we are digging a fruitful and important turf of internationalization phenomena, and that there is a lot to learn from these stories of successful family enterprises. For now, I won’t go that deeper into the insights relevant to our research project (because there are still many interviews to be made during the spring and, thus, more insights to be taken into consideration), but rather I would like to reflect these enterprise visits to the researcher’s work and career development in general. Being at the early stage of my PhD degree path and having done few courses related to the research field and methodology, I think that, just like the case often is with lower level degrees, there should be compulsory internship or practical training period for each PhD to really get to know, what the real world is really like regarding one’s own research field.

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Social interaction is an essential part of the international trust game

Sorry, this post is available only in Finnish! It has been tailored for Finnish entrepreneurs in special.

Olen tutkijanurani (2008-2018) aikana perehtynyt syvästi 23 suomalaisen pienen ja keskisuuren perheyrityksen kansainvälistymiseen. Tässä kirjoituksessa esittelen tutkimukseni kautta tekemiäni yleisiä havaintoja erityisesti näiden 23 pk-perheyrityksen kansainväliseen verkostoitumiseen ja kulttuuriosaamiseen liittyen. Lopussa vielä valotan miten 1870-1930-lukujen perheyrittäjät (Serlachius, Schauman, Waldén, Ahlström) verkostoituivat ja hallitsivat vieraat kulttuurit.

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Of coming and going

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a bus. The bus is taking me to Austria, where I’ll spend a couple of days visiting my friends before heading towards the expected white Christmas in Finland. My trip has started from Milan, where I attended an European International Business Academy Conference of current research related to my own research field. Now, having a good 5-hour ride for myself, I start reflecting on the past six months of research and my next steps in this process. So, in addition to a simple bus ride with a nice view over the Alps, I find myself being on a mental journey of some sort inspired by the things I see around me.

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We thought this must be the best way – but we should always remember it is just one way and there is also a mid-way

My newest publication* deals with how SMEs are able to build international network ties wisely to an institutionally different foreign market. We investigated eight Finnish SMEs who had exports via agents / distributors, sales subsidiaries, or a production subsidiary in the French market. We interviewed both Finnish managers and their French collaborators. We used the concept of institutional logics to find out about the cultural and material practices typical of Finnish and French business culture / SMEs.

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Are Finnish Family Enterprises Too Family-Oriented for International Growth?

PwC recently conducted a large-scale Family Business Survey Report about family enterprises both globally and in Finland. The survey dealt with various themes, among which a closely examined one was internationalization. In Finland, 54 phone interviews and 57 face-to-face interviews were conducted, which yielded some interesting findings. Finnish family enterprises expect more growth than their counterparts in Sweden, Germany and globally, both overall and in terms of international sales during the next five years. The survey, however, raises a concern over the relatively low willingness among Finnish family enterprises to use nonfamily executives in running the business. According to the survey, enterprises with nonfamily executives tend to grow more aggressively. Accordingly, it asks whether Finnish family enterprises are capable enough to achieve the high international growth targets with current skills, people and product/service portfolio.

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News about Tanja’s research in Talouselämä

Tanja’s research on the importance of building a social relationship for international networking was widely reported in Talouselämä on 14/10/2017. See the news here. The contents of the article are related to Tanja’s findings and considerations which reveal that Finnish managers and entrepreneurs seem not to fully understand the role of social relationships for internationalization. Instead, they mainly concentrate on developing and presenting technology and being cost-efficient in relation to the relationship maintenance. However, even the best technological product of highest technology and qualities cannot be sold without networks, which, on turn, make the sales and the result of the firm below the line. In the article, Tanja also gives recommendations for the networking related to Russia, China and France.

Tanja’s research and its practical implications were also discussed in the web release of Suomen yrittäjät. See the news here

On the Importance of Family Enterprises

Some family enterprises do not want to be labeled as family enterprises. The reason for it might be the lack of respect there used to be for this type of firms. Recently, the focus in many societies has been on high-growth firms, which are without doubt important and fascinating stories. However, at the same time, the largest group of firms, the ones growing slower, slowly, or not at all, making more than 95% of the firm population, have achieved much less attention. I think this really needs to be fixed, and there needs to be more focus on firms with slower growth, such as family enterprises.

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