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Strategic Factor Markets: Expectations, Luck, and Business Strategy

  • Jay B. Barney

    (Graduate School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90024)

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    Much of the current thinking about competitive strategy focuses on ways that firms can create imperfectly competitive product markets in order to obtain greater than normal economic performance. However, the economic performance of firms does not depend simply on whether or not its strategies create such markets, but also on the cost of implementing those strategies. Clearly, if the cost of strategy implementation is greater than returns obtained from creating an imperfectly competitive product market, then firms will not obtain above normal economic performance from their strategizing efforts. To help analyze the cost of implementing strategies, we introduce the concept of a strategic factor market, i.e., a market where the resources necessary to implement a strategy are acquired. If strategic factor markets are perfect, then the cost of acquiring strategic resources will approximately equal the economic value of those resources once they are used to implement product market strategies. Even if such strategies create imperfectly competitive product markets, they will not generate above normal economic performance for a firm, for their full value would have been anticipated when the resources necessary for implementation were acquired. However, strategic factor markets will be imperfectly competitive when different firms have different expectations about the future value of a strategic resource. In these settings, firms may obtain above normal economic performance from acquiring strategic resources and implementing strategies. We show that other apparent strategic factor market imperfections, including when a firm already controls all the resources needed to implement a strategy, when a firm controls unique resources, when only a small number of firms attempt to implement a strategy, and when some firms have access to lower cost capital than others, and so on, are all special cases of differences in expectations held by firms about the future value of a strategic resource. Firms can attempt to develop better expectations about the future value of strategic resources by analyzing their competitive environments or by analyzing skills and capabilities they already control. Environmental analysis cannot be expected to improve the expectations of some firms better than others, and thus cannot be a source of more accurate expectations about the future value of a strategic resource. However, analyzing a firm's skills and capabilities can be a source of more accurate expectations. Thus, from the point of view of firms seeking greater than normal economic performance, our analysis suggests that strategic choices should flow mainly from the analysis of its unique skills and capabilities, rather than from the analysis of its competitive environment.

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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.32.10.1231
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    Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

    Volume (Year): 32 (1986)
    Issue (Month): 10 (October)
    Pages: 1231-1241

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    Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:32:y:1986:i:10:p:1231-1241
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