This paper analyzes the characteristics of Italian firms involved in global value chains (ï¿½intermediateï¿½ firms) by using the Bank of Italy survey on industrial companies. Intermediate firms show, on average, worse features than ï¿½finalï¿½ firms: smaller size, lower share of white collars, lower productivity and export propensity. However we observe a strong heterogeneity, depending on the ability (and modalities) to upgrade along the value chains. There are wide differences between upgrading and non-upgrading (marginal) intermediate firms in terms of size, efficiency, human capital endowment and international competitiveness. During the 2008-09 crisis, marginal intermediate firms performed definitely worse; moreover, facing a collapse in world trade, firms that were upgrading by expanding their international linkages were more severely hit than those that were differentiating their internal functions.