By Erik E. Lehmann, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Augsburg, Germany, firstname.lastname@example.org | Julian Schenkenhofer, Department of Management, University of Bergamo, Italy, email@example.com
Hidden champions are world-market leaders that emulate a niche strategy. In this research, we illustrate the hidden champions’ key business strategies and their evolution over space (geographical distribution) and time (technological change). While we describe their spatial distribution and argue how complementary institutional arrangements embed niche world-market leaders, our historical roadmap sketches the main milestones of how changes in technology and market structures came into existence. The emergence of niche markets is strongly tied to the evolution of technologies within both supplier and end-user markets. Tracing the evolution of niche markets, we derive three different eras of niche markets and exemplary hidden champions of their time: pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial. We rely on a few hidden champions that we present more in detail to illustrate their niche market emergence. Moreover, we investigate inventions and technology revolutions of the hidden champions’ main industries. Building on Hermann Simon’s key insights on hidden champions, we analyze how the academic discussion unfolded onwards after his first seminal contributions. We conclude through presenting fields of future research that will help to further evolve studies on hidden champions.
A stream of research has begun to examine other forms of entrepreneurship, one of them being niche entrepreneurship with hidden champions being a prime example of these. Many economies are powered by rather small and medium sizes companies and some of these companies have become world-market leaders in highly specific niche markets and had been termed “hidden champions”. Hidden champions are small to midsized companies that are often technology leaders within their niche market yet they are not commonly known to the public given their specialized markets. They are often located in rural areas and serve B2B markets so that they are only known by customers and the local community.
The Evolution of Hidden Champions as Niche Entrepreneurs portrays hidden champions as an important vehicle in shaping a country’s technological and economic competitiveness, revealing their key business strategies and investigating their evolution over space (geographical distribution) and time (technological change). Finally, the authors illustrate the subsequent growth in academic research which show that economies differ in providing hidden champions with an institutional environment that complementarily fits their individual strategic choices. The second part of this work analyses the evolution of hidden champions over time.
The monograph starts by introducing a fundamental concept of hidden champions. Section 2 defines the concept and distinguishes it from similar concepts. Section 3 presents the key characteristics of hidden champions and provides empirical evidence from research on hidden champions. Section 4 presents the evolution of hidden champions, both geographically and historically. Section 5 outlines the development of the hidden champions’ research field and its main milestones. Section 6 then presents the key contemporary discussions around hidden champions. Section 7 concludes and provides an outlook into future research.