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Internationalization pathways among family‐owned SMEs

Tanja Kontinen (School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)
Arto Ojala (Faculty of Information Systems, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)

International Marketing Review

ISSN: 0265-1335

Article publication date: 7 September 2012

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to increase understanding of the internationalization of family firms; to investigate how the framework by Bell et al. on the internationalization patterns of firms could explain the internationalization pathways taken by family‐owned small to medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs); and to identify typical patterns and features in the various pathways taken by family‐owned SMEs.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper reports findings from an in‐depth multiple case study with eight Finnish family‐owned SMEs.

Findings

The ownership structure had the most important role in defining the internationalization pathways followed by the family‐owned SMEs: a fragmented ownership structure led to traditional internationalization pathway whereas a concentrated ownership base led to born global or born‐again global pathways.

Practical implications

Family entrepreneurs should carefully consider the division of ownership and seek to build new relationships in foreign markets, in addition to their primary co‐operators.

Originality/value

The authors extend the integrative model of small firm internationalization by Bell et al. toward family‐owned SMEs and highlight the most important dimensions in the different internationalization pathways of family SMEs. The ownership dimension is integrated within discussion on differing internationalization pathways. The authors utilize a family business specific perspective (the stewardship perspective), in order to understand the specific features of internationalization among family SMEs, and also how these features differ between family SMEs and other firms.

Keywords

Citation

Kontinen, T. and Ojala, A. (2012), "Internationalization pathways among family‐owned SMEs", International Marketing Review, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 496-518. https://doi.org/10.1108/02651331211260359

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited