The debate that rages in the management sciences community about the scientific status of small companies still focuses on the “nature” of such companies. Although the scientific community willingly admits that small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) are not large companies, it continues to assume they are large companies in miniature. If SMEs have a specific nature in terms of their management particularities, it becomes necessary to compare them with large companies.
A review of SME literature highlights an interesting trend: “denaturing” (Torrès, 1997). A SME qualifies as denatured if it does not satisfy the management specificity criteria (Julien, 1994). However, the competitive environment is not taken into account as an environmental factor that induces denaturing. This observation corroborates an analysis that indicates themes of competition and competitiveness are largely ignored in French academic research into SME. Therefore, this thesis undertakes a substantive, procedural approach to highlight the precise environmental processes that result in denaturing. This new vision requires imagining and analyzing SME as projects that can create value in a systemic relationship with their environment. Thus, denaturing becomes a real, cognitive process for rationalizing organizations from a director–ownership perspective.
Various models, tools, and papers on the components of competition suggest explanatory variables that can identify two types of SME denaturing: deterministic alignment denaturing versus pro-active adaptation denaturing. The research model is tested in a quantitative study with 185 segmented companies. The results put the theory of the specificity of SMEs into perspective and legitimate the concept of denatured SMEs. They also formally establish a chain of cause and effect between the exogenous and endogenous components of an extended competition mode and the type of denaturing.