Hidden champions in the modern world

Hidden champions are relatively small (often S&MEs), but worldwide successful market-leading companies, which are not widely known to the public. Their prosperity is explained by niche and often technological orientation, innovative culture, customer-centered philosophy, commitment to excellence in their area of operations. In addition, the know-how and expertise of such companies are implicit. This provides for their unique nature of success and, respectively, name. LSBC has contacted one of the experts in the area of research on hidden champions – Pavel Lebedev– for an interview to find out current news and peculiarities of this subject.

Pavel Lebedev, serving as a board advisor to LSBC, CEEMAN member and a researcher at IEDC Bled School of Management, had an opportunity to work with companies from various countries including Luxembourg and Slovenia. Inspired by the ideas of Hermann Simon in his studies in 1996 on the new concept of “hidden champions” in the German economy, Pavel continued the studies with a wider scope. For example, Conference on Hidden Champions in CEE and Turkey in 2013 has resulted in a publication of a book by Springer. The studies do not stop at the current level of achievements and continue to discover new insights into the nature of hidden champions.

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– In your recent research you decided to focus on Luxembourg and Slovenia. What are the prospects of these countries in this matter? Is there a potential for them to growing more of the hidden champions there and catching up to the level of Germany?

– As our research base is in Slovenia, we have a dedicated team of researchers focused on local companies. In addition, both countries have huge potential and a very stimulating environment providing background for the research and create exceptional opportunities for hidden champions .

The two countries have certain similarities in terms of size, innovations, impressive breakthrough in development during the last decades etc. Even being compared by wealth, Slovenia is a good peer in a sense that it is one of the richest “new” countries of European Union in CEE. The number of such companies does not define the “winner’ as it is notabout competition. What seems really important here is balanced mix of companies in each country with a sufficient representation by hidden champions, what we aim to evaluate in our study.

LSBC promotes and supports S&MEs in Slovenia and Luxembourg instead of big corporations as the first ones are a drive of innovative and sustainable economy nowadays. How do you think, can your research be contributed from the experience gained by LSBC?

– It is great to have this study supported by LSBC thanks to expertise in innovative enterprises along with strong connections between both countries. The outcomes of this project will be also beneficial to the members of LSBC. They will be presented with relevant research outcomes focused on the specifics of the environment they operate in and with cases of some of the most successful companies. Cooperation with strong partners provides synergies and we are open to join forces with other parties interested in research on hidden champions and willing to support it.

– How can hidden champions profit from the governmental and NGO’s support while remaining their authority?

Hidden champions are strong and sustainable companies, thus the support e.g. funding, tax relief etc. is less relevant for them, although might be a nice-to-have option.

What is more valueable is provision of infrastructure for networking, creation of ecosystems and digital platforms, opportunities for communication with different stakeholders across the globe, promotion of the noble role of entrepreneurship. These factors contribute to the sustainable success while allowing to maintain the unique know-how “hidden”.

– In your opinion, can hidden champions profit from participation in international fairs? Or attending such events is not a common practice for these companies?

– I wouldn’t say that participation in international fairs is primary source of creating and exploiting growth opportunities. The sales and growth of hidden champions are driven by limited or non-existing alternative offer of comparative value, excellence in delivery and earlier mentioned factors. Still, international exhibitions and fairs could serve as an important vehicle for PR relationships, communications and networking.

LSBC, not only as an organization, but as a member of modern society values innovativeness, creativity, proactive thinking and connectivity of international community members. In your opinion, what is a common ground in the mindset of LSBC and hidden champions?

-The values of LSBC and hidden champions are indeed very common to each other, which makes LSBC itself a hidden champion of its kind. I would also mention here another crucial value which distinguishes hidden champions as well as LSBC – inspiring leadership and team spirit – it is really what makes things happen!