Export Performance of the Chilean Technology-Intensive Suppliers Isabel Torres and Utz Dornberger
Firms’ internationalization is the process of adaptation to the contexts of the international markets. Successful firms adapt their offers and operating processes to the needs of the international markets. Such adaptive capability of the firms is expected to cast dynamic effect on their performances. This dynamic capability develops within the firm through a complex mix of learning that the firm generates through the trial-anderror handling of its internal processes (e.g. product innovation) as well as from external processes (e.g. market servicing). The more diversified processes the firms manages, the more the firms develop higher-order coordination capabilities in them, which retains and increases firms’ competitiveness in changing contexts. This proposition has been tested with primary and secondary data from 64 Chilean firms, who are the suppliers of technology-based products to customers in large scale Chilean industry (mining, forest, fishery and agriculture sector). Results confirm that more diversified firms are more capable of handling more culturally and institutionally diversified markets contexts, which yield more improved international market performances for them.
Introduction In his book “The Strategy of Economic Development” (1958), Hirschman argues that industrialization processes could be induced through backward linkages. Hirschman uses the expression “linkages” to describe economic relationships between industrial sectors of an economy. Backward linkages are the result of any kind of industrial activity, because any such activity requires production inputs that must be supplied by other industries. The Finnish wood and paper industry provides a good example of linkage effects in the industrialization process. During its first development phase,
Isabel Torres is PhD Student of the International SEPT Programme at University of Leipzig, Germany. Utz Dornberger is Director of the International SEPT Programme at University of Leipzig, Germany. Address correspondence to: Utz Dornberger, International SEPT Programme, University of Leipzig, Beethovenstrasse 15, 04107 Leipzig, Germany, Email: [email protected]
which lasted approximately until the mid 1950's, native wood was exported after minimal processing and the majority of required capital goods and production inputs had to be imported. During a second phase, which lasted until 1970, wood processing into cellulose, paper and cardboard became more and more common, and almost all engineering services required in the value chains were now provided by local companies. The first local technology-intensive suppliers were set up and developed rapidly. Since 1970 exports of high-value wood, paper, and chemical products increased, and so did exports of special machinery and equipment (Herniesnemi et al. 1996, Ramos 2001). Today Finland exports more equipment and machinery for processing wood than wood-based products. Technology-intensive suppliers (TIS) are easy to distinguish from the labourintensive ones. While the latter primarily provide the services with low skills requirements and produce undifferentiated goods, the former tend to employ higher skills, e.g. manufacturing specialised machinery and production inputs as well as the provisions of knowledge-intensive services. Therefore innovation activities and new product development are common practices in these firms. TIS firms belong to several sectors, use technology, and correspond to a part in an industrial value chain in a country. In the case of Chile, a similar group of firms has emerged, who focus on the development of innovative solutions for their mainly large customers in the mining, fishing, forest and agribusiness sectors (Torres, 2007). Chilean TISs belong to different sectors e.g. machinery, plastic, chemical, engineering and biotechnology industry. They produce tailor made services and products for their customers (Torres, 2009). Since 1970s Chile has became a very open economy. On the one hand, this policy improved
large natural resources-based industry by putting greater emphasis on efficiency and well managed productive costs (Büchi, 2008). This situation increased local demand of high quality and innovative products and services. On the other hand, Chile attracted many foreign firms in the country with new technologies and developed a highly competitive context. This fierce competition initially led many firms to bankruptcy, especially who were not well managed and non-competitive. Nevertheless some of the firms that survived have transformed themselves as suppliers of technology-based products and services and operated in the niche markets. These Chilean TISs belong to several value chains at a time, as they have highly competitive products and strong position in the local markets (Dornberger et al., 2006). Theoretically these firms have all elements that a firms needs to be successful abroad, e.g. innovation, local consolidation, adaptive capacity, among others. Nevertheless, only 7 percent of such firms are exporters (Lima et al., 2003). Average growth of export of such firms is 4.5 percent, which is more than the average of the growth of the Chilean industrial sector (-0.3 percent) in the same period (Prochile, 2008). There is a little understanding available about the required capabilities of the Chilean TISs to internationalize them. No substantial research is available on the aspects relating to internationalisation of this kind of firms from developing countries. Therefore the objective of this paper is to provide a description of the development of the Chilean TISs in terms of their international performance. This paper particularly concentrates on exploring what firm-specific capabilities contributed to the international success of the Chilean TISs.
Conceptual Framework and Hypotheses Teece et al. (1997) describe dynamic capabilities as the ability to sense and seize new opportunities, reconfigure and protect knowledge and assets and to complement the assets and technologies to achieve sustainable competitive advantages. Furthermore Teece (2007) provides the functional breakup of the dynamic capability as the capability relating (1) to sense and configure the opportunities and threats, (2) to seize on the opportunities, and (3) to maintain competitiveness through enhancing, combining, protecting, and, in necessary case, reconfiguring the firm‟s intangible and tangible assets. These capabilities could contribute to the organization in creating, extending, upgrading, protecting, and keeping the firm‟s unique assets relevant in the changing conditions to retain the firm‟s competitive advantage. Firms need to generate and exploit knowledge to develop their competitive advantages (Grant, 1996). Ability to manage and cultivate knowledge differentiates success from failure (Nonaka et al., 1995). Effective learning is cumulative in nature (Helfat, 1994). Hence, internalizing learning from international operations is important for building the firm‟s competencies and achieving high performance (Ghoshal, 1987). Changes that occur in the firm's context can reduce the value of its current resources and knowledge, while through learning firms contribute not only to the slowing down of such value depletion but also to create newer values, as only organizational learning keeps the firms‟ adaptation capability updated. Market-based learning rests on the organization-wide value for the development of the customers‟ needs based valuebuilding process in the organization (Sinkula et al., 1997). As a process, it is associated with the possession of a systematic, thoughtful and proactive market monitoring, information
disseminating and sharing mechanism to facilitate the learning of the values, developing the capabilities, developing the processes and initiating actions that facilitate the dynamic fit between the organization and the market place environment (Morgan, 2004). Sinkula (1994) finds market-based learning as a core competence to provide the firm a fundamental base of competitive advantage against its competitor, as the firm can exploit this knowledge to reconfigure its operational capabilities in the changing contexts in the market. Knowledge generated by the way of direct and active engagement with actors and partners including customers, competitors, institutions and service providers in the market is distinct in nature and inimitable by the competitors. When the firm operates in different markets which are under different institutional and cultural contexts, firms experiences heterogeneous learning from different markets on the same issues. The greater challenge faced by the firm is that the firm needs to adjust its operational capabilities and processes in response to the different market contexts. From organization point of view, the firm is not in a position to tune its operations and offers for each individual market. The firm has to find out the critical similarities and dissimilarities among the markets and to configure the firm‟s capabilities and process in accordance with that, which certainly demonstrates the critical coordination capability of the firm. This coordination capability involves sensing the developments in different markets, configuring the need and nature of common and distinctive operation, figuring out the organizational routines which can accommodate such commonness and distinctiveness and keeping these practices updated to
competitiveness. Zollo and Winter (2002, p. 340) define a dynamic capability as „a learned and stable pattern of collective activity through which the organization systematically generates and modifies its operating routines in pursuit of improved
effectiveness.‟ In multiple markets servicing context, firms are required to do the same as Zollo and Winter (ibid.) perceived as dynamic capability. When firm A maintain its presence in more markets, in comparison to similar type of firm B, firm A is more dynamic firm than firm B. Based on these observations the following hypothesis analyzing the relationship between international market expansion and export performance was formulated: H1: Diversity in international market portfolio influences the export performance of the firm. Dynamic capability is the subset of competence/capabilities which allow the firm to create new products and processes, and respond to changing market circumstances (Teece et al., 1997). Verona and Ravasi (2003) unlocked the internal mechanics of the process of dynamic capability generation in the firm. They describes it as a cyclic arrangement between knowledge creation and absorption, knowledge integration and knowledge reconfiguration, while this interactive cycle moves around the continuous innovation in the organization. This innovation could be in the form of adaptation or new development of the products, services and/or key technological and managerial processes of the firm. Innovation, by nature, contains a high degree of change and uncertainty elements (Lee et al., 2008). When compared between two firms, firm A is perceived to have dynamic capability, when can develop the matching solutions with its continuously changing market environments, while firm B can‟t do it. The capability for developing such matching solutions is the in-side out demonstration of the dynamic capability that the firm has. In spite of its limitations, as an output proxy of innovation, number of new products or services a firm has introduced is the most
commonly used measure of innovation (Karantininis et al., 2007). The following hypothesis emphasizes the relationship between innovation and export performance. H2: Number of innovative products the firms can offer in the export market has influence on the export performance of the firm.
Methodology Variables and Indicators Table 1 summarizes the indicators that we used in order to measure market diversification, product diversification and export performance. Chilean TISs generally have wide range of products, which they develop initially for the local market. They adapt the products in response to their client needs, which means that they may not have to develop complete set of new products every year. Taking this point into consideration, in this paper, product innovation was not measured on the basis of the individual products, rather based on the introduction of a new product in a new category. Sousa (2004) and Leonidou et al. (2002) in their meta-analyses of the measures of the export performance included a wide range of export performance measures with a concluding note that every sector need their own measures which fit to their characteristics. For the Chilean TISs exporters the best fitting to measure of export performance include export intensity and market distance.
Table 1 List of variables and indicators
Market diversification (MD)
Number of the country markets that the firm has exported to in 2008, 2009, and 2002 to 2009
MD 2008 MD 2009 MD 2002-09
Product diversification (PD)
Number of new products types that a firm has developed in 2008, 2009, and 2002 to 2009
PD 2008 PD 2009 PD 2002-09
Export intensity (EI)
Export sales as a percentage of total sales for 2008, 2009, and 2002 to 2009 (average)
EI 2008 EI 2009 EI 2002-09
Ranking of the market distance (2002-2009)*
*Market distance ranking: 1: Latin America; 2: North America; 3: Europe; 4: Asia, Africa, Middle East
Data Collection and Analysis Researching the ProChile (Chilean Export Promotion Agency) records and discussing with the business association representing the Chilean mining, agribusiness, fishing and forestry sector, a total number of 164 technology-intensive suppliers were identified in 2009. In the period of November 2009 – February 2010, these firms were contacted with an invitation to take part in this research. 49 firms refused to participate. 114 firms accepted the invitations and they were given the option to choose either to participate in face-to-face interview through a standardized questionnaire or to fill-in a web-based version. Finally 54 firms participated in the face-to-face interview and 10 filled-in the web based survey. The effective rate of response is 39 percent (64/164) of the eligible target population. According to this figure the sample is representative. No significant differences were found between respondent and non-respondent group, in
consequence non-response bias was therefore not expected to have an effect on the results of our study. In order to test the hypotheses, linear regression analysis and partial least-square (PLS) regression analysis were applied. A PLS regression model was constructed using the SmartPLS 2.0 software (Ringle et al., 2005) to analyze the hypothesized path. A 200 resampling based bootstrapping process was run to test the external validity of the basic model.
Results and Discussion Descriptive Results The respondents are heterogeneous in the age, size (full-time employees), inception of export and number of export markets. Table 2 shows the descriptive statistics of these indicators. The sample contains both young firms and “old firms” (the earliest year of establishment 1917 and the latest 2006). Average age of the firms is 30 years. According to Chilean criteria there are small, medium-sized and large firms in the sample. The firms have operated in 6 markets on an average in 2009. At the same time, the high standard deviation (7) indicates that there is wide dispersion among the firms in terms of their market coverage. As the mode suggests, most of the firms had only 2 markets.
Table 2 Profile of respondents Mean
Start year of export operations
Full-time employees (2009)
Number of Export Markets (2009)
Number of Export Products(2009)
On average the firms have 8 product categories in their product portfolio. The range and standard deviation of the indicators suggest that there are large differences among the firms in their product portfolio possessions. Interestingly, most of the technology-oriented suppliers in Chile were founded by engineers. Enterprise culture is strongly influenced by these top engineers. They link „technology push‟ and „market pull‟ development activities inside the companies, resulting in client-oriented incremental innovation. The production models of these mainly SMEs are strongly coupled with intra-firm innovation processes. Most of the companies focus on product innovation. Incremental innovations based on client-oriented reactive adaptation of products as well as complex problems solving high-technology implementations can be observed in these firms. Table 3 shows the descriptive statistics of the indicators for dynamic capability and export performance. Concerning market diversification all over the period (20022009) the firms have been able to export to 12 markets on average. We can observe 10
decreasing between figures in 2008 and 2009, because of less foreign demand by global financial crisis. Table 3 Descriptive results of dynamic capability and export performance Mean
Indicators for Dynamic Capability Market diversification 2008
Market diversification 2009
Market diversification 2002-09
Product diversification 2008
Product diversification 2009
Export intensity 2002-09 (percentage)
Market Distance Ranking (1-4)
Indicators for Export Performance Export intensity 2008 (percentage) Export intensity 2009 (percentage)
The average export intensity varied between 14 and 18 percent over the investigated period, indicating a relative low export activity of the Chilean TISs in comparison to their counterparts in Finland. Chilean TISs mainly export to neighbouring countries in Latin America. But recently one can also observe a trend to
develop more distant markets in Europe and Asia. Their strategies seem to be in line with the incremental internationalization approach described in the Uppsala Model (Johanson et al., 1977). This process of internationalization follows a sequential path of development that moves from simple international business activities with markets that are geographically and physically close, to more complex operations with more distant countries. Three factors explain the weak international market positioning of Chilean TISs: Insufficient competence relating to international marketing operation Strongly sticking to an Chilean value-based enterprise culture Insufficient financial resources back-up for foreign market development Top managers in SMEs are often seen to possess limited international experience and a negative attitude towards internationalization (Cullen, 1999). Indeed, most of the top managers of technology-intensive suppliers in Chile do not possess the necessary capabilities and experience to manage a wide-range of international activities. Lack of opportunities for Chilean entrepreneurs to gather professional experience abroad and to learn foreign languages are contributing factors to this phenomenon. Furthermore, the responsibility for internationalization activities is very often assumed by the entrepreneurs themselves because of the insufficient number of qualified managers in the field. Due to the high workload of the entrepreneur, who normally has to assume several management functions in the company, they are able only to devote limited time to manage a proactive internationalization of the firm. Chilean enterprise culture is strongly based on trust-based relations. Enterprise management focuses on patriotism at the enterprise level where the staff are expected to 12
assume higher workloads as well as expected to devote their highest possible level of energy in carrying out their duties and to help the fellow staffs in the process. Recruitment practice focuses on regional affiliations, qualifications, and work attitude. Enterprise culture is featured with cooperation and trust among the culturally homogeneous members. Working with foreign enterprises emerges as a challenging venture for typical Chilean TISs, as their cultural orientations can be rigid hampering the development of a relationship with foreign firms. Typical Chilean owner/managers see trust as the pre-condition for relationship development. Development of trust depends on the reciprocity of communication between the parties, where foreign language skills come as an important barrier from the part of the Chilean owners/managers. Furthermore, the managers and entrepreneurs of the Chilean firms have been found to be more attached to their familiar settings and seek growth from within that setting. This more geocentric mindset may have prevented them to develop certain critical resources in their firms, e.g. the managers with propensity to take higher amount of risks in project planning and implementation, taking the exploratory routes for growth and accessing the complementary resources from networks, instead of building all types of resources in-house. Chilean TISs face financial problems when growing in the international market. This is less problematic in the case of large infrastructural investments, which could be co-financed by governmental support programs; rather it is a much more important issue in the case of financing continuous expansions and investing in new customer specific projects. Additionally, these firms show a very limited amount of willingness to invest in the development of marketing capabilities from within inside, which poses a bigger
threat in their development. Investment in R&D projects receives a higher priority in comparison to resources commitment in market development activities. Furthermore, the capital and staff requirements for internationalization activities are quite often underestimated. The successful implementation of internationalization strategies normally requires resources at a similar scale as in complex innovation projects. Hypotheses Testing Table 4 shows that the extent of the diversification of the market as well as product portfolios of the firms has positive significant relationship with the export intensity, indicating that the more active suppliers in market and product development could successfully increase their export sales. Furthermore one can observe that the diversification of markets is significantly correlated with a tendency to develop more far distance markets. Due to geographical, cultural and institutional proximities Chilean TISs start with the neighbouring markets e.g. Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. In spite of Brazil, being the biggest market in the region, or Colombia, an increasingly promising market in the Latin America, Chilean TISs are yet to have serviced these markets extensively. The other markets outside Latin America, particularly the countries with significant mining, forest, fisheries and agriculture sectors e.g. Canada, Australia, USA, China and India, are largely unexplored by the Chilean TISs. Better coordination skill generated from handling different markets and dealing with different technologies and business processes inside firms contribute to the firm‟s propensities and capabilities to think „out of the box‟. The firms, who generated these higher-critical coordination skills within them, moved to more heterogeneous markets than others.
Table 4 Single regression results – market/product diversification and export performance Regression coefficient (R square value)
The single regression analysis presented in Table 3 only allows a relationship test between an individual independent variable and the export performance indicators. In order to analyse the joint effect of market and product diversification on export performance a PLS Model as indicated in Figure 1 was developed. Figure 1 PLS Model Proposed Product Diversification PD
Market Diversification MD
Export Peformance EP
The results in the Table 5 show that dynamic capability development path (as assumed as a path that combine its proxies „product diversification‟ and „market diversification‟) has positive impact on the firm‟s export success. No significant direct relation between product diversification and export performance can be observed in the PLS regression models. Product diversification is an important driver for market diversification as it allows the supplier firms to develop more market niches abroad. Furthermore the development of culturally and institutionally more distanced markets is strongly supported by an offer of technically advanced products. This market diversification as well as the move to more demanding markets, which is only possible based on high level of coordination capabilities, result finally in an increase of export performance and hypotheses 1 can be accepted. Furthermore one can conclude that the effect of product diversification on export performance is highly mediated by market diversification. In other word, the dynamic capability of developing matching solutions for the continuously changing market environment supports market diversification which finally results in a higher export performance. Because of this indirect effect of product diversification on export performance the hypothesis 2 con only be partially accepted.
Table 5 Summary of the PLS regression analysis Path
PD 2008 -> MD 2008
MD 2008->EI 2008
PD 2008 -> EI 2008
PD2009 -> MD 2009
MD2009-> EI 2009
PD2009 -> EI 2009
PD2009 -> MD 2009
MD2009-> EI 2002-09
PD2009-> EI 2002-09
PD 2009 -> MD 2009
PD2009 -> MDR
The findings of this study are of particular importance for Chilean TISs because of the ongoing presence of „push factors‟ for the internationalization of these companies. The first and probably the most important factor is that the Chilean TISs have been successful developing themselves as „adaptation specialists‟ in niche markets. Development of a higher level of specialization, on the other hand, is related to a reduced market opportunity. Specialization leads to a sort of inertia for the firms. In order to offset the negative impacts of this inertia, supplier firms must devise a market
expansion strategy to delve deep down in to specific niches as well as expand in horizontal niches inside or outside their national territorial boundary, where „getting close to the clients‟ should be a guiding cornerstone. Expansion in the foreign market is also necessary, in order to cover the relatively high cost of research and development, typically related to a specialization strategy. A firm‟s expansion in this way can only be successful with an emphasis on continual technological know-how improvement and going from one technological level to a higher level. The second push factor is related to the change in the strategic orientation of the firm. Some of the technology-intensive suppliers in Chile need to decide whether they remain in the development stage of flexible specialists (which will offer only limited growth opportunities) or whether they invest in new facilities in order to install mass customization or even mass production systems. This step would imply a massive expansion of their economic activities, especially in the international market, which may include a partial transfer of production units to locations outside of Chile in order to cut down production costs. The third push factor is based on the close supplier-customer relationship between technology-intensive suppliers and their large clients in the mining, fishery, forestry and agriculture sectors. They have to follow the large customers in the international market in order to maintain their relationship with them. If they can also build up a successful relationship abroad, it can help them to avoid competition in the domestic market.
Conclusion Chilean-T suppliers have been successful in their domestic market as the suppliers of the Chilean mining, forest, fisheries and agricultural sectors. These firms have successfully positioned them against the inward foreign competition in their home market. This paper has primarily showed that learning from „internal diversification (multiple product development)‟ and „external diversification (multiple market servicing)‟ could generate critical coordination capability in the firm. Such higher-level coordination capability helps the firms to operate in more culturally and institutionally distanced contexts. This finding sets the further stage in this research regarding how the firm responses to unlearning and learning requirements in diversified contexts and how the firm internalize this learning and new organizational routine emerges. Though this paper exclusively focused on the Chilean scenario, as a phenomenon, internationalization of technology-intensive suppliers is a challenging issue irrespective of the national boundaries. The findings of this paper are equally relevant for others aspiring to be internationalized technology-intensive suppliers in other places. Though this paper has quite vividly delineated the critical capabilities for suppliers‟ internationalization, for the sake of generalization, the output of this paper should be tested in different industries and settings.
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