This paper provides an in-depth study on the main firm-level drivers of external competitiveness during the recent crisis in Italy. We contribute to the debate on the Italian international position by presenting evidence based on a unique sample survey database (the MET dataset). Overall, our results confirm the high degree of heterogeneity of the Italian corporate sector and the well-known differences between internationalised and domestic companies in terms of performance as well as structure and behaviour. In particular, the data highlight not only the correlation between internationalisation and innovative activities but also a positive change of attitude of Italian firms towards these strategies. Our analysis shows that,
whilst structural factors play a key role for external competitiveness (size, location, industry, etc.), other critical firm-level aspects, especially those related to strategic profiles, technological capabilities, and ‘proactive’ behaviour, trigger superior performances. To this extent, our policy suggestions focus on the need to sustain and foster innovative activities to improve aggregate competitiveness.