Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) form the backbone of the Italian economic fabric: more than 90% of our production structure is made up of SMEs, differentiating us in this from other European countries. There has been much debate as to whether this is good or bad.
By Renato Mannheimer
In this regard, a few years ago, the saying "small is beautiful" circulated, but today most observers maintain the opposite and would like spur our SMEs so that in the future they find new ways and new strategies to aggregate with each other, to be more competitive on international markets. But what do the heads of SMEs think? Is there a predisposition to network and at the same time to modernize and innovate strategies? The answer is not entirely positive, according to a survey carried out by Eumetra on behalf of two SME associations (Aicim and Aisom) on a vast sample of 150 companies, representative of the entire national fabric of this type of company.
First of all, an assessment of the current economic situation of one's own company was requested and, on a scale from 1 to 10, the average found was 6.3, therefore just above the sufficiency; nothing particularly exciting although not necessarily negative. This situation of caution with regard to the current situation of the company it is also due to widespread worries about the future: the 72% is in fact worried about the prospects of his company. Therefore, a pessimistic vision is circulating for what could happen in the coming months.
But what are these problems, what are the main needs faced by Italian SMEs today? The first, more underlined, is linked, as could be expected, to the problems of energy and, in particular, to its recent increases in prices: a circumstance known to all and, therefore, a perhaps predictable answer.
But, immediately after in order of importance, two other determining factors of great importance for the company are mentioned: first of all a more easy access to credit and, at the same time, the question relating to the problems of finding qualified personnel. Less indicated, on the other hand, are topics, which are also significant, such as competition at an international level or the increase in the size of the company through aggregation. Contrary to the hopes of many observers, these are not considered the most important problems by the heads of SMEs today: these are areas, as we will see, where a more widespread cultural approach in this regard seems to be necessary.
According to the interviewees, what are the main success factors of their businesses? First of all, the positive corporate climate is mentioned, also due to the ability to listen to the internal and external context. Then it should be remembered that this is also achieved through the enhancement of human capital and the introduction of new skills in the company, process and product innovation, also towards digitalisation.
It is interesting to note how, in listing the success factors, once again, less importance is given to elements that should not be underestimated, such as ability to develop abroad and increase the size of the company, so much so that only slightly more than one out of three companies declares that they currently have relationships with non-Italian customers, especially from European countries.
And also the attitude towards the possible change of this situation is very tepid: if it is true in fact that the 49% considers at least "appropriate" to increase the level of internationalization, the majority (51%) is of the opposite opinion and has no intention of proceeding in this direction.
In terms of share capital, what was expected has been demonstrated: almost all of the companies (94%) are wholly owned by "internal" entrepreneurs, with no contributions from external capital. And, also from this point of view, the propensity to open one's capital to third parties appears very limited.
Finally, we come to a very important issue from a strategic point of view for the development of the fabric of Italian SMEs: business combinations. A distinct minority, the 22%, has experienced some form of collaboration. And, even in this case, the intention to act in this sense and in this direction is significantly less widespread.
However, it would be necessary Do net: in this regard, an intense cultural action aimed at modernizing and renewing the framework of Italian SMEs, such as that carried out, for example, by associations such as Aicim and Aisom, seems appropriate. This is, especially at this moment, an essential objective for our country.
Renato Mannheimer, sociologist, Eumetra Monterosa.