Magazine article Management Today

Small Fish Thrive in the Big Pond

Magazine article Management Today

Small Fish Thrive in the Big Pond

Article excerpt

The revolution in information technology means that a stay-at-home mentality is now the only barrier to global growth for smaller firms, says Robert Heller

The IT company, MAID, is multiplying tenfold by buying into America for [pounds]288 million. That makes National Parking Corporation (NCP), looking merely to double through Continental buys, seem positively cautious. But no one is batting an eyelid over either proposition - for middling companies are now going international, even global, as never before.

So has the time come when domestic markets are only springboards? The question may sound intimidating to some smaller companies. But all that global means is selling worldwide on an integrated marketing platform. As for world-class, that means supplying goods and services, and using processes that equal the best standards elsewhere.

High standards are no longer the prerogative of the high and mighty, for several reasons. Segmented, niche markets have developed apace; innovative methods of manufacture and distribution have radically transformed economies of scale. Both these trends have been aided and abetted by the onrushing revolution in IT.

Of course, hi-tech isn't the only global highway. Some small companies get there through service excellence. Thus, Camborne Fabrics, once a suffering Huddersfield manufacturer, reinvented 'itself brilliantly as a 'customer service business'. By concentrating on making fabrics for office furniture, a [pounds]200,000 company grew to [pounds]25 million nine years on. The self-imposed service standards included next-day delivery and perfect quality.

A courageous approach to globalism meant that by the mid-'90s Camborne was getting half its business overseas. Thanks to the rapid response service, markets as far away as Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand became its strongest. The whole experience highlights two other factors in small-to-middling globalisation: finance; and intelligent, well-qualified management ambition.

At a critical juncture, the company was braced by support from Lloyds Bank's venture capital arm. A young team, led by Nigel Roberts, had the imagination to be unorthodox (the service rests on carrying abnormally large stocks), the ability to read its market correctly, the expertise to invest wisely, and the courage to plunge into reinventive management.

Thus, to the IT and service revolutions add that of management mind-set. The IT prodigies in particular have spawned a new, looser management approach that has spread worldwide alongside the Silicon Valley upstarts. More generally, though, the young and ambitious now often shun security in large, established corporations. …

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