MUN researchers pinpoint N.L. businesses poised for global success

Posted on December 10, 2021 | By Alec Bruce  | 8 Comments

MUN management researchers Dr. Chansoo Park (left) and graduate student Mitchell Joyce identify key drivers for global success for small and medium businesses. Newfoundland enterprises rank high on their global “hidden champions” list. (Photo: Memorial University)


Policy wonks are forever talking about small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) as the heartbeats of the Atlantic Canadian economy. Now, two management experts at Memorial University think they know how the truly good ones in Newfoundland and Labrador tick.

Dr. Chansoo Park, an associate professor of international business and strategy, and Mitchell Joyce, a student in the master of science in management program, have identified key factors common to the world’s most promising SMEs.

What’s more, notes Park, these qualities seem to be right at home in at least a few St. John’s-based enterprises, including: Seafair Capital, a strategic leadership and community investment firm; Verafin, a fraud detection software producer; and Mysa, a tech company that specializes in smart thermostats. “I think they are all doing a good job,” he says.

By “good” he means they are operating like “hidden champions,” a term he and Joyce have borrowed from German author and business consultant Hermann Simon to denote SMEs that, while not well known to the public, possess traits that foreshadow potentially huge success, and even influence, in international markets.

Says Park: “Hidden Champions are able to manage risk and sense opportunities at the same time. They are also able to seize those opportunities with speed and agility. Finally, they are able to transform themselves when they need to. They are always flexible.”

And they’re almost always inclined to grow big, often dominating the industries in which they operate. Delaware-based tech firm Nvidia started in 1993 with $40,000 in its bank account; it now posts more than USD $10 billion in annual revenues. Says Joyce: “A hidden champion will be the number one market leader on their continent, or they’ll be in the top three in the global marketplace.”

Park and Joyce began their research – funded by national research organization Mitacs and Memorial’s Husky Centre of Excellence in Sales and Supply Chain Management – just before the pandemic to provide Atlantic Canadian academics, businesses and governments with fresh insights about the best practices of the nimblest SMEs operating in mature, entrepreneurially savvy markets like Germany, the United States, Japan, and Korea.

Since then, the global emergency has given their findings particular relevance. “In the face of the pandemic, hidden champions have demonstrated exactly those qualities of planning, adaptation and resilience we have looked,” Joyce says. “These businesses were not only very agile, but they also had things in place that helped them turn things around faster than otherwise.”

The researchers plan to continue their work with a more thorough inventory of locally budding hidden champions. “Our project will be particularly impactful for Canadian businesses looking to expand globally,” Park says, adding: “We need aggressive government financial, marketing, and consulting programs to support these businesses competing in global markets.”

Last month, Mysa received $20 million in venture capital. Said its co-founder and CEO Josh Green at a news conference: “We’re excited to put this new capital to work.”

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8 responses to “MUN researchers pinpoint N.L. businesses poised for global success”

  1. Insightful and great lessons for Canadian companies. Definitely fast fish can eat big fish in the global value chains.

  2. No doubt that a firm’s ability to adapt on the fly and respond more quickly as market conditions and consumers’ needs rapidly evolve create a HIDDEN competitive advantage, and by extension, HIDDEN CHAMPIONS. It is not just about market intelligence, but also competitor analysis, which identifies competitive advantages and disadvantages. As history reminds us:

    “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    So YES, 1) all champions start out as challengers with something to prove, and 2) growing too big and entrenched by focusing primarily on yourself leads to lack of agility and timely responsiveness.

  3. Great to see that businesses in Atlantic Canada are becoming “hidden champions” and moving fast to the forefront of the global economy, especially in this pandemic world reality. Continue the great research to help all these small and medium sized businesses thrive.

  4. As a way to strengthen the competitiveness of small and medium-sized Canadian companies, I think it will pay off if we explore and compare the Korean IT SME model. Furthermore, it would be nice to explore the possibility of collaboration between the two countries.

  5. If we explore the development potential of Canadian SMEs and Korean SMEs, I think there will be good results. In particular, as the number of hidden strong SMEs continues to increase in Korea, a study on the background and progress of this will be a meaningful task.

  6. Great article that investigates the business cases for SMEs. I think the results of this study provide implications to not only Canadian companies but also companies operated in other countries, considering the growing importance of SMEs in the economies of industrialized countries.

  7. Interesting study about the global success factors of Newfoundland SMEs! The analogy to ‘Hidden Champions’ is intriguing and worth investigating more in-depth in the future. Cross-country comparisons of Canadian SMEs with other countries (e.g. UK) could be another interesting angle to pursue.

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