28 Jan 2010  Working Papers

Does Product Market Competition Lead Firms To Decentralize?

Executive Summary — There is a widespread sense that over the last two decades firms have been decentralizing decisions to employees further down the managerial hierarchy. Economists have developed a range of theories to account for delegation, but there is less empirical evidence, especially across countries. This has limited the ability to understand the phenomenon of decentralization. Nicholas Bloom, HBS professor Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen assembled a new data set on about 4,000 firms across 12 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia, and then measured the delegation of authority from central headquarters to local plant managers. Key concepts include:

  • Competition is associated with a greater degree of delegation.
  • One of the reasons for the move toward decentralization over time in developed countries may be increasing competition, possibly arising from more globalized product markets.
  • A reason for greater centralization in less developed countries may be lower competitive intensity.

 

Author Abstract

There is a widespread sense that over the last two decades firms have been decentralizing decisions to employees further down the managerial hierarchy. Economists have developed a range of theories to account for delegation, but there is less empirical evidence, especially across countries. This has limited the ability to understand the phenomenon of decentralization. To address the empirical lacuna we have developed a research program to measure the internal organization of firms - including their decentralization decisions - across a large range of industries and countries. In this paper we investigate whether greater product market competition increases decentralization. For example, tougher competition may make local manager's information more valuable, as delays to decisions become more costly. Since globalization and liberalization have increased the competitiveness of product markets, one explanation for the trend towards decentralization could be increased competition. Of course there are a range of other factors that may also be at play, including human capital, information and communication technology, culture and industrial composition. To tackle these issues we collected detailed information on the internal organization of firms across nations. The few datasets that exist are either from a single industry or (at best) across many firms in a single country. We analyze data on almost 4,000 firms across twelve countries in Europe, North America and Asia. We find that competition does indeed seem to foster greater decentralization. 12 pages.

Paper Information