The strategic decision-making process for the internationalization of family businesses

  • Fabio Musso
  • Barbara Francioni
Keywords: family businesses; internationalization; strategic decision-making process; born globals


Purpose of the paper: The principal aim of this study is to contribute to the literature on family businesses by providing some new insights about international strategic decisions of born global.

Methodology: An explorative, qualitative research has been employed. In-depth interviews with four main decision-makers of family businesses, involved in international activities, were conducted to examine the main factors influencing their strategic decisions.

Results: The research allowed to verify whether the factors identified by previous studies were correctly defined, by assessing their influence on international development decisions, and whether any other factors of influence emerged.

Limits: The main limitation of this paper is the sample’s characteristics, which do not allow a complete generalization of the results.

Implications: This study mainly permits to analyze the interactions within the family group involved in the management of companies, enriching the field of analysis that in previous studies was mainly focused on the characteristics of the entrepreneur or the managers.

Originality of the paper: This paper is one of the few contributions examining, on one hand, born global family firms and, on the other hand, which factors influence the main strategic decisions in the international context.


ACEDO F., JONES M. (2007), “Speed of internationalization and entrepreneurial cognition: insights and a comparison between international new ventures, exporters and domestic firms”, Journal of World Business, vol. 42, n. 3, pp. 236-252.

ARREGLE J.L., DURAN P., HITT M.A., VAN ESSEN M. (2016), “Why Is y Firms’ Internationalization Unique? A Meta- Analysis”, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, vol. August, pp. 1-31.

ARREGLE J.L., HITT M.A., MARI I. (2019), “A missing link in family firms’ internationalization research: Family structures”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 50, n. 5, pp. 809-825.

ARREGLE J.L., NALDI L., NORDQVIST M., HITT M.A. (2012), “Internationalization of Family-Controlled Firms: A Study of the Effects of External Involvement in Governance”, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, vol. November, pp. 1115-1143.

BARONCHELLI G., BETTINELLI C., BOSCO B.D., LOANE S. (2016), “The impact of family involvement on the investments of Italian small-medium enterprises in psychically distant countries”, International Business Review, vol. 25, n. 4, pp. 960-970.

BAUWERAERTS J., SCIASCIA S., NALDI L., MAZZOLA P. (2019), “Family CEO and board service: Turning the tide for export scope in family SMEs”, International Business Review, vol. 28, n. 5, pp. 101583.

BERRONE P., CRUZ C., GOMEZ-MEJIA L.R., LARRAZA-KINTANA M. (2010), “Socioemotional wealth and corporate responses to institutional pressures: Do family-controlled firms pollute less?”, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 55, n. 1, pp. 82-113.

BOELLIS A., MARIOTTI S., MINICHILLI A., PISCITELLO L. (2016), “Family involvement and firms’ establishment mode choice in foreign markets”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 47, n. 8, pp. 929-950.

CALABRÒ A., TORCHIA M., PUKALL T., MUSSOLINO D. (2013), “The influence of ownership structure and board strategic involvement on international sales: The moderating effect of family involvement”, International Business Review, vol. 22, pp. 509-523.

CARAGANCIU A., MUSSO F., FRANCIONI B. (2018), “The Influence of Business Ecosystems on Innovation-Based Industries: A Research on the Mechanical Sector in Italy”, in Mărginean S., Ogrean C., Orăștean R. (eds), Emerging Issues in the Global Economy, Springer Proceedings in Business and Economics. Springer, Cham, pp. 101-111.

CASILLAS J.C., ACEDO F.J. (2005), “Internationalisation of Spanish family SMEs: an analysis of family involvement”, International Journal of Globalisation and Small Business, vol. 1, n. 2, pp. 134-151.

CASILLAS J.C., MORENO A.M., ACEDO F.J. (2010), “Internationalization of Family Businesses: A Theoretical Model Based on International Entrepreneurship Perspective”, Global Management Journal, vol. 2, n. 2, pp. 16-33.

CAVUSGIL S.T., KNIGHT G. (2015), “The born global firm: An entrepreneurial and capabilities perspective on early and rapid internationalization”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 46, n. 1, pp. 3-16.

CHEN H.L., HSU W.T., CHANG C.Y. (2014), “Family Ownership, Institutional Ownership, and Internationalization of SMEs”, Journal of Small Business Management, vol. 52, n. 4, pp. 771-789.

CHETTY S., CAMPBELL-HUNT C. (2003), “Paths to internationalisation among small- to medium- sized firms. A global versus region-al approach”, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 37, n. 5/6, pp. 796-820.

CHOQUETTE E., RASK M., SALA D., SCHRÖDER P. (2017), “Born Globals - Is there fire behind the smoke?”, International Business Review, vol. 26, n. 3, pp. 448-460.

CLAVER E., RIENDA L., QUER D. (2009), “Family Firms’ International Commitment. The Influence of Family-Related Factors”, Family Business Review, vol. 22, n. 2, pp. 125-135.

CRICK D., BRADSHAW R., CHAUDHY S. (2006), “Successful’ internationalising UK family and non-family-owned firms: a comparative study”, Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, vol. 13, n. 4, pp. 498- 512.

D’ANGELO A., MAJOCCHI A., BUCK T. (2016), “External managers, family ownership and the scope of SME internationalization”, Journal of World Business, vol. 51, pp. 534-547.

DANA L.P., DANA T.E. (2005), “Expanding the scope of methodologies used in entrepreneurship research”, International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business (IJESB), vol. 2, n. 1, pp.79-88.

DANA L.P., DUMEZ H. (2015), “Qualitative research revisited: epistemology of a comprehensive approach”, International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, vol. 26, n. 2, pp. 154-170.

DANIK L., KOWALIK I. (2015), “Success factors and development barriers perceived by the Polish born global companies. Empirical study results”, Journal of East European Management Studies, vol. 20, n. 3, pp. 360-390.

DASPIT J.J., LONG R.G., PEARSON A.W. (2019), “How familiness affects innovation outcomes via absorptive capacity: A dynamic capability perspective of the family firm”, Journal of Family Business Strategy, vol. 10, n. 2, pp. 133-143.

DAVIS P.S., HARVESTON P.D. (2000), “Internationalization and Organizational Growth: The Impact of Internet Usage and Technology Involvement Among Entrepreneur led Family Businesses”, Family Business Review, vol. XIII, n. 2, pp. 107-120.

DURAN P., KOSTOVA T., VAN ESSEN M. (2017), “Political ideologies and the internationalization of family-controlled firms”, Journal of World Business, vol. 52, n. 4, pp. 474-488.

EISENHARDT K.M. (1989), “Building Theories from Case Study Research”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 14, n. 4, pp. 532-550.

EISENHARDT K.M., GRAEBNER M.E. (2007), “Theory building from cases: opportunities and challenges”, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 50, n. 1, pp. 25-32.

EUROFOUND (2012), Born global: The potential of job creation in new international businesses, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg

FALAHAT M., MIGIN M.W. (2017), “Export performance of international new ventures in emerging market”, International Journal of Business and Globalisation, vol. 19, n. 1, pp.111-123.

FALAY Z., SALIMÄKI M., AINAMO A., GABRIELSSON M. (2007), “Design-intensive born globals: a multiple case study of marketing management”, Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 23, n. 9-10, pp. 877-899.

FAN T., PHAN P. (2007), “International New Ventures: Revisiting the Influences behind the ‘Born-Global’ Firm”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 38, n. 7, pp. 1113-1131.

FERNÁNDEZ Z., NIETO M.J. (2005), “Internationalization Strategy of Small and Medium-Sized Family Businesses: Some Influential Factors”, Family Business Review, vol. 18, n. 1, pp. 77-89.

FRANCIONI B., MUSSO F. (2015), “Agri-food clusters, wine tourism and foreign markets: the role of local networks for SME’s internationalization”, Procedia Economics and Finance, vol. 27, n. 1, pp. 334-343.

FRANCIONI B., MUSSO F., CIOPPI M. (2017), “International decision processes within SMEs: the influence of biological sex and stereotypical gender roles”, International Journal of Globalisation and Small Business, vol. 9, n. 4, pp. 203-221.

FRANCIONI B., MUSSO F., MASILI G. (2019), “Born global family firms: a multiple case study”, International Journal of Business and Globalisation, (in press).:

FRANCIONI B., VISSAK T., MUSSO F. (2017), “Small Italian wine producers’ internationalization: the role of network relationships in the emergence of late starters”, International Business Review, vol. 26, n. 1, pp. 12-22.

GALLO M.A., GARCIA PONT C. (1996), “Important Factors in Family Business Internationalization”, Family Business Review, vol. 9, n. 1, pp. 45-59.

GHAURI P. (2004), “Designing and conducting case studies in international business research’”, in Marchan-Piekkari R., Welch C. (Eds.): Handbook of Qualitative Research. Methods for International Business. Edward Elgar, Glos, UK.

GRAVES C., THOMAS J. (2006), “Determinants of the Internationalization Pathways of Family Firms: An Examination of Family Influence”, Family Business Review, vol. 21, n. 2, pp. 151-167.

GUERCINI S., LA ROCCA A., RUNFOLA A., SNEHOTA I. (2014), “Interaction behaviors in business relationships and heuristics: Issues for management and research agenda”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 43, n. 6, pp. 929-937.

HAGEN, B., ZUCCHELLA, A. (2014) “Born global or born to run? The long-term growth of born global firms”, Management International Review, vol. 54, n. 4, pp.497-525.

HOLT D.T. (2012), “Strategic Decisions Within Family Firms: Understanding the Controlling Family’s Receptivity to Internationalization”, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, vol. 36, n. 6, pp. 1145-1151.

JOHANSON J., VAHLNE J.E. (1977), “The internationalization process of the firm - a model of knowledge development and increasing foreign market commitments”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 8, n. 1, pp. 23-32.

JOHANSON J., MATTSSON L.G. (1987), “Interorganizational relations in industrial systems: a network approach compared with the transaction-cost approach”, International Studies of Management and Organization, vol. 17, n. 1, pp. 34-48.

JORGE M., COUTO M., VELOSO T., FRANCO M. (2017), “When family businesses go international: management sets the path”, Journal of Business Strategy, vol. 38, n. 1, pp. 31-38.

KAHNEMAN D. (2011), Thinking, Fast and Slow, MacMillan, London.

KANO L., VERBEKE A. (2018), “Family firm internationalization: Heritage assets and the impact of bifurcation bias”, Global Strategy Journal, vol. 8, n. 1, pp. 158-183.

KNIGHT G. (2015), “Born global firms: evolution of a contemporary phenomenon’”, in Entrepreneurship in International Marketing, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 3-19.

KNIGHT G.A., CAVUSGIL S.T. (1996), “The born global firm: A challenge to traditional internationalization theory”, Advances in International Marketing, vol. 8, n. 1, pp. 11-26.

KNIGHT G.A., CAVUSGIL S.T. (2004), “Innovation, organizational capabilities, and the born-global firm”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 35, n. 2, pp. 124-141.

KNIGHT G.A., LIESCH P.W. (2016), “Internationalization: From incremental to born global”, Journal of World Business, vol. 51, n. 1, pp. 93-102.

KONTINEN T., OJALA A. (2010), “The internationalization of family businesses: A review of extant research”, Journal of Family Business Strategy, vol. 1, pp. 97-107.

KONTINEN T., OJALA A. (2011a), “International opportunity recognition among small and medium‐sized family firms”, Journal of Small Business Management, vol. 49, n. 3, pp. 490-514.

KONTINEN T., OJALA A. (2011b), “Network ties in the international opportunity recognition of family SMEs”, International Business Review, vol. 20, n. 4, pp. 440-453.

LEPPÄAHO T., PLAKOYIANNAKI E., DIMITRATOS P. (2016), “The Case Study in Family Business: An Analysis of Current Research Practices and Recommendations”, Family Business Review, vol. 29, n. 2, pp. 159-173.

MADSEN T.K., SERVAIS P. (1997), ‘The Internationalization of Born Globals: an Evolutionary Process?”, International Business Review, vol. 6, n. 6, pp. 561-583.

MAJOCCHI A., D’ANGELO A., FORLANI E., BUCK T. (2018), “Bifurcation bias and exporting: Can foreign work experience be an answer? Insight from European family SMEs”, Journal of World Business, vol. 53, n. 2, pp. 237-247.

MARINOVA S., MARINOV M. (2017), “Inducing the internationalisation of family manufacturing firms from a transition context”, European Business Review, vol. 29, n. 2, pp. 181-204.

MATHIAS B.D., HUYGHE A., FRID C.J., GALLOWAY T.L. (2018), “An identity perspective on coopetition in the craft beer industry”, Strategic Management Journal, vol. 39, n. 12, pp. 3086-3115.

MCDOUGALL P.P., OVIATT B.M. (2000), “International entrepreneurship: the intersection of two research paths”, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 43, n. 5, pp. 902-906.

MERINO F., MONREAL-PÉREZ J., SÁNCHEZ-MARÍN G. (2015), “Family SMEs’ Internationalization: Disentangling the Influence of Familiness on Spanish Firms’ Export Activity”, Journal of Small Business Management, vol. 53, n. 4, pp. 1164-1184.

MILES M.B., HUBERMAN A.M., HUBERMAN M.A., HUBERMAN M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook, SageLos Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC (

MOEN Ø. (2002), “The Born Globals: A new generation of small European exporters”, International Marketing Review, vol. 19, n. 2, pp. 156-175.

MOEN Ø., SERVAIS P. (2002), “Born global or gradual global? Examining the export behavior of small and medium-sized enterprises”, Journal of International Marketing, vol. 10, n. 3, pp. 49-72.

MORT G.S., WEERAWARDENA J. (2006), “Networking capability and international entrepreneurship: How networks function in Australian born global firms”, International Marketing Review, vol. 23, n. 5, pp. 549-572.

MULLAYMERI K., BIZMPIROULAS A., LOZNALIEVA O., ROTSIOS K. (2015), “The internationalization of wine SMEs in the midst of the economic crisis: pilot case studies from Greece, Albania & FYROM”, Sinergie Italian Journal of Management, vol. 33, n. 97, pp. 199-210.

MUSSO F., FRANCIONI B. (2015), “Agri-Food Clusters, Wine Tourism and Foreign Markets. The Role of Local Networks for SME’s Internationalization”, Procedia Economics and Finance, n. 27, pp. 334-343.

MUSSO F., FRANCIONI B., PAGANO A. (2012), “The role of country of origin in supporting export consortia in emerging markets, in Bertoli G. Resciniti R. (eds), International Marketing and the Country of Origin Effect: The Global Impact of “Made in Italy”, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK, pp. 178-198.

MUSSO F., RISSO M. (2012) “ICT Innovation for Buyer-Seller Relationships in international Supply Chains”, in Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Driving the Economy through Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Emerging Agenda for Technology Management, Springer India, Heidelberg, pp. 703-714.

MUSTAFA M., RAMOS H.M., CHEN S. (2013), “Internationalisation pathways of small Singaporean family firms: a socio-cultural perspective”, International Journal of Globalisation and Small Business, vol. 5, n. 4, pp. 290-311.

NUNES A., FRANCO M. (2015), “Internationalisation process: analysis of a cooperation network in the Vinho Verde sector for the US market”, World Review of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development, vol. 11, n. 1, pp. 34-48.

OVIATT B., MCDOUGALL P.P. (1994), “Toward a Theory of International New Ventures”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 25, n. 1, pp. 45-64.

OVIATT B.M., MCDOUGALL P.P. (2005), “Toward a theory of international new ventures”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 36, n. 1, pp. 29-41.

PALIWODA S.J., SLATER S., KOCAK A., ABIMBOLA T. (2009), “The effects of entrepreneurial marketing on born global performance”, International Marketing Review, vol. 26, n. 4/5, pp. 439-452

PEPE C., MUSSO F., RISSO M. (2008), “SME food suppliers versus large retailers: perspectives in the international supply chains”, 15th International Conference on Recent Advances in Retailing and Services Science, European Institute of Retailing and Services Studies (EIRASS), Zagreb, Croatia, July 14-17.

POZA E.J. (2013), Family business, Cengage Learning, Boston.

PUCCI T., CASPRINI E., GUERCINI S., ZANNI L. (2017), “One country, multiple country-related effects: An international comparative analysis among emerging countries on Italian fashion products”, Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, vol. 8, n. 2, pp. 98-112.

PUKALL T.J., CALABRÒ A. (2014), “The internationalization of family firms: A critical review and integrative model”, Family Business Review, vol. 27, n. 2, pp. 103-125.

RAMADANI V., HOY F. (2015). “Context and uniqueness of family businesses”, In Family businesses in transition economies (pp. 9-37), Springer, Cham.

RAMÓN-LLORENS M. C., GARCÍA-MECA E., DURÉNDEZ A. (2017), “Influence of CEO characteristics in family firms internationalization”, International Business Review, vol. 26, n. 4, pp. 786-799.

RASMUSSEN E. S., MADSEN T.K. (2002). “The born global concept”, in EIBA Conference Proceedings, pp. 1-26.

RASMUSSEN E.S., MADSEN T.K., SERVAIS P. (2012), “On the foundation and early development of domestic and international new ventures”, Journal of Management and Governance, vol. 16, n. 4, pp. 543-556.

RENNIE M.W. (1993), “Born Global”, McKinsey Quarterly, vol. 4, pp. 45-52.

REXHEPI G., RAMADANI V., RAHDARI A., ANGGADWITA G. (2017), “Models and strategies of family businesses internationalization: A conceptual framework and future research directions”, Review of International Business and Strategy, vol. 27, n. 2, pp. 248-260.

SCHNEOR R. (2012), “Born global firms internet and new forms of internationalization”, in Gabrielsson M., Kirpalani V.H.M. (Eds.), Handbook of research on born globals, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 161-184.

SCHOLES L., MUSTAFA M., CHEN S. (2016), “Internationalization of small family firms: The influence of family from a socioemotional wealth perspective”, Thunderbird International Business Review, vol. 58, n. 2, pp. 131-146.

SCIASCIA S., MAZZOLA P. (2008), “Family Involvement in Ownership and Management: Exploring Nonlinear Effects on Performance”, Family Business Review, vol. 21, n. 4, pp. 331-345.

SCIASCIA S., MAZZOLA P., ASTRACHAN J.H., PIEPER T.M. (2012), “The Role of Family Ownership in International Entrepreneurship: Exploring Nonlinear Effects”, Small Business Economics, vol. 38, n. 1, pp. 15-31.

SCIASCIA S., MAZZOLA P., ASTRACHAN J.H., PIEPER T.M. (2013), “Family Involvement in the Board of Directors: Effects on Sales Internationalization”, Journal of Small Business Management, vol. 51, n. 1, pp. 83-99.

SEGARO E., LARIMO J., JONES M.V. (2014), “Internationalisation of family small and medium sized enterprises: The role of stewardship orientation, family commitment culture and top management team”, International Business Review, vol. 23, pp. 381-395.

SHARMA D.D., BLOMSTERMO A. (2003), “The internationalization process of born globals: a network view”, International Business Review, vol. 12, n. 6, pp. 739-753.

SILVERMAN D. (2000), Doing Qualitative Research. A Practical Handbook, Sage, London.

STAKE R.E. (1995), The Art of Case Research, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

STAKE R.E. (2013), Multiple Case Study Analysis, Guilford Press, New York, NY.

STIEG P., HIEBL M.R.W., KRAUS S., SCHÜSSLER F., SATTLER S. (2017), “Born-again Globals: Generational Change and Family Business Internationalization”, European Journal of International Management, vol. 11, n. 5, pp. 581-605.

TAYLOR M., JACK R. (2012), “Understanding the pace, scale and pattern of firm internationalization: An extension of the “born global” concept”, International Small Business Journal, vol. 31, n. 6, pp. 701-721.

VISSAK T., FRANCIONI B., MUSSO,F. (2017), “The role of network relationships in small wineries’ internationalization A case study from Marche, Italy”, International Journal of Wine Business Research, vol. 29, n. 1, pp. 37-57.

WACH K. (2014), “Familiness and born globals: rapid internationalization among polish family firms”, Journal of Intercultural Management, vol. 6, n. 3, pp.177-186.

WELCH C., PIEKKARI R., PLAKOYIANNAKI E., PAAVILAINEN-MÄNTYMÄKI E. (2011), “Theorising from case studies: Towards a pluralist future for international business research”, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 42, n. 5, pp. 740-762.

YIN R. (1994), Case study research, Design and methods, Sage, London.

ZAEFARIAN R., ENG T.Y., TASAVORI M. (2016), “An exploratory study of international opportunity identification among family firms”, International Business Review, vol. 25, pp. 333-345.

ZUCCHELLA A., PALAMARA G., DENICOLAI S. (2007), “The drivers of the early internationalization of the firm”, Journal of World Business, vol. 42, n. 3, pp. 268-280.