First Look

July 31, 2007

Microfinance is not a microscopic component of business any more. Providing small loans to low-income sectors in many parts of the world has become a profitable industry. A new field case on Latin America's Banca Regional Andino, by Harvard Business School's Michael Chu and Jean Steege Hazell, shows how three separate banks in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador ask whether it would be better to join together in order to face the market forces that threaten them individually. Also new from HBS faculty this week: a working paper for download on organizational design; a book chapter on bridging the gap between scientific and managerial goals; and a case on a new president's challenges—including raising money—at a stem cell start-up in Massachusetts.
— Martha Lagace

Working Papers

Coupled Search Processes: Why Is It So Difficult to Find that Organizational Design Matters?


Organizational design affects performance via coupled search processes. At low frequency, managers search for appropriate organizational designs. At higher frequency, managers use designs to search for high-performing operational choices. The two searches are coupled: organizational design molds the choice among operational alternatives, and performance feedback from operational choices shapes design. Our simulation model shows how coupled search processes can dramatically obscure the true impact of design on performance, confounding empirical research. We identify research strategies for tackling this difficulty; discuss population-level advantages of coupled search processes; and highlight implications for analogous coupled search processes that shape networks, cognition, and capabilities.

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Cases & Course Materials

Banca Regional Andino: Facing the Globalization of Microfinance

Harvard Business School Case 307-060

Three leading Latin American microfinance banks join forces to face the new challenges of globalization, competition, and politics while common shareholder ACCÍON investments considers its options. From an initial project to share costs in the revamping of their IT systems, the Banca Regional Andino develops into the possibility of a common operating platform across three separate institutions, BancoSol of Bolivia, Mibanco of Peru, and Banco Solidario of Ecuador. The Banca Regional is a response to forces that the banks perceive as potentially threatening to their long history of success. In the process, presents the evolution of the national microfinance markets of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru within the context of global microfinance.

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Foreign Direct Investment and South Africa

Harvard Business School Case 707-019

Incoming and outgoing foreign direct investment in an environment of politics, geography, globalization, and history. Since the end of apartheid, South Africa had undertaken substantial economic reforms in order to attract more foreign direct investment, but it was slow in coming. At the same time, South African firms had become major players in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Collectively, these investment decisions could have a major long-run impact on South Africa's economic growth and political stability. South African policymakers needed to decide what they wanted from the private sector, and how to achieve it.

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The History of Credit Agencies in the United States

Harvard Business School Note 307-057

Provides a brief background on the history of credit agencies in the United States. Focuses on the mature process of data collection on an American consumer and how credit agencies share the information to determine proper credit risk and worthiness of a consumer. The American system as defined in this note can be contrasted against the lack of developed systems in burgeoning economies and help to better understand the capital markets of society.

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Pervasis Therapeutics, Inc.

Harvard Business School Case 807-026

In May 2005, Steve Bollinger was about to become president and chief operating officer of Pervasis Therapeutics, a small cell therapy start-up in Cambridge, Mass. If proven successful, Pervasis' product, Vascugel, could change the way vascular disease is treated and have a major impact in a large and underserved population. However, Vascugel had not yet gone into human clinical trials, and getting it to market would mean navigating the FDA approval process, as well as raising the capital necessary to finance the endeavor. It was up to Bollinger to decide on a strategy for Vascugel's clinical trials. In addition, he would have to decide how much money the company needed to raise, taking into account the interests of the company's founders and existing venture investors. Finally, while Bollinger was expected to lead the company for the next two to three years, Pervasis' board was planning to launch a search for a permanent CEO in the future.

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Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction


Pan Am, Gimbel's, Pullman, Douglas Aircraft, Digital Equipment Corporation, British Leyland—all once as strong as dinosaurs, all now just as extinct. Destruction of businesses, fortunes, products, and careers is the price of progress toward a better material life. No one understood this bedrock economic principle better than Joseph A. Schumpeter. "Creative destruction," he said, is the driving force of capitalism.

Described by John Kenneth Galbraith as "the most sophisticated conservative" of the twentieth century, Schumpeter made his mark as the prophet of incessant change. His vision was stark: Nearly all businesses fail, victims of innovation by their competitors. Businesspeople ignore this lesson at their peril—to survive, they must be entrepreneurial and think strategically. Yet in Schumpeter's view, the general prosperity produced by the "capitalist engine" far outweighs the wreckage it leaves behind.

During a tumultuous life spanning two world wars, the Great Depression, and the early Cold War, Schumpeter reinvented himself many times. From boy wonder in turn-of-the-century Vienna to captivating Harvard professor, he was stalked by tragedy and haunted by the specter of his rival, John Maynard Keynes. By 1983—the centennial of the birth of both men—Forbes christened Schumpeter, not Keynes, the best navigator through the turbulent seas of globalization. Time has proved that assessment accurate.

Prophet of Innovation is also the private story of a man rescued repeatedly by women who loved him and put his well-being above their own. Without them, he would likely have perished, so fierce were the conflicts between his reason and his emotions. Drawing on all of Schumpeter's writings, including many intimate diaries and letters never before used, this biography paints the full portrait of a magnetic figure who aspired to become the world's greatest economist, lover, and horseman—and admitted to failure only with the horses.

Collaborative R&D in Management: The Practical Experience of Fenix and TruePoint in Bridging the Divide Between Scientific and Managerial Goals


The gap between theory and practice has been of concern to both practitioners and academics, yet other than pleas to close the gap with more accessible writing for practitioners by and more interest in research by practitioners few systematic efforts have been made to close the gap. The chapter begins with a discussion of the strategic value R&D in management can have for firms. It is arguably the single most important way a company can improve its management and organizational effectiveness. We argue that the process of management research must occur in the context where the results are to be applied and must be collaborative if understanding of new practices and commitment to change are to be achieved. We follow with a discussion of management's goals and that of academics in the prospective management enterprise. Finally we review and evaluate the efforts of Fenix, an academically based applied research institute, and TruePoint, a U.S. research based consultancy, in the context of how well they met both academic and managerial goals.

The Effect of Market Orientation and its Components on Innovation Consequences: A Meta-analysis


While there is a rich body of research on market orientation's effect on business performance, much little attention has been given to its effect on innovation consequences. This is the first meta-analytic effort to study the independent effects of market orientation components (customer orientation, competitor orientation, interfunctional coordination) on innovation consequences. Also, it is the first meta-analysis to study the impact of contextual characteristics on the way market orientation affects innovation consequences.

The study finds that market orientation components positively affect innovation consequences but that competitor orientation's effect depends on a minimum level of customer orientation. The study also suggests that the relationship between market orientation and innovation consequences is stronger in highly competitive environments but weaker in technology turbulent ones. Finally, findings suggest that the relationship is stronger in large firms, service companies, and in countries characterized by high individualism and high power distance national cultures.

Private Power in Indonesia


The Asian Currency Crisis led to the collapse of agreements Indonesia had negotiated for private electric power only a few years earlier. The ensuing struggle meant bad publicity and several hundred million dollars in costs for Indonesia. As Indonesia in 2007 was designing a new law that would pass the constitutional test and encourage private investors in electric power, it was not clear that officials had fully understood the lessons of the recent disputes. Problems lay less in the legal framework than in lack of information about deals elsewhere, the institutional structure for negotiations and renegotiations, and the personal interests of highly placed individuals. The resulting power purchase agreements had led to high prices for electricity, imbalances of risks and rewards, and an unwillingness of officials to use the most effective defenses when disputes arose. Learning from the past should help officials not to make similar mistakes in the future.