International Relationships and Resilience of New Zealand SME Exporters during COVID-19
critical perspectives on international business, 17 (2), 359-379. https://doi.org/10.1108/cpoib-05-2020-0061
29 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2021 Last revised: 20 May 2021
Date Written: March 31, 2021
Purpose of this paper: This paper aims to empirically investigate how SMEs have engaged with international network partners during COVID-19 and how the crisis has changed network relationships and resilience depending on pre-COVID relationship strength and, secondarily, on opportunity outlook in a market.
Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws on 14 qualitative interviews with managers of New Zealand SMEs from diverse industries and four with industry experts. Rather than generalization, the aim of this exploratory paper is to identify contingency factors, which, under duress, strengthen or break business relationships.
Findings: Four main patterns emerge from the data, with respect to how SMEs engaged with network partners depending on the nature of their pre-pandemic relationships and the extent to which their markets had been affected by the pandemic. During crisis, weak ties either break or remain weak, forcing firms to create new, potentially opportunistic, relationships. Strong ties increase resilience, even under a negative outlook, as network partners support each other, including through the development of new ties. Strong ties can also accelerate business model transformation.
Originality: The paper is an early study on how weak and strong ties influence SME resilience during crisis.
Research limitations/implications: Future large-scale research is needed to test the generalizability of our findings.
Practical implications: Our findings indicate lessons for business-continuation management and future preparedness for major disruptions. Specific insights may help stimulate managerial action to accelerate contingency planning and policy to support SMEs.
Keywords: Crisis, COVID-19, cross-border relationships, weak/strong network ties, resilience, exporters, SMEs, New Zealand, qualitative empirical study, pattern matching
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