Exports 'need staff buy-in'

17:00, Aug 17 2012

Small-to-medium enterprises need wider staff involvement in their efforts to win over export markets, according to a polytechnic-based management tutor.

Juan Pellegrino, who works at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT), says exporting SMEs tend to fall into two categories. The first are those that choose to internationalise early, and those that take much more gradual or incremental steps.

While either path can bring success, Pellegrino said those that had a clear organisational strategy from the outset and then subsequently shared acquired knowledge on export markets with staff, were more successful.

His view is based on a study of the operations of eight SMEs, four of which had chosen to expand incrementally and four that were "born globals".

"From having that strategy from the very beginning it will help you grow and it will help you achieve your goals," he said.

"As the companies grow, it is important for the managers or CEO or founders to share that knowledge within the organisation."

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This focus on markets had been very apparent in a office furniture design and manufacturer company he had studied. "The two founders decided from the very beginning how they were going to do business, and they were going to focus on design," he said.

"The way they approached learning was very proactively, and allowed them to be very successful."

Pellegrino said studies also pointed to success by companies that developed a unique, innovative product targeting a niche market. The SME then had to form a close relationship with overseas distributors for the company to realise its export goals.

Pellegrino was drawing on his thesis work on SMEs taking paths into export markets, completed in February 2009 as part of a doctor of philosophy degree at the University of Otago.

He is continuing his research with CPIT Department of Business academic manager Teresa Schwellnus, studying a particular Christchurch SME with 16 employees and its international expansion plans.

The company had not been particularly affected by the Canterbury earthquakes as "from the very beginning they were focused on offshore markets", he said. The company's name was confidential, and the research study has been funded by Innovation New Zealand.

BusinessDay.co.nz