|dc.description.abstract||Current theoretical insights into firm internationalisation have mainly focused on large
American multinationals or on smaller early internationalising firms. Global niche
players, often competing alongside or even complementary, have been less researched.
They, like larger players, often strive to go global and dominate their market segments
simply to survive and endure processes of global consolidation and often it is necessary
to achieve top global positions. One such successful global niche strategy variant is
‘Global Hidden Champions’ (GHCs), which are low profile, global top three under
US$ 5 billion firms, mainly found in Germany (Simon, 2012). The question becomes
pressing: how do GHCs reach world market leadership?
This study seeks to identify through which internationalisation paths and associated
market entry modes 30 GHCs investigated from Germany and Britain reached global
dominance and the specific competitive advantages without which such strategies
would not have succeeded. This thesis takes an evolutionary historic perspective by
distinguishing enduring with less-enduring GHCs, established at various points in time
between 1838 and 2007.
A qualitative multiple case study approach is used based on 30 cases, 15 from each
country. The abductive stance facilitates deductions of existing theoretical
frameworks, whilst also allowing exploratory new themes to emerge. Structured and
semi-structured interviews, combined with documentation, allow triangulation of
findings and help minimise bias. Guided by the conceptual framework, data has been
thematically coded, analysed and systematically explored, allowing several new
themes to emerge.
Not one single GHC was found pursuing the traditional Uppsala Model
internationalisation path. Instead 43% were identified as Born Globals (BGs); 20% as
Born-Again Globals (BAGs); but no less than 37% emerged as quite different hybrid
internationalisers, which because of their quite distinctive traits, were denoted ‘Re-
Born-Again Globals’ (Re-BAGs). The analysis involved innovative methodological
analysis, which further clarified some partial overlap of BGs, BAGs, and re-BAGs
with Uppsala Model features, yet decided differences in terms of tempo and direction.
All three alternative paths led to top three global market leadership positions,
depending on the GHCs context and historical circumstances. Nevertheless, recently
established GHCs pursued BG paths, whereas more enduring GHCs almost all
followed BAG and re-BAG paths. Younger British GHCs frequently embarked on
early proactive paths, whilst their more enduring German equivalents pursued more
belated internationalisation routes.
History emerged as pivotal. BAGs and re-BAGs were both distinguished by critical
incidents which, in all 17 cases, shifted strategies on to much more proactive
internationalisation paths. German GHCs, though, shifted primarily in response to
technology advances, whereas British GHCs typically responded to specific
Literature on accelerated internationalisation paths, such as in relation to BGs, remains
unclear on commitments beyond trade. Yet, 90% of GHCs deployed substantial
foreign direct investment (FDI), in addition to mere trade activity. Initially, German
GHCs grew organically focusing on neighbouring markets. In contrast, British GHCs
often used acquisitions and targeted more global, in particular, Commonwealth
markets. FDI thus emerged as a crucial addition to export activity in all three
alternative paths followed by BGs, BAGs and re-BAGs enabling them to sustain
leading global market positions.
Yet, such paths were in turn contingent upon competitive advantages. GHCs from both
countries complied remarkably closely with 6 out of 8 of Simon’s (2009) identified
theoretical HC Model traits: being ‘leadership with ambitious goals’; ‘innovation’;
‘high-performance employees’; ‘closeness to customer’; ‘globalisation’, and ‘focus’.
More in depth, albeit exploratory, analysis further uncovered the critical role played
by ‘visions and values’ and ‘brand’, leading to a new tentative theoretical GHC Model.
This new Model, moreover, recognises a virtuous cycle of market leadership
advantages from which more enduring GHCs particularly benefitted. It also integrates
comfortably with Teece’s (2014) model of dynamic capabilities, extending his
framework by including market leadership approaches and more precise competitive
advantages of the GHC Model, alongside more specific concepts relating to
In summary, this study contributes to the knowledge of how both long-standing and
newer German and British GHCs conquer global markets by unveiling their specific
and successful internationalisation paths, market entry mode choices and their
underlying competitive advantages.||en