In the past, there has been an unfortunate trend of research and politics and practical business life not walking very much hand in hand. It has not been rare that the research conducted has been floating in a so-called theory cloud, having very little to say about the practical life and the practical level operators have even lost their interest in academic research.
We are pleased to announce that our book on family firm internationalisation, co-authored by Tanja Leppäaho and Jaakko Metsola, has now been published by Palgrave MacMillan. Titled “Family Firm Internationalisation – A Network Perspective,” the book links theories on family business, internationalization and international networking to an empirical analysis of 24 Finnish family SMEs. Thus, owed to being a diamond in the rough as a research topic, we do not only settle for summarising prior knowledge, but – and perhaps more importantly – embark upon an empirical investigation of our own, based on a large number of interviews and secondary data. We believe that this mix of theory and practice in the form of a Palgrave Pivot book provides readers with digestible insights related to international networking typology, strategies, paths, and success factors, especially in relation to family firms.
In our recently published research article, Tanja and I discuss our findings of founder-CEOs of early and rapidly internationalized ventures, their identities and relative behavior. In the paper, we elaborate on how individuals, telling about their life-experiences and becoming and being international entrepreneurs, construct their identities into scripts — i.e. a Pioneer, Native, Diplomat, Gambler, and an Eclectic script. Moreover, we illuminate how founder-CEOs’ developmental experiences feed into and frame their international entrepreneurial behavior as emergent in the range of historically bound and generational contexts, encompass the sense-making of international social interaction and shed light to the emotional aspects relative to one’s international entrepreneurial journey.
Are you the explorer of unmarked paths…
A “pioneer script” encapsulates the life narratives of international entrepreneurs who make sense of themselves as forward-looking, possessing a proactive attitude and eagerness to move along unmarked paths throughout their career. “Pioneers” emphasize that while becoming an international entrepreneur is perhaps challenging, it is deeply rewarding in terms of personal growth, as when one persists in believing in something that has not hitherto been attempted. Founders of this script are of great persistency and visionary in their outlook, reflecting the context of doing international business at times and places when there are little or no external support for conducting and enacting the emerging pioneering ideas. To this extent, a Pioneer script involves the sensitivity to the ideologically, politically, and culturally different times an international entrepreneur may encounter, where one might be pressured either to give in, or else to fight for something personally meaningful, while developing an unconstrained yet legitimate status for one’s company and one’s self.
…or a diplomat, who builds bridges between people and yourself?
Some of the founders’ identities and behavior unfolded according to what we could call the ”diplomat script”. This script gains momentum from personal cultural and social encounters that both challenge and provide learning opportunities, constructing knowledge of the international context over time. It also manifests the developing path of internationalization, arrived at through introspection, with interpretation of interactions with people from different backgrounds along one’s life trajectory. Furthermore, a diplomat script seems to be grounded in people-oriented experiences, and fits well with the demands of contemporary internationalization and of entrepreneurial careers that build on social relationships and networks.
Perhaps you were just born with it?
While reflecting the position of founder-CEOs who are internally driven by awareness of the necessity of doing international business, the “native script” also tells of the ones having an entrepreneurial mindset and the privilege of being internationally and/or entrepreneurially oriented from an early period in their life. Assuming that such individuals also have personal motivation for entrepreneurial practices, this script fits well with the behavior of “born global” entrepreneurs, i.e., those who have the internal abilities to adapt easily to various global “cultures” of business (by being, e.g., a “world citizen” or a “digi-native”), and to international careers in which they become more and more embedded. Such characteristics — in conjunction with the push of personal interests and education and the pull of broad social networks, accentuated by the technological advances of the time — enable the person to construct a flexible identity that will endure both personal and social scrutiny.
When “positive delusion” is the name of the game
A “gambler script” manifests the behavior surrounding risk-taking amid the uncertainties of founding an international new venture. If such a script is followed through, taking on calculated risks provides the “thrill of the game” while pursuing big dreams. Reaching millions of online followers worldwide may be both the motivation and the means for their international venturing. As one might expect from such individuals, a pre-eminent characteristic is intelligence, applied to dealing dispassionately with human cognition and emotions. Thus, this script seems to incorporate a sense of responsibility for one’s risk-taking actions. Disregarding the negative connotations of “gambling”, international entrepreneurship makes sense as a kind of “sport” of logic and problem-solving, one that makes it necessary to keep a close eye on competitors’ actions and reactions, have good abilities to handle emotions and manage one’s own reactions in stressful situations.
The reflexive Eclectic
When we suggest such categorizations of founders’ identity constructions and their “narrative scripts”, we ought to remember that no entrepreneur should beput into a box. Neither can we maintain much of stability in the rapidly changing and dynamic world we live in. Hence, we ought to read further the international entrepreneurship script as an eclectic one. Many of the founders’ experiences manifest eagerness to and ability to learn, and strong willingness to be transformative in the dynamic and changing international business context. In addition to an internal motivation to initiate and to work diligently for the next “big thing”, founders may find a good degree of reflexivity over one’s actions, with a profound willingness to reflect on and re-interpret their interaction with their (social) environment on the way. Manifesting a rather deep sense of one’s own self — while also ability to challenge one’s assumptions following feedback from others — an “eclectic script” seems to give an entrepreneur the possibilities to adopt a myriad of approaches within the complexity of international and entrepeneurial practices.
We encourage you to read further our open access article, where you’ll find the importance of considering the various cultural and time contexts, generational contexts, and social contexts, as well as the emotional aspects in which one becomes and is an entrepreneur leading an international venture. Considering these dimensions underpinning individuals’ actions and behavior would then have the aim to develop more reflective practices – especially reflexivity – among those who engage daily in “writing the new scripts” of international entrepreneurship, such as educational insitutes, media as much as entrepreneurs themselves.
This is a call for chapters on family firm (FF) internationalization for Scholarly Handbook published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book is focused on the role of FF-specific views and networks in their internationalization, the actual internationalization process and FFs internationalizing from or to Emerging Markets in special. Both empirical and conceptual work is welcome.
The research on the internationalization of family enterprises took off in 1991 when Miguel Angel Gallo and Jannicke Sveen published the first scientific article on the topic. This study dealt with the facilitating and restraining factors for family enterprises to go international. For nearly 30 years from that publication, various studies have attempted to increase our understanding on the specific factors related to the internationalization of family enterprises. Although this field of research has witnessed explosive growth (e.g. Pukall and Calabro, 2014), there is still lot to do in gaining findings that have large consensus behind them. We are still in a situation wherein opposing findings often fight with each other, for instance:
Service designer Petri Aaltonen notes that the core of service business is not how valuable the customer is to the company, but what is the value the company brings to the customer. Hence, focus in service design should first and foremost be on the value experience, combining different levels of feeling and meaning. This lead me thinking more of the meaning of word value(s) in business.
Lately, I have been following one of my friends in LinkedIn, noting how he has become a professional in encouraging others. One update and post after another, be it work or free-time related, he is giving positive feedback and appreciation to his co-workers, colleagues, customers and friends. I could say, my friend’s activity and communication is led by the value of encouragement. The leading thought does not seem to be how much his actions bring value to the company he represents, but how much his actions are bringing meaning and value to his network and people he personally encounters – online or offline. He has internalized a value and attitude – or a personal brand – which reaches people on levels of both feeling and reason.
If service and service leadership is about value experience, I would say it is exactly the personal level appreciation and valuing that should be in a bigger role when building up the firm-level value for customers. It would not be primarily about competing for the value the customers brings to the company (cashflow), but the meaningfulness and feeling of working with that particular company that brings value (experience) to the customer. Like Aaltonen notes, service designing in companies must be based on knowing and seeing the customer and their needs; one must go close to the human: “Leaders’ attitude should be that I am here to learn, not leading.”
Because service business is growing its percentage in overall business activities, it is meaningful to take notion of how value experience and services are lead in family businesses. Not least, because values serve as the anchor for family firms, grounding much of its organizational culture, leadership, activities and objectives. Therefore, family firms as the kind of value leaders have the great position to be encouraging and showing their customers and other stakeholders how they reflect on values as assets in their operations e.g. in designing and producing services.
I read a book about Finnish entrepreneurship stories (Yrittäjän Taivas+Helvetti Vol. 3, The Heaven and Hell of an Entrepreneur Vol. 3 in English), which includes a story about Risto Käkelä and his family firm Avant Tecno, a manufacturer of loaders, located in Ylöjärvi, Finland. Risto tells how in 1992 Jorgen, a Danish man having a small firm in their barn with his wife importing agricultural machinery to Denmark, happened to walk at the exhibition stand just when Avant Tecno started the machine of their loader on the last day of the first foreign trade fair of the firm in Germany. Jorgen tried the loader and eventually his firm started to import the machines of Avant Tecno to Denmark. Since the start of the relationship, Avant Tecno has sold machines to Denmark with 70 million euros, and in 2017 Risto gave Jorgen a gift for “the first 25 years” at the open house at Jorgen’s firm in Denmark.
“It was a lucky event for both of us. If we had started the machine ten seconds later, Jorgen would have walked by so far away that he wouldn’t have turned back”.
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.
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.
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.