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‘Soft skills’ of managers drive international expansion

Publish Date: Monday, September 15, 2008

When all businesses are at the mercy of increasingly tough competition in the global marketplace, what makes professional service firms choose to export and ultimately expand successfully beyond their own borders? According to Michigan State University researcher David A. Griffith and his co-authors, it is the attitudes and “soft skills” that certain managers possess that allow their firm to successfully expand internationally.

In the study, “An attribution theory approach for understanding the internationalization of professional service firms,” Griffith and co-authors Kathryn T. Cort of North Carolina A&T State University and D. Steven White of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth studied 152 managers of US-based professional service firms to understand managerial mindsets driving the internationalization process. “We wanted to explore how managers assess the uncertainty of the future by identifying the factors that will impact them in a venture outside their country, such as the uniqueness of their firm’s service offering, the adequacy of their firm’s financial resources and their firm’s ability to establish competitive pricing,” says Griffith.

According to Griffith, who was recently named the The John William Byington Endowed Chair in Global Marketing, managers who believe they have positively evaluated the firm’s position relative to key international business factors, not only have the expectation of being successful, but actually drive their firms toward internationalization success. “Managers with the appropriate soft skill set – the ability to quickly analyze problems, to learn from prior experiences, to be flexible – may be able to more easily identify the factors that lead to a firm’s success. This suggests that firms wishing to make greater inroads into the international marketplace need to search out, develop, and promote those managers with the requisite soft skill sets,” says Griffith.

The study recently received the 2008 Article of the Year Award from the International Marketing Review; 2007 Volume: 24, Issue: 1, Page: 9 – 25.

Hear a podcast with Professor Griffith here.