During the Great recession, the foreign demand was a key factor for the Italian manufacturing firm to compete successfully. New Istat databases on make it possible to pinpoint both the firms' potential and obstacles, either exogenous or endogenous to the firms' characteristics. Our evidence points out that more complex forms of internationalization, such as fdi or export activity on a global scale, contributed to firms' performance even during the recent crisis. The possibility for an Italian manufacturing firm to grow and compete on international markets depends more on its strategic choices (e.g. about innovation activity, inter-firm relationships, human capital) than on its structural features (e.g. sector). On the other hand, a management capacity inadequate to operate worldwide appears to be the main obstacle to the firms' growth on the international markets.