First Look

August 28, 2007

Are managers in China particularly quick to diversify their enterprises compared to managers in other emerging markets? The answer has practical implications for assessing the degree of government involvement. Using data between 2001 and 2005, HBS professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee decided to investigate with 4 colleagues, 1 based in Hong Kong and another in Shanghai. What they learned: Contrary to arguments based on anecdotal evidence, the level of diversification of Chinese firms remained stable during the period of study. At the same time, however, Chinese state-owned enterprises were much more likely to diversify than other Chinese firms. The study may be downloaded as a pdf. Also new this week: another pdf for download, about innovation based on collaborating with partners globally; a Management Science exploration of consumer price sensitivity with implications for retailers; and case studies on (among other companies) China Merchants Bank, Endesa Chile, and Intel.
— Martha Lagace

Working Papers

Diversification of Chinese Companies: An International Comparison


Purpose—This paper provides a systematic comparison of the level of business diversification in China and eight other large economies for the 2001 to 2005 period. We investigate reasons why Chinese firms are more diversified than companies elsewhere.
Design/methodology/approach—We collect data on the number of business segments in which publicly traded companies operate from the Thomson One Banker database. We analyze the data using nonparametric tests and regression analysis.
Findings—The mean number of business segments per firm varies significantly by country. Notably, there is no evidence in our sample that emerging-market companies are systematically more diversified than their developed-market counterparts. In most countries, firms have become less diversified over time. However, there is no such trend in China. The level of diversification of Chinese enterprises does not vary over our study period (2001-2005), making Chinese firms the most diversified in our sample by 2005. China's growth rate does not seem to explain the higher level of firm diversification. However, we find that Chinese state-owned enterprises diversify their operations more aggressively than other Chinese firms.
Research limitations/implications—Ownership data and business group affiliations were not available for all firms in our sample, making it difficult to control for these effects across economies.
Practical implications—Government involvement in state-owned enterprises may be contributing to a divergence in the pattern of business diversification between China and other economies.
Originality/value—This paper quantifies anecdotal evidence that Chinese firms are more diversified than similar firms in other countries.

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Innovation through Global Collaboration: A New Source of Competitive Advantage


Many recent studies highlight the need to rethink the way we manage innovation. Traditional approaches, based on the assumption that the creation and pursuit of new ideas is best accomplished by a centralized and collocated R&D team, are rapidly becoming outdated. Instead, innovations are increasingly brought to the market by networks of firms, selected for their unique capabilities, and operating in a coordinated manner. This new model demands that firms develop different skills, in particular, the ability to collaborate with partners to achieve superior innovation performance. Yet despite this need, there is little guidance on how to develop or deploy this ability.

This article describes the results of a study to understand the strategies and practices used by firms that achieve greater success in their collaborative innovation efforts. We found many firms mistakenly applied an "outsourcing" mindset to collaboration efforts which, in turn, led to three critical errors: First, they focused solely on lower costs, failing to consider the broader strategic role of collaboration. Second, they didn't organize effectively for collaboration, believing that innovation could be managed much like production and partners treated like "suppliers." And third, they didn't invest in building collaborative capabilities, assuming that their existing people and processes were already equipped for the challenge. Successful firms, by contrast, developed an explicit strategy for collaboration and made organizational changes to aid performance in these efforts. Ultimately, these actions allowed them to identify and exploit new business opportunities. In sum, collaboration is becoming a new and important source of competitive advantage. We propose several frameworks to help firms develop and exploit this new ability.

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Cases & Course Materials

Royal DSM N.V.: Information Technology Enabling Business Transformation

Harvard Business School Case 807-167

Describes how Royal DSM NV, an $8 billion dollar global corporation, leveraged information technology to enable a major corporate portfolio transformation between 2000 and 2006.

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Deferred Taxes at Obadiah Vineyard

Harvard Business School Case 107-035

Obadiah Vineyard's owners create financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to help them obtain funding to plant more acreage. The owners grapple with deferred taxes and the differences between tax and financial reporting books.

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Leslie Brinkman at Versutia Capital

Harvard Business School Case 407-089

Leslie Brinkman is the founder and CEO of a hedge fund, Versutia Capital. Leslie spent late 2002 and early 2003 assembling her team and launched the fund in early 2003. While the firm performed well during 2003 and 2004 (both in terms of returns and new assets), in 2005 the results began to suffer. Describes the process of designing the firm, the resulting team dynamics, the strains on the staff and the impact of Leslie's management style on the performance of her team. In the spring of 2005, Leslie must decide whether to re-design the firm and/or change her management style in order to address the performance issues that Versutia is facing.

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Kristen's Cookie Co. (A) (Abridged)

Harvard Business School Case 608-037

The student is starting his or her own business, baking make-to-order cookies. Basic times of each operation are laid out and the student is asked to determine the consequences for the operating system. Serves as an exercise and review of concepts such as capacity, bottlenecks, and throughput times. Students should be able to make several useful suggestions for improving the system.

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Staging Two-Sided Platforms

Harvard Business School Note 808-004

Firms that aspire to develop two-sided platforms face a formidable challenge. Prospective users on each side will not invest in the platform until they are confident there will be enough users on the other side. Traditional strategies for dealing with this dilemma--subsidizing users or securing their exclusive affiliation--are costly and risky. Describes less costly staged strategies for building two-sided platforms. With the "vendor to two-sided platform" strategy, a firm starts as a vendor selling products or services to customers on just one side of a potential--but not yet existing--two-sided network. Once the first side is firmly established, it proves easier to attract users to the network's other side during stage two. With the "merchant to two-sided platform" strategy, a firm starts as a merchant buying goods from many different suppliers and reselling them, in the process absorbing all the risk of platform failure. In stage two, the firm shifts risk and control back to some or all of its suppliers, giving them more responsibility for managing inventory, pricing, and merchandising their wares. Presents examples and offers guidelines for when to use each strategy.

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ABRY Partners and F+W Publications

Harvard Business School Case 207-010

After acquiring F+W Publications from a rival private equity firm, ABRY Partners became increasingly convinced that they had been deceived by the sellers about the profitability of the company. ABRY must determine whether they were deliberately misled, what courses of action are available, and which they should pursue. Considerations include a mix of legal, ethical, and business issues.

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Timing of Option Grants at UnitedHealth Group (B)

Harvard Business School Supplement 107-037

Supplements the (A) case.

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China Merchants Bank

Harvard Business School Case 307-081

Founded in 1987, China Merchants Bank (CMB) is a pioneer in the use of technical innovation and IT as a competitive tool in the rapidly evolving Chinese banking sector. With a relatively small branch network when compared to its larger competitors, CMB uses an IT-driven strategy to introduce an "all-in-one" card, which integrates a suite of financial products to drive its personal banking business enabling CMB to be ranked 6th among China's commercial banks and 2nd among the other national commercial banks in terms of total assets as of June 2006. Underlying its excellence in personal banking is CMB's leadership in developing its credit card business. By April 2006, CMB had issued a total of over 5 million credit cards, capturing one-third of the Chinese credit card market. In September 2006, CMB's IPO in Hong Kong fetched about $2.4 billion and, given deregulation in the banking sector in China, CMB's President was presented with new challenges and opportunities concerning how such funds should be productively allocated to ensure CMB's competitiveness.

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Endesa Chile: Raising the Ralco Dam (A)

Harvard Business School Case 906-014

Endesa Chile, the largest electricity generation company in Chile, is building a major power plant on the Biobio River in Southern Chile. A historic conflict involving the indigenous people of the Biobio River, the Chilean government, and international conservation groups results. The conflict threatens the completion of the project and the longstanding culture and community of the Penhuenche, the indigenous people of the Upper Biobio.

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Endesa Chile: Raising the Ralco Dam (B)

Harvard Business School Supplement 906-015

Supplements the (A) case.

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General Electric's 20th Century CEOs (Abridged)

Harvard Business School Case 406-118

General Electric thrived in every decade of the 20th century. Since its founding in 1892, GE has placed a high value on picking and training the best people. Staff members worked with other scientists in the company's research lab to design and manufacture new and better products to satisfy the growing American consumer demand for lighting, appliances, and consumer electronics in the 1910s to 1920s as well as in the 1950s and 1960s. GE's top executives have shown a clear understanding of the leadership and managerial styles that were appropriate for the years in which they worked. In the first decade of the 20th century, Charles Coffin demonstrated that he was an adept negotiator who amassed great wealth for GE in building generators and power equipment for local utilities in which GE also had a financial stake through bond issues. In the final decades of the 20th century, Jack Welch emphasized that GE should support only the most profitable businesses in the company's portfolio, a logic that led Welch and GE to phase out GE's consumer electronics division while bolstering the financial position of GE capital. Profiles all of GE's top executives.

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Buddy March

Harvard Business School Case 407-128

Entrepreneurial general manager (GM) ignores specific directives from his boss (GVP) to discontinue a new venture that the GM is championing.

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Intel 2006: Rising to the Graphics Challenge

Harvard Business School Case 607-136

Examines the evolution of the PC hardware industry over the span of two and a half decades. The open architecture design of the IBM Personal Computer followed by the rapid appearance of clones drove a high level of standardization and modularity in the industry, and value was distributed along the value chain depending on levels of competition and ability to substitute components at each level. On the hardware side two component segments, the microprocessor and the graphics processor unit (GPU), ultimately became the most valuable parts of the chain. The GPU business had settled into a duopoly with Nvidia, Inc. and ATI Technologies (ATI). Intel had dominated the microprocessor segment, but Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) was consistently a thorn in Intel's side. Addresses the prospects of the graphics function becoming integrated with the microprocessor on a single piece of silicon. AMD had just announced the acquisition of ATI and Paul Otellini, Intel's CEO, is faced with the question of what he should do. Should he buy Nvidia, should he continue with his own internal graphics efforts, or should he listen to some of his customers and leave things separate?

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Les Is More, Times Four

Harvard Business School Case 807-173

"I've had enough! I've decided that I need to resign," read the email from the founder of Webpoint to the company's board of directors. Les Trachtman, the CEO of Webpoint, has to figure out how to react to the founder's "it's Trachtman or me" ultimatum. Webpoint was Trachtman's fourth job as CEO, and in each case he had been hired as the first non-founding CEO, taking over from the founder-CEO of a tight-knit founding team. Trachtman had first taken over from a mother and son team, then from two brothers, then from a wife and husband team, and now from serial co-founders who were best friends. From these ventures, Trachtman had learned how to manage founders who had strong relationships, but those experiences had not prepared him for the current situation.

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Measuring Identity

No abstract available.

The Rules of Globalization: Case Book


This is a book about the politics of the global economy—about how firms prosper by understanding those politics, or fail by misunderstanding them. Understanding the politics of globalization may once have been a luxury; it is now, for most high-level managers, simply a necessity. The book contains cases which can be used by instructors and students to build a framework of analysis that enables them to understand the challenges of international trade and investment and master the opportunities they represent. This framework is based on a systematic evaluation of the informal and formal rules that define markets for goods, services, and capital. These insightful cases allow for evaluation of: the political and economic origins of our current era of globalization and how the rules that constrain and enable firms are changing; the impact of governments' policies and which tools are available for predicting, avoiding, or even employing the long arm of the government; and the influence of informal and formal institutions on opportunities for success in international finance and trade.

Identity as a Variable


As scholarly interest in the concept of identity continues to grow, social identities are proving to be crucially important for understanding contemporary life. Despite—or perhaps because of—the sprawl of different treatments of identity in the social sciences, the concept has remained too analytically loose to be as useful a tool as the literature's early promise had suggested. We propose to solve this longstanding problem by developing the analytical rigor and methodological imagination that will make identity a more useful variable for the social sciences. This article offers more precision by defining collective identity as a social category that varies along two dimensions—content and contestation. Content describes the meaning of a collective identity. The content of social identities may take the form of four non-mutually-exclusive types: constitutive norms; social purposes; relational comparisons with other social categories; and cognitive models. Contestation refers to the degree of agreement within a group over the content of the shared category. Our conceptualization thus enables collective identities to be compared according to the agreement and disagreement about their meanings by the members of the group. The final section of the article looks at the methodology of identity scholarship. Addressing the wide array of methodological options on identity—including discourse analysis, surveys, and content analysis, as well as promising newer methods like experiments, agent-based modeling, and cognitive mapping—we hope to provide the kind of brush clearing that will enable the field to move forward methodologically as well.

Business and Low-Income Sectors: Finding a New Weapon to Attack Poverty

Consumers' Price Sensitivities across Complementary Categories


In this paper we examine the pattern of correlation among consumer price sensitivities across complementary product categories. We used a hierarchical Bayesian multivariate probit model to uncover this pattern. We estimated this model using purchase incidence data for six categories involving three pairs of complementary products. Our results show a new and interesting pattern of correlation among price parameters of complementary products. For example, we find that the correlation of own-price sensitivities of complementary products is negative. These results are consistent across the three complementary pairs of products. We also investigate the reason for this counter-intuitive result. Finally, we present some managerial implications of our model. We show how our model can be used for cross-category targeting decisions by retailers. We find that compared to non-targeted discounting, the average profitability gain from customized discounting across the three category pairs is only 1.29% when complementarity is ignored, but this gain improves to 8.26% when full complementarity is taken into account. We also investigate whether ignoring the complex pattern of correlation has implications for managerial actions regarding targeting and optimal discounting. We find that retailers can make misleading inferences about the impact of targeted discounts when they ignore cross-category effects in modeling.