Vertical Integration with Style!

Andrew Shipilov offers a nice case (with video) of Louis Vuitton’s strategy for vertical integration and alliances. He documents how Vuitton vertically integrated into distribution when the rest of the fashion industry relied only on partnerships. This allowed them to gain access to important market information (customer preferences) on a more timely basis — a source of advantage in the industry. Shipilov notes: “The more unique your assets are and the greater the control you need to exercise over the value chain to extract competitive advantage from these assets, the more vertical integration makes sense. However, the higher the uncertainty and complexity in your markets, the more you should think about partnerships.

Contributed by Andrew Shipilov

Stuck in the Middle Blues

Samsung’s profits are down by a whopping 25% and they put the blame firmly on Chinese competitors entering with cheaper smartphones (see this NYT article). Companies like Xiaomi and Huawei have increased market share in China over the last year as they sell good products at break-even prices. Now, they have turned their sights on western markets that eat into Samsung’s bread and butter. Pressure on Samsung to respond with lower prices? Perhaps but Apple continues to compete effectively at the high end. It’s proprietary operating system keeps rivals from fully imitating many of the most important product attributes. For now, Samsung is signalling that it will accelerate efforts to differentiate their products — an innovation war more than a price war. The real winner may be Google which gains as Android dominates growth in this market. As you can see, this “live” case allows one to explore the complexities of how different strategies play out in the market. It also pushes us to explore how a sequence of strategies might unfold leading to a longer term competitive advantage. This case might go nicely with the HBS case on Samsung’s dual (cost/differentiation) advantage in memory chips and the threat of Chinese rivals. Of course, in the race for new features, one wonders what they will think of next…

Heard Through Michael Leiblein

Strategy on the High Road

The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington State offer an unusual view of industry emergence. In anticipation of pent up demand, entrepreneurs scramble to assemble resources. Scarce resources get bid up — one example in Washington is licenses to grow and sell. The second video in the sequence below features an entrepreneur seeking to sell his business to cash in on the license he has. Markets for complementary products and services are booming as well (from tourism to private security and ways to store cash that cannot be deposited into federally regulated banks). Who will win out in the scramble to exploit the opportunity? The results so far in Colorado suggest that many in the state will benefit from the boom — $11M in taxes were raised in just the first 4 months of business. The setting is bound to get students’ attention and it is a nice context to examine entrepreneurship, resource scarcity, ethics, and industry structure (among other things).

Contributed by Russ Coff

Keeping Your Cool in Alliances

Quirky is a company that collects ideas on innovative products from it’s “community members.” It is governed somewhere between crowdsourcing and a holacracy (see the posts on Zappos and Valve). They have formed an alliance with the much more established and traditional, General Electric (GE). The two companies have very different strengths which can be the basis of complementarities that drive value creation in alliances. Together, they have produced Aros, a connected air conditioner that, for example, uses one’s Phone location to tell the system when to turn on and cool one’s house. This is a nice opportunity to apply the frameworks for achieving a network advantage (see Greve, Rowley, & Shipilov’s new book). For example, Shipilov describes the Alliance Radar framework which allows you to see if an alliance portfolio is balanced and identify what kinds of alliances will create the most value. Below is a video review of the resulting product. See also Henrich Greve’s blog post on the alliance for a discussion of how it has worked. While GE handled the product design, manufacturing and sales, the core idea came from Quirky.

Contributed by Aya Chacar

French Connection (in Mexico)

Daimler and Renault-Nissan have entered into a new alliance to open a new joint plant in Mexico. As the video below indicates, they intend to achieve economies of scale that neither partner could accomplish on their own while maximizing differentiation between the two brands. What are the tradeoffs in trying to achieve these competing goals? How will consumers perceive the arrangement? This could spur some nice discussion on alliance management — an opportunity, perhaps to apply the “Four C” alliance framework or the Resource Pathways framework to assess the opportunities and risks. If you are looking for a complementary exercise, this case would go nicely with the Global Alliance Game.

Contributed by Aya Chacar

Beaten: An Alliance Out of Tune

Beats by Dre has a newly told story of an alliance partner that did most of the work but lost everything in the process. Monster, a father and son business (Noel and Kevin Lee) came up with the technology but was severely out negotiated by ts more experienced partner. A great cautionary tale for the study of alliances. I use the “Four C” alliance framework to teach alliances:

  • Complementarities. Monster had the engineering chops to design the path-breaking audio. Interscope and Dr. Dre had the marketing expertise and contacts to make them a fashion item. Clearly these complementary capabilities were strong.
  • Congruent goals. While they had a strong interest to cooperate, their interests diverged on the issue of who would own the intellectual property, brand, and on how the value would be split.
  • Compatibility of the Organizations. The larger and professionalized Interscope had a team of experienced lawyers. Kevin Lee had a BA in engineering. They could work together but not necessarily understand each other.
  • Change. Over the course of the alliance Interscope needed Monster less and less. Once the first products were designed and produced, they could hire other expertise to keep the products fresh (much of that was around fashion rather than new technology). This allowed Interscope to shut out Monster altogether.

Contributed by Russ Coff

Google/Apple vs. Their Employees?

Google and Apple must pay a total of $324 Million to current and former employees in a class action lawsuit that they lost. This highlights the multiple arenas on which competition and cooperation play out. Is it surprising that strategic alliance partners might agree not to actively poach employees from each other? Such trust seems like a prerequisite to a productive alliance. And yet, fierce competition in product and intellectual property markets makes it hard to imagine close coordination to collude in strategic factor (human capital) markets. This brings together a nice discussion at the intersection of factor markets, alliances, diversification, game theory, and rent appropriation. The video below gives an idea what Google employees do all day…

Contributed by Russ Coff and Aya Chacar

The Bear Necessities…

There are several nice Samsung cases that describe how the company has tried to merge Western practices (and managers) with Korean/Japanese practices (and managers), to become the truly global firm. It leads to a nice discussion of how a firm can transcend national identity and become a global player. The advertisement below exemplifies this: 1. Bears aren’t identified with a single region (a global species), and probably considered “cute” just about everywhere; 2. The advertisement is easily dubbed in any language as you never see the people talking; and 3. The creative/fun aspect of the ad is probably not what students think of when they think about Samsung tech products — it exemplifies that Samsung has achieved a sophisticated level of global infotainment expertise. Or has a great ad agency. Or you could just do something simpler by using it in an intro about how diversified Samsung is. (e.g., “What industries do you think Samsung is in?” (put answers on board) If someone gets to washing/drying machines, pause for a moment, smile, run the ad. If no one gets to washing/drying machines, pause, smile, ask “What about major appliances?” and run the ad. Fun fun fun.

If you have other ideas for how to use this, please post them as comments below.

Contributed by Melissa Schilling

Graphene with a Kitchen Blender?

Can a simple “kitchen blender” method of making graphene shake up the electronics industry? The one-atom thick sheets of carbon may one day replace silicon wafers and revolutionize computing and electronics. For example, recent findings suggest that electricity can be generated by running salt water over graphene. Samsung may soon use graphene to make ultra thin hard cases for it’s phones. A fun thought experiment in class might be to develop scenarios for how this disruptive innovation might alter the dynamics of the industry (and adjacent industries).

Contributed by Russ Coff

The Key Lime Market Sours

This NYT article about the scarcity of key limes, and the concurrent price increase, is perfect for a PESTEL analysis. The current violence in Mexico (Political factor), rains when the trees were blooming and pests (environment) have resulted in poor harvests. The problem is compounded because of the increase in demand from Hispanics in the US, and the growing popularity of Mexican food around the world (social factors). The Florida plantations that used to be the main source of key limes were all but wiped out by hurricane Andrew and citrus canker (environment). Production moved to Mexico because of the weather, but also because legal factors (NAFTA) make it cheaper to import the limes from Mexico than from anywhere else. This explains why lately waiters have been asking if I want lemons or limes with my half and half tea…

Contributed by Susana Velez-Castrillon

Softer Side of Sears: Its stock price…

Hoping to unlock value, Sears has spun off its Lands’ End unit. Unfortunately, both the new unit and Sears’ parent company stock have dropped on the first day of trading. When do spin outs create value? When do related diversified firms create value? Here, the units are quite closely related and still the company could not create value together. For some recent studies of market reactions to spinouts, see Emilie Feldman’s work. The Sears commercial below foreshadows their need for better vision. This might also go nicely with the business combination scavenger hunt.

Contributed by Russ Coff


Putin Game Theory in it’s Place

A recent Slate article notes that Vladimir Putin may be trying to create the impression that he is crazythat it may all be part of a game theoretic ploy. This seems like a great opportunity to discuss game theory on a much larger stage. The article notes, “Consider strategic theorist Thomas Schelling’s concept of the “rationality of irrationality.” This can be illustrated through the game of chicken, in which two drivers are heading for each other at full speed, and the first to swerve is the chicken. A driver who appears crazy enough to prefer dying over chickening out will always have the advantage. It is therefore rational for a player to convince his opponent that he is actually irrational.” Game theory can seem inaccessible when it is only presented using abstract examples (though Dilbert can help there), this offers a concrete example that may bring it to life for the students.

Contributed by (“heard through”) Nicolai Foss

Tesla Strategy Sparks Cusiosity

Melissa Schilling notes that, despite extensive automation (video below), labor usage is quite high. “There are 3000 workers in the plant, and Tesla produced a little over 20,000 cars in 2013. That’s about 7 cars per worker in a year (assuming the workers are full time). However, the GM Lordstown plant made 70 cars per worker last year (thanks Linos Jacovides for this stat), and in the well-known Renault-Nissan HBS case it reports that Nissan’s productivity was 101 cars/worker/year, and Renault’s was 77 cars/worker/year.” Given the automation, the workers are probably highly skilled (and, thus, well paid). Is Tesla at a huge economies of scale disadvantage? What might be the strategy? They are still 3 years away from selling a cheaper model so it will be a while before they can generate volume from a mid-market product. In the meantime, one possible solution may be found in Chinese sales of electric cars.

Contributed by Melissa Schilling

BIC Pens “For Her”

This is an actual product. However, customers have thought it rather odd to market a pen specifically for women. This has led to an array of hilarious product reviews. Here is an article about the reviews (try not to fall off your chair while reading). It is an interesting case of differentiation and segmentation gone awry — definitely worthy of class discussion. Below is a segment that Ellen Degeneres did on the product (including her proposed commercial). In the end, I’m guessing that the publicity has led to some unanticipated sales…

Contributed by Phil Bromiley

Zappo’s Zaps Mgrs: A whole holacracy

Zappos is moving to a holacracy whereby managers and job titles go by the wayside (see this CNET article among others). This is a real kick in the head to bureaucracy and hierarchy. How does this organizational design mesh with their strategy of customer service and innovation? Another nice example is Valve — see the Valve post on this site. These examples can seed a discussion of strategy, structure, and organizational design as well as a critical analysis of many practices taught in business schools. Such radical forms can be very hard to design and implement. One problem that Foss explores in a recent Organization Science paper is incentives, motivation, and the tendency of managers to meddle in tasks that they say they have delegated. Here is an entertaining Zappo’s commercial to ease into the topic (though one of the many Dilbert videos would be quite compatible as well).

Contributed by Russ Coff

Letterman Sends Fruit to GE Board

When GE acquired NBC, there was much doubt that they could create value with the highly unrelated acquisition. This very funny video of Letterman delivering a fruit basket to GE headquarters illustrates the cultural differences (see especially the GE handshake ;-). However, business segment data reveal that NBC’s operating margin was doubled and revenue was up 60% after GE’s ownership. Did they actually make money? Maybe. It took them 10 years to accomplish this (and everything tanked the 1st 5 years) — a time factor that may reduce the value created by as much as $3 billion depending on their initial assumptions. This can be used to demonstrate hard numbers behind the acquisition integration process (spreadsheet available on request).

Contributed by Russ Coff

Turning Around Chrysler … Again

This clip is an interview to Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FIAT and Chrysler, from “60 minutes.” Marchionne explains the process of transforming the struggling company into a profitable contender in the world market. This helps to introduce topics such as merger integration, alliances, strategy implementation, and turnaround strategy. There has been some buzz about Chrysler having an IPO. This adds an important stakeholder component since the main barrier to the IPO is disagreement on the purchase price for shares owned by the autoworker healthcare trust (42% of outstanding shares).

Contributed by Elisa Operti

Diversification into Heroin?

This clip from the Godfather shows the mafia bosses discussing pros and cons of entering the heroine business. They talk about it as a portfolio move (to go with gambling) and as a growth industry. This is a nice starter for a discussion of corporate diversification and entry choices.

Contributed by Elisa Operti

A Modular Smartphone?

There has recently been some buzz about the possibility of making modular smartphones — hopefully to reduce waste as people upgrade modules instead of the whole phone. Now Motorola has joined the movement with Project Ara. This poses many interesting issues for discussion. As suggested in the WSJ, might Google really be interested in destroying profitability in smartphones to grow the market and enhance ad revenue? For that matter, is this technologically feasible? It implies that components are not strongly co-specialized and can be swapped out easily. Even if so, would the compromises to achieve modularity be acceptable? Articles by Melissa Schilling and Etheraj & Levinthal paper adds an interesting theoretical perspective. Lots to talk about in class…

Contributed by Russ Coff

A Different Script Ending…

The economics of video streaming and DVD rental brought Netflix to conclude that the businesses were better off separated. However, they erred in assuming that the separation would be well accepted by their customers. Below is the explanation of the separation and how it would affect users after the uproar ensued. Ultimately, the customer pressure pushed them to reverse their decision.

…and this brought the following reaction from Conan O’Brien:

Contributed by Jeff Martin