Overcoming Institutional Voids: A Reputation-Based View of Long Run Survival

by Cheng Gao, Tiona Zuzul, Geoffrey Jones, and Tarun Khanna

Overview — Why are some firms able to persistently survive challenging, uncertain, and underdeveloped business environments? To address this question, the authors utilize the HBS Creating Emerging Markets project―a novel collection of in-depth, publicly available video interviews conducted by HBS researchers with leaders of emerging market firms that have survived over decades and even centuries. Analyzing these interviews for the first time, the authors theorize that firm reputation is a key strategic driver, and outline how a favorable reputation allows a firm to more fully utilize its existing resources by decreasing uncertainty. They also show that reputation has offensive and defensive properties that make it valuable during both positive and negative economic cycles. Finally, the authors propose new ideas about how reputation facilitates survival and discuss why a reputation-based source of competitive advantage is hard to imitate.

Author Abstract

Emerging markets are characterized by underdeveloped institutions and frequent environmental shifts. Yet they also contain many firms that have survived over generations. How are firms in weak institutional environments able to persist over time? Motivated by 69 interviews with leaders of emerging market firms with histories spanning generations, we combine induction and deduction to propose reputation as a meta-resource that allows firms to activate their conventional resources. We conceptualize reputation as consisting of prominence, perceived quality, and resilience and develop a process model that illustrates the mechanisms that allow reputation to facilitate survival in ways that persist over time. Building on research in strategy and business history, we thus shed light on an underappreciated strategic construct (reputation) in an under-theorized setting (emerging markets) over an unusual period (the historical long run).

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