You are here

Going global: unexpected obstacles for French SMEs

Nathalie Belhoste est docteur en science politique et enseignant-chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management au sein du département Homme, Organisations et Société
Published on
26 February 2019

Recent research highlights new factors that create obstacles for French SMEs looking to expand abroad. The publication underlines that consultants for exporting or international business development as well as project managers in charge of supporting international growth for SMEs can sometimes have a negative impact on an entrepreneur's desire to go global. These “global managers” often share a specific vision of international development which can discourage certain SMEs from pursuing their expansion.

The publication was co-authored by Nathalie Belhoste, a professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management, and François Goxe, a professor and researcher at Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin en Yvelines. It was published in 2018 in The European Management Review (Be global or be gone: Global mindset as a source of division in an international business community).

Can you explain the basis for your joint research work?

Our research focused on the international expansion of French SMEs in China, which is François Goxe’s area of expertise. The initial goal was to highlight factors that contribute to the failure of various French entrepreneurs to expand internationally. We carried out 35 interviews with a variety of actors (small entrepreneurs, representatives from major French corporations, export consultants, advisors at Business France Export…). However, the results of our research underlined a specific issue…

What changed upon analyzing your research results?

Our research highlighted factors that block international development for SMEs and small entrepreneurs, and in particular, discriminating factors caused by interactions with a “global elite”. Smaller French companies generally have little international experience when they begin the process of going global. And they have to interact with a global elite that is very used to the international scene. Some of these global actors do more to block an SME’s expansion than to facilitate it. As a result, our study demonstrated that the meetings SMEs have with this global elite can be a determining factor for their international development. And sometimes, a negative one that can deter international expansion.

Could you explain the term “global elite”?

This elite refers to consultants and other actors that can offer advice and support for the exporting and international development of SMEs in particular. These players often graduate from similar business schools with similar profiles. While this can be positive, it also works against the goal of supporting international development. Why? These global managers can have a narrow, exclusionary vision of international development that is based on specific standards. For example, the vision of international actors as an elite can exclude other potential actors, in particular newcomers. Standards such as being fluent in English, having an international education or a degree from specific business schools can negatively impact newcomers who do not meet these “prerequisites” for international expansion. 

Can you explain the idea of an “exclusionary vision”?

Through shared codes, foreign language habits, and other characteristics, there is a form of domination by one group over another (see works by Pierre Bourdieu). This global culture was self-constructed through elite networks that produce “global managers” with a “global mindset” (or shared mindset). Such a vision can lead to a condescending view of newcomers who do not know the rules and share the same codes. And this global elite is generally in charge of advising and guiding newcomers. In negative cases, an interaction by a newcomer with this elite can lead to a feeling of disdain or not being legitimate, thus leading these potential international actors to give up their plans for expansion.

What warnings can be drawn from this study?

We have to raise awareness about this issue and think about these profiles, in particular if they are offering advice and support for export activities. This global elite has a way of thinking and operating. As a business school that trains some of this elite, it is our responsibility to consider the situation. We underline the value of “global managers” for many legitimate and worthwhile reasons, but we also have to be aware of the limitations.

We have to train students to develop their awareness of social groups and whether or not they may have a specific way of thinking. At GEM, we try to increase the understanding of our students on these questions thanks to classes in subjects such as geopolitics and economic peace, which encourage them to develop their critical thinking abilities. These types of classes enable them to develop greater awareness about their environment all the while understanding its complexity. 


The 11th Geopolitics Festival organized by Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) will focus on the the theme: “The European Union(s)?

Jean-Marc Huissoud, Head of the Festival and a professor at GEM explains: “Numerous events over the past couple of years have forced us to consider the future of the EU. The Brexit, changes to the PAC, increasing populism, and crises in Italy and Catalan have all highlighted important questions about the solidity of this union. Is the entire EU heading toward disintegration? What Europe can we expect in the future? A single EU or a Europe of many Unions?”

Program Details:

Notable participants: Bertrand Badie, Michel Barnier, Pascal Boniface Thierry Chopin, Michel Foucher, Isabelle Jegouzo, Nathalie Loiseau, Tommy McKearney, Marc-Olivier Strauss Kahn, Jean-Pierre Sueur.

New events during the festival:

An open conference will be led by the youtuber Mister Geopolitix. The conference will discuss how to popularize geopolitics. Prep school classes will also be able to take part in a simulated EU parliament session.

As always, more than 100 conferences, roundtables and debates will take place as well as live radio shows, serious games, an escape game, a concert, a theatrical presentation, and an exhibit of maps and street art.

The 10th edition set a new record for festival participation with 19,345 visitors, including 11,900 on-site participants (50% more than the previous edition). The 10th edition was held from March 14 to 17, 2018 on the theme “The 21st century: an American century?”. Videos of the 10th edition are available at youtube.

On the same subject

  • Grégory Vanel, docteur en économie internationale et professeur à Grenoble Ecole de Management, explique pourquoi le taux d’imposition mondial des sociétés à 15 % constitue « un accord a minima ».
    Published on 08 July 2021

    Global corporate tax rate at 15%: "a watered-down agreement"

    Grégory Vanel, Doctor in international economics and professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, explains why the 15% global corporate tax rate is "a watered-down agreement".

  • Le Festival de Géopolitique de Grenoble joue la carte du tout digital
    Published on 06 February 2021

    The Grenoble Geopolitics Festival adapts to the crisis

    The 13th edition of the Grenoble Geopolitics Festival will take place on March 22-26 thanks to a new, fully online event with more than 30 conferences and workshops. A major, yet potentially beneficial change for the festival...

  • Société : quels changements à travers l’expérience du Covid-19 ?
    Published on 05 May 2020

    How has society changed because of the Covid-19 experience?

    A new global study aims to understand the impact of the lockdown on our social interactions. How do we live together? Distance ourselves? Connect with each other?

  • Published on 16 March 2020

    Impact of the coronavirus on the global economy

    According to the figures from mid-March, Covid-19 counted approximately 239,000 infected people and over 9,900 deaths worldwide*. The epidemic has accentuated the uncertainties that exist around the globe. What is the primary impact of the epidemic...

  • Published on 16 March 2020

    L’impact du coronavirus sur l’économie mondiale

    La Chine puis maintenant l’ensemble du monde tente de lutter contre la propagation du Covid-19. Nombreux sont les pays à déclarer l’état d’urgence et à mettre leur économie à l’arrêt. A ce jour, quelles sont les principales retombées de l’épidémie,...

  • Lorsque le numérique réinvente les métiers de l’audit financier
    Published on 18 February 2020

    The digital (r)evolution is reinventing the world of financial audits

    The digital revolution has impacted all sectors. In the field of auditing, new digital technology is reinventing auditing services and processes.

  • Lorsque le numérique réinvente les métiers de l’audit financier
    Published on 18 February 2020

    Lorsque le numérique réinvente les métiers de l’audit financier

    Le groupe Mazars développe une culture du partage technologique, qui vise l’industrialisation de nouveaux processus métiers en France et à l’international. Focus sur sa feuille de route stratégique

  • Gérer le deuil et la compassion dans le milieu professionnel
    Published on 18 November 2019

    Managing grief and compassion in the workplace

    The death of an employee in the workplace is a delicate, emotional situation that can be difficult for employees and managers alike. Recent research explores how managers and companies can respond to grief in the workplace and implement...

  • Les MOOCs géopolitiques de GEM ré-accrédités EOCCS
    Published on 15 October 2019

    GEM’s Geopolitical MOOCs re-accredited EOCCS

    Grenoble Ecole de Management’s (GEM) online training program « Global Studies: International Relations and World Politics » renews its EOCCS (EFMD Online Course Certification System) accreditation, a guarantee of quality awarded by the EFMD....

  • Entretien avec Jean-François Fiorina, directeur général adjoint de Grenoble Ecole de Management.
    Published on 03 June 2019

    Geopolitical swing towards Asia: how do French Business Schools react?

    Jean-François Fiorina analyzes the potential consequences of these changes on global competition in the "Strategy & Management" section of Xerfi Canal.

  • Gazi Islam, chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management
    Published on 24 May 2019

    Sarcasm and mockery: the new means to protest work

    With uberization and uncertain working condition on the rise, workers are developing a news means of voicing discontent at work: sarcasm and mockery.

  • Marcos Barros, professeur associé à Grenoble Ecole de Management, au sein du département Homme, Organisations et Société
    Published on 23 November 2018

    The death care industry in Quebec marked by the triumph of David versus Goliath

    Following competition from major international players, the local death care industry in Quebec successfully implemented actions in terms of marketing, politics and pricing in order to outmaneuver international competition and secure their share of...

  • Must the U.S. Lead the Digital Revolution?
    Published on 22 February 2018

    Must the U.S. Lead the Digital Revolution?

    As the digital revolution unfolds, the U.S. and Silicon Valley have so far led the march. What role can Europe play in this major evolution?

  • Geopolitics: Dealing With a Growing Crisis in Venezuela
    Published on 16 June 2017

    Geopolitics: Dealing With a Growing Crisis in Venezuela

    Companies have to consider economics and geopolitics to successfully navigate the Venezuelan crisis.

  • Published on 06 December 2016

    Uberization Can Also Mean Destruction

    An entire portion of the sharing economy is enabled by “uberized” work forces. Unfortunately, the reality behind uberized work is in fact Taylorism 2.0! We speak with Thibault Daudigeos and Vincent Pasquier who highlight the limits of the sharing...

  • Published on 06 December 2016

    L’uberisation est également une force destructrice

    Un pan de l’économie dite “collaborative” est porteur d’une uberisation du travail. Or, la réalité de la plupart des emplois uberisés, c’est surtout celle d’un taylorisme 2.0 ! Thibault Daudigeos, professeur associé au Département Hommes,...

  • Research: the impact of performance evaluations on an individual's network.
    Published on 22 April 2016

    Research: Positive Performance Evaluations Help Employees Develop Internal Networks

    Interactions are an essential part of any organization. Whether it is receiving help from colleagues or gaining access to crucial information, developing a strong internal network makes it easier for an employee to get things done. This latest study...

  • Research: the impact of performance evaluations on an individual's network.
    Published on 22 April 2016

    Recherche : Les salariés reconnus font prospérer leur réseau interne

    Un salarié dont le niveau de performance est reconnu par ses managers étend son réseau de contacts au sein de son entreprise et l'exploite davantage. Dans le cas contraire, il réduit le nombre de ses contacts. C'est la conclusion d'une étude sur 150...