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Strategic management research is about explaining why some firms continuously outperform others. Recent research has been focusing on the study of alliances as vehicles to boost competitive – or better: collaborative – advantage. Moving beyond the dyadic level, corporate networks have become a very popular field of research. Whereas a lot of research has already been done on costs and benefits of networks, little has been said about the alignment of network configuration (e. g. the mix of strong and weak ties or the quantity and diversity of ties) and strategic orientation. Since different network configurations bring about distinct benefits for the collaborating partners, the fit between strategic goals and network configuration influences whether and how value is generated on a firm and dyadic level. Katharina Wratschko combines Transaction Cost Theory and Resource Based Theory with Social Network Theory to analyze this question theoretically. Her ambitious work reveals important insights on how focal firms build and design their alliance networks to match their strategic resource needs. Based on a sound theoretical analysis she develops a set of hypotheses which are empirically tested using data from the pharmaceutical industry. The quality of insights and results derived from this work prove that Katharina Wratschko is not only a highly dedicated but also a very inspiring researcher. As a colleague at the Institute for Strategic Management and Management Control she inspired all of us to view matters from a network perspective.




Alliance networks are recognized by both strategy researchers and practitioners as important drivers of firm performance and network studies have become an integral part of strategic management research in the past decade (Borgatti and Foster, 2003; Brass, et al., 2004; Gulati, 1998; Gulati, Nohria and Zaheer, 2000). Empirical studies generally show a positive relationship between network embeddedness and focal firm performance (Baum, Calabrese and Silverman, 2000; Lee, Ch., Lee and Pennings, 2001; Soda and Zaheer, 2004). Management literature typically conceptualizes inter-organizational relationships as an alternative organizational form (between market and hierarchy) and as an essential means of strategy implementation (Das and Teng, 2000; Hoskisson, Hitt and Wan, 1999). Especially in fast-moving industries, companies draw increasingly on partner resources to accomplish their strategic goals. Entire industries are re-defined as companies decentralize and value-creating activities are carried out by, or together with, alliance partners.
Katharina Wratschko

1. Theoretical underpinnings of alliance and network research

Inter-organizational relationships of all kinds, particularly strategic alliances and networks, have become a central topic in strategic management. From its very origins, strategy research has “borrowed” from various disciplines like economics, organization theory, management theories and sociology (Hoskisson, et al., 1999). Likewise, scholars from different backgrounds have drawn on many different theories to study alliances and networks. The use of a particular theory to study alliances and networks highly affects the way they are conceptualized and depends primarily on the purpose of the study.
Katharina Wratschko

2. Theoretical underpinnings of organizational configurations

At the heart of any research in organizational configurations lies the assumption that we can increase our understanding of organizational behavior and performance differences across firms by identifying distinct, internally homogeneous groups of firms. “Organizational configurations can be defined as commonly occurring clusters of attributes of organizational strategies, structures and processes” (Ketchen, D. J., Thomas and Snow, 1993: 1278). The configurational approach has proved to be especially useful in strategic management to capture the various dimensions of competitive strategy, and indeed several strategic typologies (e.g. Miles and Snow, 1978; Porter, 1980; Zammuto, 1988) have been developed. Configurational studies can be broadly classified into two types: strategic groups and strategic types. Strategic groups are industry-specific and inductively derived using empirical-statistical procedures. On the other hand, strategic typologies are generated deductively and based on theory – and can thus more easily be generalized across industries (Ketchen, D. J., et al., 1993: 1279). Especially followers of the inductive approach have focused on testing for performance differences across strategic groups, however with largely equivocal results (Cool and Schendel, 1987, 1988; Ketchen, D. J., et al., 1993). In the case of strategic typologies, performance differences across groups are usually not claimed, although they typically include at least one “looser” strategy, e.g. Porter's “stuck-in-the-middle” and Miles and Snow's “Reactor” (Miles and Snow, 1978; Porter, 1980). In the following, both approaches to the study of intra-industry structure will be discussed.
Katharina Wratschko

3. Theory and Hypotheses

This section represents the core of my theoretical argument. An introduction to the field and the main research questions have already been presented in chapter 0. Chapters 1 and 2 contain an overview of the theoretical concepts employed to build the following hypotheses and finally test them. After a definition of key terms, I will first discuss the concept of “fit” in strategy research as a basis for theory development. Second, I will explain the fundamental interdependence between a firm's strategic orientation and the development of its alliance portfolio. Third, I will take a closer look at how a firm's “strategic orientation” can actually be identified. Although a successful business strategy is fundamentally unique, it is possible to classify organizations into a limited number of generic “strategic types”. Firms within the same strategic cluster show similar patterns of organizational characteristics (e.g. breadth of business scope, areas of preferred resource commitment, etc.). Consequently, firms in different clusters behave differently and have differing resource needs. Forth, I will discuss the concept of “alliance portfolio”. In a nutshell, a firm's alliance portfolio can be described along the following dimensions: network size, network heterogeneity and tie strength. Hypotheses on the relationship between a firm's strategic orientation and its network attributes along the above mentioned dimensions will be developed. Finally, I will argue that, ceteris paribus, firms who better align their alliance portfolios with strategy will outperform those who don't.
Katharina Wratschko

4. Empirical Setting: The pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry offers an ideal setting for my research for several reasons that will be elaborated on in greater detail in chapter 5.2 when the sample is defined. The following section contains an overview of the pharmaceutical industry as well as a discussion of the peculiarities of the pharmaceutical value chain and the special role of alliances, mergers and acquisitions for value creation in this vibrant business context.
Katharina Wratschko

5. Methods

A sound empirical analysis calls for a considerate selection of the appropriate sample, variables and statistical procedures to be applied. In this section, I will first give an overview of the overall research design. Next, I will discuss the sample, the data and the various data sources employed. Finally, I will explain my choice of variables to measure both business strategy and alliance portfolio configuration.
Katharina Wratschko

6. Step 1: Identifying homogeneous strategic types

Cluster analysis was chosen as multivariate technique to group sample companies according to their strategic orientation as measured by a theory-based set of strategic variables. I propose that organizations within the same industry pursue distinctly dissimilar strategies. Organizations with similar strategies within the same industry can be clustered into a limited number of strategic types. The variables used for cluster analysis are based on existing theory in the field, particularly previous operationalizations of Miles and Snow's (1978) strategic types defender, analyzer and prospector. The aim of this analysis is i) to generate groups of companies with distinctly dissimilar strategies and ii) to compare the empirically derived findings with the strategic typologies proposed in the literature (Miles and Snow, 1978; Zammuto, 1988).
Katharina Wratschko

7. Step 2: Analyzing the strategy – alliance portfolio alignment

The next step is to determine whether the theoretically expected alliance portfolio characteristics are related to the distinct strategic types as described above. To this end, I compared the mean values of alliance portfolio characteristics across clusters. I used a combination of univariate and multivariate techniques comparing network features individually and as a group to test hypotheses 2-5 as described in chapter 3.5. After a brief introduction to the statistical techniques for assessing group differences, the analytical procedure and finally results will be described in detail.
Katharina Wratschko

8. Discussion

The purpose of this final discussion is to assess the results of the present empirical study in the light of previous research in the field and to position the major findings within the larger context of strategy and alliance research. More specifically, I will discuss this study with respect to its contribution to i) strategy research and strategic types in particular, ii) the study of alliance portfolios iii) research on the positive effect of networks and certain network characteristics on firm output variables.
Katharina Wratschko

9. Conclusion and implications for future research

The present study has shed some light on the complex interplay between a company's strategic orientation and the configuration of its alliance portfolio. The study focused on a single industry (the pharmaceutical industry) to control for industry effects and to ensure that sample companies face a similar environment. Organizations can be classified into distinct strategic groups that differ not only with respect to key strategic variables but also regarding the configuration of their alliance portfolios. The main findings can be summarized as follows:
  • Analyzers manage large portfolios of alliances in absolute terms, however small ones if related to firm size. Network diversity is very high, as well as average tie strength.
  • Defenders have medium-to-small networks with rather weak ties. The share of strongties is similar to entrepreneurs' profile and much lower than for analyzers.
  • Entrepreneurs have a relatively large and highly focused network. Moreover, their relationships are rather strong compared to defenders, but not as strong as analyzers' relationships.
Katharina Wratschko


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