Small Business Growth and Non-Growth over the Long-term
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Commerce
This study investigates the growth and non-growth of small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over the long-term. A multiple case study methodology was used to examine the growth paths of eight SMEs over a period of fourteen years. Four firms represented manufacturing and four, the professional and business services industry. The firms were paired according to similar sectors and contrasting growth paths. Longitudinal employment data illustrated the firms’ growth paths, and the primary method of data collection was semi-structured interviews of the firms’ owner-managers. The research incorporated extensive literature, including traditional research approaches and life cycle models and emergent literature on organisational learning and growth paths. The growth and non-growth firms were found to be distinct from each other, regardless of industry. The growth firms’ owner-managers had strong growth ambitions and actively sought the recognition and challenges that arise from the operation of multiple growth businesses. The non-growth owner-managers had passive growth ambitions and focused on maintaining their accustomed lifestyle. These differences were also illustrated in the firms’ approaches to networking, internationalisation and technological advancement. The growth firm owner-managers were all portfolio entrepreneurs and had strong professional networks, which they considered were strategically vital. In contrast, the non-growth owner-managers were novice entrepreneurs and were nonchalant towards networking. Innovation and flexibility were identified as important characteristics in the long-term performance of the firms. Findings also indicated that owner-managers’ perceptions of their external business environment determined the influence it had on the business. Individual and collective learning processes underpin these findings in determining long-term growth performance of the firms. The strong interrelationships between owner-managers, learning processes, and longitudinal growth paths suggest areas of future research.