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International relationships and resilience of New Zealand SME exporters during COVID-19

Benjamin Fath (Business School, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Antje Fiedler (Business School, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Noemi Sinkovics (Business School, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Rudolf R. Sinkovics (Business School, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand and LUT University, Lappeenranta, Finland)
Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor (Business School, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 8 March 2021

Issue publication date: 17 May 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to empirically investigate how small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have engaged with international network partners during COVID-19 and how the crisis has changed network relationships and resilience depending on pre-COVID relationship strength and, secondarily, on opportunity outlook in a market.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper draws on 14 qualitative interviews with managers of New Zealand SMEs from diverse industries and four with industry experts. Rather than generalization, the aim of this exploratory paper is to identify contingency factors, which, under duress, strengthen or break business relationships.

Findings

Four main patterns emerge from the data, with respect to how SMEs engaged with network partners depending on the nature of their prepandemic relationships and the extent to which their markets had been affected by the pandemic. During crisis, weak ties either break or remain weak, forcing firms to create new, potentially opportunistic, relationships. Strong ties increase resilience, even under a negative outlook, as network partners support each other, including through the development of new ties. Strong ties can also accelerate business model transformation.

Research limitations/implications

Future large-scale research is needed to test the generalizability of the authors’ findings.

Practical implications

The findings of this paper indicate lessons for business continuation management and future preparedness for major disruptions. Specific insights may help stimulate managerial action to accelerate contingency planning and policy to support SMEs.

Originality/value

This paper is an early study on how weak and strong ties influence SME resilience during crisis.

Keywords

Citation

Fath, B., Fiedler, A., Sinkovics, N., Sinkovics, R.R. and Sullivan-Taylor, B. (2021), "International relationships and resilience of New Zealand SME exporters during COVID-19", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 359-379. https://doi.org/10.1108/cpoib-05-2020-0061

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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