Read it and join in the conversation.
Here concludes the trilogy of findings from our latest Women in Global Business report. There are two sets of findings I want to highlight.
China’s rise: The international markets most frequently identified by the Australian businesswomen we surveyed as the most important market were China (34%), the USA (23%), and the UK (7%). China was more frequently cited as most important (36%) for the more experienced organisations (those operating internationally for over five years). China has jumped considerably since our first survey (from 18% to 34%). This year we also asked about the most important region and Asia was ranked #1 by just over half (52%) the women.
For more on China, see p.32 of the report.
The challenges of global expansion: Australia’s businesswomen have confronted, and overcome, a number of hurdles in their internationalisation efforts. Among the most substantial barriers we identify are: the high $A, difficulty locating a suitable distributor, red tape issues in establishing foreign operations, a lack of resources to cover the investment timeframe (especially relative to the costs), and a lack of alternative sources of capital.
Women running their own international organisations consistently rated these impediments as higher than the senior female employees (the exception was on the currency risk front). This is symptomatic of the large differences in access to resources, networks and information for these two groups of women.
This second annual survey allows us to track the progression of a subsample of the women from the first survey. Almost two thirds (63%) of the women who had indicated an intention to expand the number of countries in which their business operated had achieved this goal in 2014.
Doing business abroad has not got easier however. As these women expand their businesses into new locations, they continue to encounter issues that hinder growth. On almost all of the 31 issues we track across the survey, the respondents report the barrier to be causing more or similar hindrance to 12 months earlier. The only two to drop noticeably are cultural differences and the perceived risks of losing money selling products or services abroad.
The barrier that has most consistently increased is lack of alternative sources of capital. In this second annual survey we specifically investigate financing challenges which emerged from the inaugural survey as particularly salient for Australian businesswomen in the international arena. We find that most internationalised women‐owned organisations rely primarily on personal savings and reinvested profits to fund expansion. Only 21% of the owner-operators had attempted to borrow to fund internationalisation, and of these attempts, only 27% were successful. Only 10% of respondents regarded ease of accessing finance as easy or very easy, while 55% rated it difficult or very difficult.
Almost two fifths (39%) of the internationally engaged owner-operators felt that gender made a difference to their access to finance. This number was considerably higher (52%) for female owner-operators who were yet to internationalise. This does point to an often underplayed constraint to ongoing international expansion of women-owned Australian organisations.
Our report identifies a number of opportunities to nurture and assist Australia’s businesswomen in their international efforts. We offer promising evidence of the positive impact of mentoring in reducing barriers and building confidence, and a clear appetite for greater access to mentors. Programs such as WIGB are ideal mechanisms for increased sharing of information, contacts and lessons from successful counterparts, the building of skills and capacity, networking, and as a forum for offering specifically targeted policies and interventions.
To read more, see the report.
I had a brief email exchange with a journalism student last week, and I thought I would share my views with you (my verrrrry patient readers).
The background is that market research had been recently released indicating 72% of Australians don’t trust Coles or Woolworths and these levels of distrust have gone up since last year.
Q. How do you think Woolworths are faring in the Retail sector/Stock market?
Me: Woolworths had been a darling of the stockmarket until quite recently. Their main rival, Coles Myer performed poorly for many years, and Woolworths was much quicker in adopting and adapting ‘best practice’ from offshore (most notably through a close alliance with Wal-Mart). Much of these practices are on the warehousing/stock management side of things. Woolworths grew faster than Coles Myer and had better margins. It made some strong moves in the non-supermarket space – with alcohol sales being particularly strong.
The split up of Coles Myer and the acquisition of the non-Department business by Wesfarmers has negatively affected Woolworths. The revamp of both the Coles supermarket business and K-Mart variety stores have put pressure on Woolworths’ (and Big W’s) margins and curbed their growth. At the same time, Woolworths has been burnt by the poor performance of the Dick Smith business, and the large investments in a rival to Wesfarmers’ Bunnings are a long way from paying off.
Q. What implications might these figures of the survey have for the company and it’s competitors?
Me: As for the distrust aspect, this is far from surprising. The supermarket sector in Australia is one of the most concentrated in the world. The attempts by both Coles and Woolworths to further squeeze suppliers (as part of the drive to improve margins) have coincided with a period of perceived price inflation (although I’m not convinced the latter is actually occurring).
Consumers have apparently resigned themselves to the idea that these two duopolists are not really competing too hard. Stories of struggling suppliers seem to have fuelled this animosity.
But like the big banks, I’m not sure customer dissatisfaction will genuinely translate into consumer action. There is a strong tendency to ‘stick around’ while grumbling. Any incursion by Aldi (or to a much lesser extent Costco) is unlikely to have a big impact given the sheer weight of numbers (in terms of stores and ease of accessibility).
What do you lot think?
Perennial soundbite provider Dick Smith has been very vocal in the past couple of days about the prospect of his namesake retail business falling into ‘foreign hands’. Despite him selling the electronics chain to Woolworth’s two decades ago, he is threatening to ‘trash the brand‘ if some foreign mob tries to buy it.
The logic he throws around on this (and other ‘buy Australian’ campaigns) is spurious at best. It is very unclear why so much importance is placed on the specific ownership structure of such businesses. Perhaps it reflects Dick’s own background as a business owner (and therefore someone who derived their income from the ‘surplus’ or profits of the firm). But for almost all stakeholders in the firm, and the overall health of the economy, the question of the location of the major shareholders (and principal decision-makers) should be of little importance.
The firm operate 433 stores across Australia and NZ (we’ll get back to this Trans-Tasman dimension in a second), and made $1.8b in sales last year. The economic and societal impact on Australia of these operations is most heavily felt in terms of the 5300+ employees and the wages they earn (and then spend/invest), the flow of moneys to landlords, supply chain participants and other ancillary service providers. The ‘earnings’ of the firm (i.e. the ‘surplus’ or ‘profit extracted by Woolworth’s) last year was a paltry $20m or so.
If Dick Smith Electronics were sold to a non-Australian entity, they would be buying the right to extract such profit, but also taking on the role of paying a wages bill that presumably exceeds $250m, and feeding through a lot of income to the other parts of the Dick Smith sphere of activity. The firm would still pay taxes, rents, and provide consumers with access to products. The firm might remit profits offshore, but it’s just as likely said profits would be reinvested in Australian in an attempt to improve the business and its performance. This is hardly a case of ‘selling the farm’.
There is also one clearly irreconcilable contradiction in the jingoistic rants of Smith and other mercantilists: outward foreign direct investment.
If the logic says Aussie interests are hurt by any sort of inward investment (e.g. by acquisitions of local firms by big bad foreign folks), then surely any instance when an Australian firm expands offshore is similarly deleterious to the host nation. Where was Dick when his namesake firm made their imperialistic entre into NZ? And when they signed agreements to ally with Tata in India?
The Aussie news headlines have been buzzing in recent days with the competing cries of our embattled brewers and the ‘on the side of the consumer’ supermarket giants, over an alleged effort by the latter to sell the majors’ beers as ‘loss leaders’. See here and here for a reasonable summary.
This is the latest staple product to get this sort of a run (after milk and petrol) as Woolworths and the revitalised Coles (as part of Wesfarmers) engage in some much-missed competition. Of course, it isn’t competition via ‘across the board’ price cuts, but, rather, through trying to switch buying preferences from one chain to the other (utilising the grocer’s associated liquor chains).
And poor old Foster’s (and presumably the much quieter Lion Nathan) are worried that this (alleged) predatory pricing will hurt their margins, and those of independent liquor retailers.
The reality of all this is that we’re talking about two pairs of behemoths locking horns, and competition here is a very different beast to that envisaged in perfect markets. Look at the numbers:
– Foster’s (48% market share) and Lion Nathan (44%) amount to 92 percent of the Aussie beer market
– Woolworths and Coles/Wesfarmers amount to roughly 50% of the Aussie liquor retailing market (with most other sales through small, independent retailers)
– Woolworths (around 40%) and Coles/Wesfarmers (around 35%) amount to roughly 75% of the Aussie grocery market
Those are the sort of market shares we called oligopolistic, or indeed duopolistic, with competition often reaching a calm equilibrium through effective price signalling and/or maintenance of market share.
Foster’s are kicking and screaming, however, due to concerns about the buying power of the two retail giants. Now, if Foster’s had a significant retail arm it might be able to curb such a threat (and earn more of those nice rents from the duopoly power).
But back in 2003 the brewer sold off Australian Liquor and Hospitality Group (ALH), which operated 131 hotels and 109 bottle shops. ALH now runs 285 licensed venues and over 450 retail liquor outlets. And guess who now owns 75% ALH… Woolworths. It seems Foster’s handed Woolworths the stick it is now being beaten with.
There’s talk that this behaviour will all come under the scrutiny of some eagle-eyed politicians in Canberra in the coming weeks. Now, we’d hope they know a lot about duopolies (i.e. systems with two powerful parties)…