The paper examines the traits, strategies and performances of leading Italian export firms before and during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. The sample analysed is based on Italian export firms that reported foreign sales of at least Euro fifteen million in 2007. The companies feature higher-than-average levels of productivity and foreign direct investment and, in the pre-crisis years, strengthened their presence in the international markets, invested more in their brands and customer assistance, and increased the resources allocated to R&D and innovation. In terms of sales, the companies analysed suffered more than most during the worst phase of the crisis (September 2008 to spring 2009), indicating their higher exposure to international trade and its subsequent collapse. Nevertheless, the export firms surveyed managed to keep employment levels stable and made less use of special redundancy schemes (CIGS). Moreover, the export firms implemented effective measures to reduce production costs, re-internalize some production process phases and reinforce the internationalization process.
Keywords: Exporting firms, firm size, productivity
Jel Code: F10, D21, F21