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Strategy and the Strategist: How it Matters Who Develops the Strategy


  • Eric Van den Steen

    () (Harvard Business School, Strategy Unit)


This paper studies how strategy - formally defined as 'the smallest set of (core) choices to optimally guide the other choices' - relates to the strategist, for example, whether an optimal strategy should depend on who is CEO. The paper first studies why different people may systematically consider different decisions 'strategic' - with marketing people developing a marketing-centric strategy and favoring the marketing side of business - and derives two rational mechanisms for this outcome, one confidence-based and the other implementation-based. It then studies why it matters that it is the CEO and important decision makers (rather than an outsider) who formulate the strategy and shows that outsider-strategists often face a tradeoff between the quality of a strategy and its likelihood of implementation, whereas the CEO's involvement helps implementation because it generates commitment, thus linking strategy formulation and implementation. In some sense, the paper thus explains why strategy is the quintessential responsibility of the CEO. Moreover, it shows that the optimal strategy should depend on who is CEO. It then turns that question around and studies strategy as a tool for exerting leadership, asking when the set of strategic decisions are exactly the decisions a CEO should control to give effective guidance. It finally shows how a CEO's vision, in the sense of a strong belief, about strategic decisions makes it more likely that the CEO will propose a strategy and that that strategy will be implemented. But strong vision about the wrong decisions, such as subordinate or others' decisions, may be detrimental to strategy and its implementation.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Van den Steen, 2013. "Strategy and the Strategist: How it Matters Who Develops the Strategy," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-057, Harvard Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:14-057

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Weijia Dai & Ginger Z. Jin & Jungmin Lee & Michael Luca, 2012. "Aggregation of Consumer Ratings: An Application to," NBER Working Papers 18567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    6. Ayres, Ian & Siegelman, Peter, 1995. "Race and Gender Discrimination in Bargaining for a New Car," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 304-321, June.
    7. Michael Luca & Georgios Zervas, 2013. "Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition, and Yelp Review Fraud," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-006, Harvard Business School, revised May 2015.
    8. Fiona Morton & Florian Zettelmeyer & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2003. "Consumer Information and Discrimination: Does the Internet Affect the Pricing of New Cars to Women and Minorities?," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 65-92, March.
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