Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-dknvm Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-24T10:52:41.637Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Identifying high growth firms: Where are we?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2015

Bruce Dwyer*
Business Custodians, 76 Sundance Way, Runaway Bay, QLD, Australia
Bernice Kotey
UNE Business School, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia
Corresponding author:


The article reviews the literature for the key markers of high growth firms, which create the majority of new jobs. From the review, a template is developed comprising the key markers. They include: training and experience in entrepreneurship and management; and strategies that emphasise innovation, marketing and employee and organisational learning. High growth firm owners take steps to access management skills that complement theirs through employment of a management team, outsourcing management tasks or making decisions with oversight from an informal board. Good reward structures, which may include ownership interests, are essential to performance of the management team. Access to resources, especially finance and human capital is critical to growth but abundant resources could compromise efficiency. The article finds that personality characteristics of owners and postgraduate education in management are not effective identifiers of high growth firms. Some of the barriers to identifying high growth firms are presented and suggestions made to overcome them.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Acs, Z., Parsons, W., & Spencer, T. (2008). High impact firms: Gazelles revisited. Office of advocacy. Washington, DC: US Small Business Administration.Google Scholar
Agarwal, M. N., & Chatterjee, G. L. (2007). Entrepreneurial human capital and new venture performance. Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal, 13(1), 122.Google Scholar
Ahmad, N., & Seymour, R. (2008). Defining entrepreneurial activity: Definitions supporting frameworks for data collections. A draft OECD paper. Retrieved from Scholar
Amason, A. C., Shrader, R. C., & Thompson, G. H. (2006). Newness and novelty: Relating top management team composition to new venture performance. Journal of Business Venturing, 21, 125148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Annis, D., Merefield, E., & Schine, G. (2009). Strategic acquisition: A smarter way to grow a small or medium size company. Providence, RI: Scholar
Anyadike-Danes, M., Bonner, K., Hart, M., & Mason, C. (2009). The vital 6%: How high-growth businesses generate prosperity and jobs, London, NESTA. Retrieved from Scholar
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001). Small business in Australia. Retrieved from Scholar
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). Summary of I. T. Use and innovation in Australian business. 2010-11, Catalogue No. 8166. Retrieved from Scholar
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). Counts of Australian business operators (Catalogue No. 8175.0). Canberra: AGPS, Australian Bureau of Statistics.Google Scholar
Baker, W. E., & Sinkula, J. M. (1999). The synergic effect of market orientation and learning orientation on organizational performance. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 27(4), 411427.Google Scholar
Bamberger, I. (1983). Value systems, strategies and performance of small and medium-sized firms. International Small Business Journal, 1(4), 2539.Google Scholar
Barringer, B., Jones, F., & Neubaum, D. O. (2005). A quantitative content analysis of the characteristics of rapid-growth firms and their founders. Journal of Business Venturing, 20(5), 663687.Google Scholar
Baum, J. R., & Locke, E. A. (2004). The relationship of entrepreneurial traits, skill, and motivation to new venture growth. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(4), 587598.Google Scholar
Becker, G. (1975). Human capital. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Bhaskaran, S. (2006). Incremental innovation and business performance: Small and medium-sized food enterprises in a concentrated industry environment. Journal of Small Business Management, 441, 6480.Google Scholar
Birley, S., & Stockley, S. (2000). Entrepreneurial teams and venture growth. In D. Sexton, & H. Landsrom (Eds.), Handbook of entrepreneurship (pp. 287307). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Brandstatter, H. (2011). Personality aspects of entrepreneurship: A look at five meta-analyses. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(3), 222230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brockhaus, R. H. (1980). Risk taking propensity of entrepreneurs. Academy of Management Journal, 23(3), 509520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, A. E. (2009). Strategies for entrepreneurial success. Journal of Strategic Management Education, 5(1), 3343.Google Scholar
Cacciolatti, L. A., & Fearne, A. (2013). Marketing intelligence in SMEs: Implications for the industry and policy makers. Marketing Intelligence and Planning, 31(1), 426.Google Scholar
Caird, S. (1993). What do psychological tests suggest about entrepreneurs? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 8(6), 1119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carland, J. W. Jr., Carland, J. A., & Pearce, J. W. (1995). Risk taking propensity among entrepreneurs, small business owners and managers. Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship, 7(1), 1524.Google Scholar
Carland, J. W. Jr., Hoy, F., Boulton, W. R., & Carland, J. C. (1984). Differentiating entrepreneurs from small business owners: A conceptualization. Academy of Management Review, 9(2), 354359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carlson, D. S., Upton, N., & Seaman, S. (2006). The impact of human resource practices and compensation design on performance: An analysis of family owned SMEs. Journal of Small Business Management, 44(4), 531543.Google Scholar
Cassar, G. (2014). Industry and start-up experience on entrepreneur forecast performance in new firms. Journal of Business Venturing, 29(1), 137151.Google Scholar
Cassell, C., Nadin, S., Gray, M., & Clegg, C. (2002). Exploring human resource management practices in small and medium sized enterprises. Personnel Review, 31(6), 671692.Google Scholar
Cassia, L., & Minola, T. (2012). Towards a reconciliation of entrepreneurial orientation and strategic resources. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, 18(2), 179197.Google Scholar
Centeno, E., Hart, S., & Dinnie, K. (2013). The five phases of SME brand-building. Journal of Brand Management, 20, 445457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chell, E. (2008). The entrepreneurial personality : A social construction . East Sussex, UK: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
Coad, A., Daunfelt, S., Johansson, D., & Wennberg, K. J. (2014). Whom do high growth firms hire? Industrial and Corporate Change, 23(1), 293327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coetzer, A., Battisti, M., Jurado, T., & Massey, C. (2011). The reality of management development in SMEs. Journal of Management and Organization, 17(3), 290306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cooper, A. C. (1998). Findings on predictors of performance from a large-scale research programme. Small Enterprise Research: The Journal of SEAANZ, 6(1), 39.Google Scholar
Cooper, A. C., Gimeno-Gascon, F. J., Javier, F., & Woo, C. Y. (1994). Initial human and financial capital as predictors of new venture performance. Journal of Business Venturing, 9(5), 371395.Google Scholar
Covin, J. G. (1991). Entrepreneurial versus conservative firms: A comparison of strategies and performance. Journal of Management Studies, 28(5), 439462.Google Scholar
Covin, J. G., & Slevin, D. P. (1989). Strategic management of small firms in hostile and benign environments. Strategic Management Journal, 10(1), 7587.Google Scholar
Covin, J. G., & Wales, W. J. (2011). The measurement of entrepreneurial orientation. Entrepreneurial Theory & Practice , 36(4), 677702.Google Scholar
Cron, W. L., Bruton, G. D., & Slocum, J. W. Jr. (2006). Professional service ventures, performance, and the gender effect. Journal of Leadership & Organisational Studies, 12(3), 5367.Google Scholar
Dalzeil, M. (2008). Immigrants as extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs: A pilot study of the Canadian experience. Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 21(1), 2336.Google Scholar
Delmar, F., Davidson, P., & Gartner, W. (2003). Arriving at the high-growth firm. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(2), 189216.Google Scholar
Dewar, R. D., & Dutton, J. E. (1986). The adoption of radical and incremental innovations: An empirical analysis. Management Science, 32(1), 4221433.Google Scholar
Dimov, D., & Shepard, D. A. (2005). Human capital theory and venture capital firms: Exploring ‘home runs’ and ‘strike outs’. Journal of Business Venturing, 20(1), 121.Google Scholar
Douglas, E. J. (2006). New venture risk taking: Perceptions and preferences. Proceedings Babson College Entrepreneurial Research Conference, USA, Indiana. Retrieved from Scholar
Drucker, P. F. (1985). Innovation and entrepreneurship. New York, NY: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Du Reitz, A., & Henrekson, M. (2000). Testing the female underperformance hypothesis. Small Business Economics, 14(1), 110.Google Scholar
Eggers, F., Kraus, S., Hughes, M., Laraway, S., & Snycerski, S. (2013). Implications of customer and entrepreneurial orientations for SME growth. Management Decision, 51(3), 524546.Google Scholar
Finkel, R. A., & Greising, D. (2010). The masters of private equity and venture capital. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
Friedman, M., & Savage, L. J. (1948). The utility analysis of choice involving risk. Journal of Political Economy, 56(4), 299304.Google Scholar
Gadenne, D., & Sharma, B. (2009). An investigation of the hard and soft quality management factors of Australian SMEs and their association with performance. International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management, 26(9), 865880.Google Scholar
Garnsey, E., Stam, E., & Hefferman, P. (2006). New firm growth, exploring processes and paths. Industry and Innovation, 13(1), 120.Google Scholar
Gartner, W. B. (1989). Some suggestions for research on entrepreneurial traits and characteristics. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 14(3), 2738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibrat, R. (1931). Les Inégalités économiques . Paris, France: Sirey.Google Scholar
Gilbert, B. A., McDougall, P. P., & Audretsch, D. B. (2006). New venture growth: A review and extension. Journal of Management, 32(6), 926950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Golovko, E., & Valentini, G. (2011). Exploring the complementarity between innovation and export for SME’s growth. Journal of International Business Studies, 42, 362380.Google Scholar
Harms, R. (2009). A multivariate analysis of the characteristics of rapid growth firms, their leaders, and their markets. Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 22(4), 429454.Google Scholar
Hayton, J. C. (2003). Strategic human capital management in SMEs: An empirical study of entrepreneurial performance. Human Resource Management, 42(4), 375391.Google Scholar
Heimonen, T. (2012). What are the factors that affect innovation in growing SMEs? European Journal of Innovation Management, 15(1), 122144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Henrekson, M., & Johansson, D. (2010). Gazelles as job creators: A survey and interpretation of the evidence. Small Business Economics, 35(2), 227244.Google Scholar
Hessels, J., van Gelderen, M., & Thurik, R. (2008). Entrepreneurial aspirations, motivations and their drivers. Small Business Economics, 31, 323339.Google Scholar
Hessels, J., & van Stel, A. (2011). Entrepreneurship, export orientation, and economic growth. Small Business Economics, 37, 255268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hisrich, R., Langan-Fox, J., & Grant, S. (2007). Entrepreneurship research and practice: A call to action for psychology. American Psychologist, 62(6), 575589.Google Scholar
Jayawarna, D., Macpherson, A., & Wilson, A. (2007). Training commitment and performance in manufacturing SMEs: Incidence, intensity and approaches. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 14(2), 321338.Google Scholar
Jusoh, R., Babak, Z., Aaimiran, S., & Kadir, S. A. (2011). Entrepreneur training needs analysis: Implications on the entrepreneurial skills needed for successful entrepreneurs. International Business and Economics Research Journal, 10(1), 143148.Google Scholar
Kirby, D. A. (2004). Entrepreneurship education: Can business schools meet the challenge? Education+Training, 46(8/9), 510519.Google Scholar
Kotey, B., & Meredith, G. G. (1997). Relationships among owner/manager personal values, business strategies and enterprise performance. Journal of Small Business Management, 35(2), 3764.Google Scholar
Lafuente, E., & Rabetino, R. (2011). Human capital and growth in Romanian small firms. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 18(1), 7496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lappalainen, J., & Niskanen, M. (2012). Financial performance of SMEs: Impact of ownership structure and board composition. Management Research Review, 35(11), 10881108.Google Scholar
Laukkanen, T., Nagy, G., Hirvonen, S., Reijonen, H., & Pasanen, M. (2013). The effect of strategic orientations on business performance in SMEs: A multi-group analysis comparing Hungary and Finland. International Marketing Review, 30(6), 510535.Google Scholar
Lee, J., & Chan, J. (1998). Chinese entrepreneurship: A study in Singapore. Journal of Management Development, 17(2), 131141.Google Scholar
Lee, J. S., & Hsieh, C. J. (2010). A research in relating entrepreneurship, marketing capability, innovative capability and sustained competitive advantage. Journal of Business and Economics Research, 8(9), 109119.Google Scholar
Lee, N. (2014). What holds back high-growth firms? Evidence from UK SMEs. Small Business Economics, 43, 183195.Google Scholar
Leitch, C., Hill, F., & Neergaard, H. (2010). Entrepreneurial and business growth and the quest for a ‘comprehensive theory’: Tilting at windmills? Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 34(2), 249260.Google Scholar
Leitner, K.-H., & Guldenberg, S. (2010). Generic strategies and firm performance in SMEs: A longitudinal study of Austrian SMEs. Small Business Economics, 35, 169189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lerner, J. (2010). The future of public efforts to boost entrepreneurship and venture capital. Small Business Economics, 35(3), 255264.Google Scholar
Lopez-Garcia, P., & Puente, S. (2012). What makes a high growth firm? A dynamic probit model using Spanish firm-level data. Small Business Economics, 39(4), 10291041.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lumpkin, G.T., & Dess, G.G. (1996). Clarifying the entrepreneurial orientation construct and linking it to performance. The Academy of Management Review, 21(1), 135172.Google Scholar
Mason, C., & Brown, R. (2013). Creating good public policy to support high-growth firms. Small Business Economics, 40(2), 211225.Google Scholar
Mazzarol, T. (2012). Entrepreneurship as an academic pursuit-what does it really deliver to the end user? University of WA. Retrieved from Scholar
McMahon, R. G. P. (2007). Ownership structure, business growth and financial performance amongst SMEs. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 14(3), 458477.Google Scholar
Miller, D. (1983). The correlates of entrepreneurship in three types of firms. Management Science, 29, 770791.Google Scholar
Miner, J. B., & Raju, N. S. (2004). Risk propensity between managers and entrepreneurs and between low- and high-growth entrepreneurs: A reply in a more conservative vein. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(1), 313.Google Scholar
Mitra, J. (2000). Making connections: Innovation and collective learning in small business. Education+Training, 42(4/5), 228236.Google Scholar
Morris, M., & Lewis, P. (1995). The determinants of entrepreneurial activity: Implication for marketing. European Journal of Marketing, 29(7), 3148.Google Scholar
Navarro, J. L. B., Casillas, J. C., & Barringer, B. (2012). Forms of growth: How SME’s combine forms of growth to achieve high growth. Journal of Management and Organization, 18(1), 8197.Google Scholar
Nelson, S., Brunetto, Y., Farr-Wharton, R., & Ramsay, S. (2007). Organisational effectiveness of Australian fast growing small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Management Decision, 45(7), 11431162.Google Scholar
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2010). High-growth enterprises: What governments can do to make a difference, OECD studies on SMEs and entrepreneurship. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).Google Scholar
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2014). The digital economy, new business models and key features, in addressing the tax challenges of the digital economy, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from Scholar
Oke, A., Burke, G., & Myers, A. (2007). Innovation types and performance in growing UK SMEs. International Journal of Operations and Production Management, 27(7), 735753.Google Scholar
Olson, E. M., Slater, F. S., & Hult, G. T. M. (2005). The performance implication of fit among business strategy, marketing organization structure and strategic behaviour. Journal of Marketing, 69, 4965.Google Scholar
O’Regan, N., Ghobadian, A., & Gallear, D. (2006). In search of drivers of high growth in manufacturing SMEs. Technovation, 26(1), 3041.Google Scholar
Pasanen, M., & Laukkanen, T. (2006). Team-managed growing SMEs: A distinct species? Management Research News, 29(11), 684700.Google Scholar
Porter, M. E. (1980). Competitive strategy: Techniques for analysing industries and competitors. New York, NY: Free Press.Google Scholar
Rauch, A., & Frese, M. (2007). Let’s put the person back into entrepreneurship research: A meta-analysis on the relationship between business owners’ personality traits, business creation, and success. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 16(4), 353385.Google Scholar
Rauch, A., Wiklund, J., Lumpkin, G. T., & Frese, M. (2009). Entrepreneurial orientation and business performance: An assessment of past research and suggestions for the future. Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, 761787.Google Scholar
Rhee, J., Park, T., & Lee, D. Y. (2010). Drivers of innovativeness and performance for innovative SMEs in South Korea: Mediation of learning orientation. Technovation, 30(1), 6575.Google Scholar
Robb, A. M. (2002). Entrepreneurial performance by women minorities: The case of new firms. Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, 7(4), 383397.Google Scholar
Rode, V., & Vallaster, C. (2005). Corporate branding for start-ups: The crucial role of entrepreneurs. Corporate Reputation Review, 8(2), 121135.Google Scholar
Rompho, N. (2011). Why the balanced scorecard fails in SMEs: A case study. International Journal of Business and Management, 6(11), 3946.Google Scholar
Ruef, M., Aldrich, H. E., & Carter, N. M. (2003). The structure of organizational founding teams: Homophily, strong ties, and isolation among US entrepreneurs. American Sociological Review, 68(2), 195222.Google Scholar
Schumpeter, J. A. (1934). The theory of economic development: An enquiry into profits, capital, credit, interest and the business cycle (Harvard Economic Studies, 46). Cambridge, MA: Harvard College.Google Scholar
Shane, S. A. (2008). The illusions of entrepreneurship: The costly myths that entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers live by. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Simpson, M., Padmore, J., & Newman, N. (2012). Towards a new model of success and performance in SMEs. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, 18(3), 264285.Google Scholar
Sinkula, J. M., Baker, W. E., & Noordewier, T. (1997). A framework for market-based organizational learning: Linking values, knowledge and behavior. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 25(4), 305318.Google Scholar
Smith, N. R. (1967). The entrepreneur and his firm. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.Google Scholar
Spence, M., & Essoussi, L. H. (2008). SME brand building and management: An exploratory study. European Journal of Marketing, 44(7/8), 10371054.Google Scholar
Stangler, D. (2010). High growth firms and the future of the American economy. Kauffman Foundation Research Series: Firm Formation and Economic Growth , March, 112.Google Scholar
Storey, D. (1994). Understanding the small business sector. London: Thompson Publishers.Google Scholar
Taatila, V. P. (2010). Learning entrepreneurship in higher education. Education+Training, 52(1), 4861.Google Scholar
Timmons, J. A. (1999). New venture creation (5th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
Uhlaner, L. M., Van Stel, A., Duplat, V., & Zhou, H. (2012). Disentangling the effects of organizational capabilities, innovation and firm size on SME sales growth. Small Business Economics, 41, 581607.Google Scholar
Warren, L., & Hutchinson, W. E. (2000). Success factors for high technology SMEs: A case study from Australia. Journal of Small Business Management, 38(3), 8690.Google Scholar
Watson, J. (2002). Comparing the performance of male- and female-controlled businesses: Relating outputs to inputs. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 26(3), 91100.Google Scholar
Watson, W., Steward, W., & BarNir, A. (2003). The effects of human capital, organizational demography and interpersonal processes on venture partner perceptions of firm profit and growth. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(2), 145164.Google Scholar
Webb, J. W., Ireland, R. D., Hitt, A. H., Kistruck, G. M., & Tihanyi, L. (2011). Where is the opportunity without the customer? An integration of marketing activities, the entrepreneurship process, and institutional theory. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 39, 537554.Google Scholar
Weinzimmer, L. (1997). Top management team correlates of organizational growth in a small business context: A comparative study. Journal of Small Business Management, 35(3), 19.Google Scholar
Wennberg, K. (2009). Knowledge combinations and the survival of financial service ventures. Journal of Business Venturing, 25, 361375.Google Scholar
Wiesner, R., McDonald, J., & Banham, H. C. (2007). Australian small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs): A study of high performance management practices. Journal of Management & Organization, 13(3), 227248.Google Scholar
Wiklund, J., Patzelt, H., & Shepherd, D. A. (2009). Building an integrative model of small business growth. Small Business Economics, 32(4), 351374.Google Scholar
Wolff, J. A., Pett, T. L., & Ring, J. K. (2015). Small firm growth as a function of both learning orientation and entrepreneurial orientation. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, 21(5), 709730.Google Scholar