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Specializing in generality: Firm strategies when intermediate markets work

Conti, R., Gambardella, A. and Novelli, E. ORCID: 0000-0002-6899-1096 (2019). Specializing in generality: Firm strategies when intermediate markets work. Organization Science, 28(2), pp. 351-364. doi: 10.1093/icc/dty069

Abstract

This paper studies the relationship between two decisions shaping the organizational configuration of a firm: whether to make the upstream resources more general and deployable to more markets (vs. keeping them tailored to a few markets), and whether to trade with downstream firms as an upstream supplier of intermediate products and services (vs. directly entering downstream markets). While the literature has looked at these two decisions separately, we argue that they depend on each other. This has the important implication that they can generate organizational complementarities, inducing firms to implement them jointly. We are motivated in particular by the observation that an increasing number of firms invest in general upstream resources and exploit them as upstream suppliers of intermediate services or products— a strategy that we refer to as specialization in generality. Interestingly, the literature following the seminal work by Penrose (1959) and Nelson (1959) has highlighted the use of general upstream resources to enter new downstream markets. We identify the supply and demand conditions under which specialization in generality is instead more likely to emerge: lack of prior downstream assets, on the supply side, and a roughly equal distribution of buyers across intermediate markets (a “broad” demand), on the demand side. We test our predictions using a sample of firms in the U.S. laser industry between 1993 and 2001. A regulatory shock that increases the value of trading relative to downstream entry provides the setting for a quasi-natural experiment, which corroborates our theoretical predictions.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Industrial and Corporate Change following peer review. The version of record, Raffaele Conti, Alfonso Gambardella, Elena Novelli, Specializing in general purpose technologies as a firm long-term strategy, Industrial and Corporate Change, Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2019, Pages 351–364, is available online at:https://doi.org/10.1093/icc/dty069
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Cass Business School > Management
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/19906
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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