Explaining the performance of South African firms

Robert Grosse, Albert Wocke, Morris Mthombeni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: The discussion of competitive strategy in recent years has turned to exploring the differences between emerging market (EM) companies and traditional companies from the US, Europe and Japan. In particular the question has been: do we need a new theory of EM companies, or can existing theory be applied, perhaps with adaptations? The authors intent in this paper is to show what features enable EM firms to succeed in domestic competition, where institutional settings are different from those in Triad countries. The authors do not explore the issue of EM companies competing internationally. Design/methodology/approach: The authors argue that competitive advantages (Porter) or resources (Barney; Wernerfelt) offer a solid base on which to build an understanding of successful domestic strategies of firms in EMs, also recognizing that the specific advantages differ somewhat in EMs, due to institutional differences (Peng). The authors explore characteristics of the 250 largest publicly-traded South African firms which enable them to compete successfully (incl: company size, brand value, company age, international sales and family ownership). The authors conclude that existing theories do indeed serve in this context, but that they need to be adjusted for the different institutional environments in EMs. Findings: Factors that contribute to performance include: company size(+),brand value(+), company age (+), international sales(+) and family ownership(−). The literature that has developed on EM companies competing internationally fails to recognize that most of the features identified exist for all companies in a given country – so they do not explain domestic performance. Of course, even in the domestic context some companies will be better able to take advantage of institutional capabilities such as dealing with the government and with volatile economic conditions than other companies. Research limitations/implications: The study results come from only one EM, so there may be limits on generalizing to others. If China is excepted, the results here are broadly applicable to medium-sized and larger EMs today, with idiosyncrasies remaining for individual countries (such as natural resources, location, etc.) Practical implications: EM companies to succeed in their domestic markets should look to build size/scale, to develop their brands and to expand internationally. They should also expand ownership to non-family investors. These factors were significantly correlated with superior performance of listed companies in South Africa and have been shown to apply elsewhere as well. Originality/value: Also, most analyses of EM companies focus on their distinctive institutional capabilities for competing with firms from Triad countries. The study analysis focuses on domestic competition rather than on going abroad.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2012-2030
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Emerging Markets
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 11 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Company performance
  • Competitive advantages
  • Competitive strategy
  • Emerging markets
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting


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