20 November 2018

Jana MatthewsThe Australian Centre for Business Growth today revealed new research which identifies the reasons Australian SMEs are failing. 

In the first-of-its-kind research, data was collected from CEOs who had been part of a company failure or whose small or medium companies had failed. The top five reasons were lack of leadership and management skills including poor planning, insufficient market research and sales skills, mismanagement of financials, underestimating the impact of externalities, and poor governance structures.

As part of its longitudinal study[1], the Centre asked 650 CEOs of medium and small companies who participated in its one-day Growth Clinic whether they had ever experienced a business failure.  The 134 CEOs (22%) who said ‘yes’ gave a total of 253 reasons:

  • 25% said this was due to lack of leadership, poor management, and/or no planning.
  • 17% did not know how or did not do enough market research, marketing, or sales.
  • 14% did not understand finance, relied on someone else to assess the company’s financial health, did not have the necessary financial skills to manage the company, and did not know how to fund company growth.
  • 13% did not anticipate the impact of externalities, were blindsided by issues such as fire, drought, interest rate changes, regulations, or global trends, and had no risk mitigation plan.
  • 11% said poor governance structures, problems with partners or family members led to failure. 

ANZ Chair in Business Growth and Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth, Dr Jana Matthews, said that the study showed there are many reasons why companies fail, but the common theme was CEOs not understanding their roles and responsibilities as company leaders. 

“Leaders need to plan and set the company’s direction, communicate, build an executive team, create a high performance culture of execution, manage and optimise corporate resources – including employees and financial resources, customers, suppliers, vendors, advisors, and financiers,” Matthews said.

“They need to ensure good governance and alignment, and create a learning organisation, and when these leaders do not understand or fulfill such responsibilities, companies fail to grow, and sometimes fail completely.”

“Small and medium companies are incredibly important to the health and well-being of this nation. Too many of Australia’s companies are failing because CEOs or founders simply do not understand their job and don’t know what to do, when, or why.” 

“This is a problem that we can and must address. People are not born knowing how to drive a car, yet millions have learned.  People are not born knowing how to drive company growth, but hundreds of CEOs who have gone through our business growth programs have learned – and many more can learn, if they are given that opportunity.”

The remaining reasons for failure cited in the survey included:

  • Poor management of people (6%)
  • Problems with the product or service (7%)
  • Inexperienced CEOs (4%)
  • Wrong strategy or not implementing the strategy (4%).

Top reasons for SME Failure


Insufficient leadership and management (13%), planning and execution (12%)


Inadequate market research, marketing, sales


Poor financial management


Underestimating the impact of externalities


Poor governance structures re partners, family


Product or service problems


Poor management of people


Inexperienced CEO


Wrong strategy or poor implementation




Source: Data collected by the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia’s Business School (2014 – 2018)

Media Contacts:

Kicker Communications
Lisa Banks
Email: lisa.banks@kickercomms.com
Phone: +61 466 787 138

About the Australian Centre for Business Growth:

Established in June 2014, the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia Business School provides CEOs and executives of medium companies (20 – 199 employees) and small companies (5 – 19 employees) with the knowledge and skills they need to develop as leaders, accelerate company growth and compete in a global marketplace. The Centre’s programs teach executives how to lead and manage growth via diagnostics, expert presentations, facilitated group discussions, peer-to-peer learning, and action planning.

[1] Since its inception, the Australian Centre for Business Growth has been collecting data and  doing a longitudinal tracking study of every company that participates in any of its programs.

Other articles you may be interested in