A comparison of the characteristics of internationalising SMEs in South Africa and the BRIC countries
Lamprecht, Jacobus Lodewicus du Plessis
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SMEs are important for a country's economy, since they provide benefits such as entrepreneurship, employment, exports and productivity to an economy. An economy that shows substantial growth is usually characterised by a strong and growing SME sector. South African SMEs need to grow to create jobs and benefit the South African economy. One way that SMEs can become strong and grow is through internationalisation. Firms are internationalising faster than ever before (because of advances in telecommunications and transportation) and internationalisation theories that can provide practical guidance to firms are more important today than in the past. The motivation of the study was to identify the areas that the South African government can develop in order to transform the economy into an emerging economy that can be on par with the BRIC countries. SMEs make up a large part of the BRICS economies and they grow through exports. In order to be on par with the BRIC countries, it is necessary to compare South African exporting and non–exporting SMEs with those in the BRIC countries. This will help to identify areas where South African SMEs' competitiveness can improve, especially in South–South trade. The competitiveness of SMEs involved in exporting also tends to improve. Therefore, if SMEs' competitiveness improves, it may be less risky for them to internationalise, which can lead to them being able to export more successfully, grow as a result of exporting and so contribute to employment. The primary objective of the study was to make a comparison between the characteristics of internationalising SMEs in South Africa and the BRICS countries. Data was obtained from the World Bank Enterprise surveys to conduct an empirical analysis on firms in the BRICS countries. The empirical analysis provided descriptive statistics on internationalising firms and SMEs in the BRICS countries. The descriptive statistics was used to make a comparison between the characteristics of internationalising SMEs in the BRICS countries (primary objective). South Africa has the highest percentage of exporting SMEs, followed by India, Brazil, Russia and China. China had the most exporting SMEs with an internationally recognised certification. The top managers of Chinese exporting SMEs are higher educated than those in India and South Africa. SMEs in Russia internationalise at by far the youngest age and thus are likely to follow the rapid international theories. South African SMEs had the highest average age, meaning that SMEs first are established in the domestic market before they internationalise through exports. Internationalisation has become an important strategy for firms that want to achieve further growth, but it is also very tough to survive in the international market. An interesting finding of this study was that the two obstacles South Africa had in the top 5 namely, crime, theft and disorder, and electricity were not a top 5 obstacle for any of the other BRIC countries. Another objective of the study was to empirically determine the characteristics of internationalising SMEs in South Africa. SMEs in South Africa are more likely to internationalise through exports if they are, amongst others, older (longer established in the domestic market), have a larger market share in the South African domestic market, have a top manager with experience and a higher education level (some university training minimum) and have less competitors in the South African domestic market. The comparison between the characteristics of internationalising SMEs of the BRICS countries provided several lessons for the South African government and exporting SMEs. The areas or aspects that the South African government need to develop in order to transform the economy into an emerging economy that can compete with the BRIC countries, include assisting SMEs in exporting at an earlier age, improving the education levels of top managers in SMEs, increasing the national market share of SMEs and lessening, or even eliminating, obstacles like crime, theft and disorder as well as electricity. These aspects, together with the characteristics of internationalising SMEs in South Africa, are vital to improve SME competitiveness. Therefore, if SMEs' competitiveness improves, then it may be less risky for them to internationalise, which can lead to them being able to export more successfully, grow as a result of exporting and so contribute to employment.