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The growth-profitability relationship : strategic orientations as moderator

Senderovitz, Martin , Klyver, Kim , Steffens, Paul R., & Davidsson, Per (2010) The growth-profitability relationship : strategic orientations as moderator. In Langan-Fox, Janice (Ed.) Proceedings of the 7th AGSE International Entrepreneurship Research Exchange, Swinburne University of Technology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, pp. 479-491.

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Abstract

Principal Topic: In this study we investigate how strategic orientation moderates the impact of growth on profitability for a sample of Danish high growth (Gazelle) firms. ----------

Firm growth has been an essential part of both management research and entrepreneurship research for decades (e.g. Penrose 1959, Birch 1987, Storey 1994). From a societal point of view, firm growth has been perceived as economic generator and job creator. In entrepreneurship research, growth has been an important part of the field (Davidsson, Delmar and Wiklund 2006), and many have used growth as a measure of success. In strategic management, growth has been seen as an approach to achieve competitive advantages and a way of becoming increasing profitable (e.g. Russo and Fouts 1997, Cho and Pucic 2005).

However, although firm growth used to be perceived as a natural pathway to profitability recently more skepticism has emerged due to both new theoretical development and new empirical insights. Empirically, studies show inconsistent and inconclusive empirical evidence regarding the impact of growth on profitability. Our review reveals that some studies find a substantial positive relationship, some find a weak positive relationship, some find no relationship and further some find a negative relationship.

Overall, two dominant yet divergent theoretical positions can be identified. The first position, mainly focusing on the environmental fit, argues that firms are likely to become more profitable if they enter a market quickly and on a larger scale due to first mover advantages and economic of scale. The second position, mainly focusing the internal fit, argues that growth may lead to a range of internal challenges and difficulties, including rapid change in structure, reward systems, decision making, communication and management style.

The inconsistent empirical results together with two divergent theoretical positions call for further investigations into the circumstances by which growth generate profitability and into the circumstances by which growth do not generate profitability. In this project, we investigate how strategic orientations influence the impact of growth on profitability by asking the following research question: How is the impact of growth on profitability moderated by strategic orientation? Based on a literature review of how growth impacts profitability in areas such as entrepreneurship, strategic management and strategic entrepreneurship we develop three hypotheses regarding the growth-profitability relationship and strategic orientation as a potential moderator. ----------

Methodology/Key Propositions:

The three hypotheses are tested on data collected in 2008. All firms in Denmark, including all listed and non-listed (VAT-registered) firms who experienced a 100 % growth and had a positive sales or gross profit over a four years period (2004-2007) were surveyed. In total 2,475 fulfilled the requirements. Among those 1,107 firms returned usable questionnaires satisfactory giving us a response rate on 45 %. The financial data together with data on number of employees were obtained from D&B (previously Dun & Bradstreet). The remaining data were obtained through the survey.

Hierarchical regression models with ROA (return on assets) as the dependent variable were used to test the hypotheses. In the first model control variables including region, industry, firm age, CEO age, CEO gender, CEO education and number of employees were entered. In the second model, growth measured as growth in employees was entered. Then strategic orientation (differentiation, cost leadership, focus differentiation and focus cost leadership) and then interaction effects of strategic orientation and growth were entered in the model. ----------

Results and Implications:

The results show a positive impact of firm growth on profitability and further that this impact is moderated by strategic orientation. Specifically, it was found that growth has a larger impact on profitability when firms do not pursue a focus strategy including both focus differentiation and focus cost leadership.

Our preliminary interpretation of the results suggests that the value of growth depends on the circumstances and more specifically 'how much is left to fight for'. It seems like those firms who target towards a narrow segment are less likely to gain value of growth. The remaining market shares to fight for to these firms are not large enough to compensate for the cost of growing. Based on our findings, it therefore seems like growth has a more positive relationship with profitability for those who approach a broad market segment. Furthermore we argue that firms pursuing af Focus strategy will have more specialized assets that decreases the possibilities of further profitable expansion.

For firms, CEOs, board of directors etc., the study shows that high growth is not necessarily something worth aiming for. It is a trade-off between the cost of growing and the value of growing. For many firms, there might be better ways of generating profitability in the long run. It depends on the strategic orientation of the firm.

For advisors and consultants, the conditional value of growth implies that in-depth knowledge on their clients' situation is necessary before any advice can be given. And finally, for policy makers, it means they have to be careful when initiating new policies to promote firm growth. They need to take into consideration firm strategy and industry conditions.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 32169
Item Type: Conference Paper
Keywords: Growth-Profitability Relationship, Strategic Orientations , Moderators
ISBN: 9780980332865
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Entrepreneurship (150304)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Management
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2010 [please consult the authors]
Deposited On: 13 May 2010 14:12
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2012 00:22

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