Best Paper Award at Academy of Management Conference

One of my research papers, co-authored with Mariana G. Andrade Rojas, a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Hong Kong, was recognized at the recent Academy of Management Annual Meeting held in Philadelphia, USA. The Academy of Management is the preeminent professional association of management and organizational scholars and its annual meeting draws more than 10,000 students, academics, scholars, and professionals. The paper, titled “Competitive Brokerage: External Resource Endowment and Information Technology as Antecedents” was conferred the Best Student Paper 1st Runner Up Award by the Organizational Communication & Information Systems Division.

AwardHaving a prominent position in a firm’s competition network is a prerequisite for success in the global and embedded environment of the 21st century. In our study, we assert that IT-enabled information management capability, M&A, and strategic centrality act in differing ways to individually and jointly enable firms to obtain such a position. Specifically, we propose the “competitive brokerage” construct to assess firms’ multi-industry competitive positioning and posit that information management capability acts as a substitute for M&A and strategic centrality to attain competitive brokerage. In other words, we posit that an organization’s information technology, acquisitions of other firms and strategic alliances with other organizations endow it with the ability to bridge multiple markets and successfully compete across them with multiple brands.

Analysis of a longitudinal multi-industry competition network supports our assertions. This work offers a novel set of insights to the evolutionary dynamics of network structures literature and the IT business value literature by arguing and empirically demonstrating that in addition to structural elements, firms’ external resource endowment and IT-enabled capabilities influence network positioning.

An abridged version of this paper was accepted for inclusion in the Best Paper Proceedings of the conference (approximately ten percent of all papers are selected as “Best Papers” and accepted for inclusion).

ICIS 2012 Update

One of my research papers was recently nominated as a candidate for the Best Paper award at the 2012 International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS), the flagship conference and most prestigious gathering of information systems researchers in the world. Titled “Juggling Paradoxical Strategies: The Emergent Role of IT Capabilities”, the paper has been co-authored with Benn Konsynski, the George S. Craft Distinguished University Professor of Information Systems & Operations Management at Emory University. In this study, we assert that in the 21st century, different IT capabilities act in differing ways to individually and jointly enable or impede firms to simultaneously pursue paradoxical strategies as an emergent means of attaining competitive advantage.

Paper presentation at ICIS 2012

Paper presentation at ICIS 2012

Such an ability to follow two conflicting strategies at the same time is termed organizational ambidexterity. Firms which concurrently engage in the paradoxical strategies of exploration (or radical innovation) and exploitation (or incremental innovation) are able to address the needs of new and existing customers and thereby attain higher competitive performance. Our research finds that Transform IT capability, which leads to redefining and recreating business practices, strongly supports this instance of ambidexterity. On the other hand, IT Informate Capability, which results in greater information access across the organization, and IT Automate Capability, which facilitates automation of existing business processes, both hamper ambidexterity by ossifying business processes and reducing flexibility. Transform IT capability reduces these harmful effects. Our findings also suggest that a balance of IT Automate, Informate and Transform capabilities enables organizational ambidexterity, hitherto a challenging competitive possibility.

Data for the study was gathered from 352 manufacturing firms of all sizes in high growth sectors in India – a setting that provides an exemplar for the world’s enterprises undergoing rapid changes in the 21st century. These findings not only showcase the emergent role of IT in facing the complexities inherent in juggling paradoxical strategies, but also throw light upon previously unexplained variance in IT payoffs in the emerging economy and small and medium enterprise contexts.

A link to the paper in the conference proceedings is here.

India’s economic landscape

A representation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka...

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The Economist‘s special report on India Inc. states that unlike in western economies, successful Indian firms are predominantly government owned or family owned businesses. The conglomerate is the business model of choice and this empire building is reflective of the 1900’s economic landscape of the US. An Infosys is an exception, rather than the norm.

All this might seem a recipe for disaster. In Korea and Japan closely held and widely spread firms became slothful. So far India Inc has been different: its big business houses compete and innovate fiercely. Their returns on capital are neither pathetic nor outrageous and most are prepared to invest billions of dollars in the risky capital projects that India needs so badly.

In the past decade Indian business has not been on a journey towards someone else’s economic model, whether Chinese, European or American. It has not been growing out of an immature phase, or shaking off a simpler way of doing things. Instead it seems to have established its own equilibrium—what might be called “capindialism”—in which profits are controlled not by institutional shareholders but mainly by the state, or by entrepreneurs and their descendants. Outside the state firms, the fiddly conglomerate is the favoured form of organisation.

The special report blames India’s soft state for being the reason firms choose to grow into conglomerate structures. It claims that ‘horizontal and vertical diversification’ of professionally managed firms is proof of this thesis.

Yet the best explanation is India’s soft state. Courts can take years to make their minds up, so contracts are hard to enforce. Infrastructure is often poor, supply chains tricky, red tape a hazard, and markets for people, materials and finished goods unreliable. Tarun Khanna and Krishna Palepu of Harvard Business School coined this idea in a 1997 paper. In these circumstances it makes sense to do things yourself.

Indian Buffet

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This cause and effect reasoning seems to be rather simplistic for the complicated Indian Thali . It ignores the unique role of the joint family in Indian society. It also ignores cultural and legal norms that encourage dynastic progression of company ownership and wealth. This ownership structure also promotes a more long-term view by Indian business houses. Unlike institutionalized firms, where bosses have to meet quarter to quarter performance measures, family owned businesses are more focused on creating wealth in the long-term, for the next generation. Thus they invest in frugal products (which, according to the report, do not generate high profits), which is a means to hook the millions of potential middle-class customers of tomorrow.

Overall, though the analysis comes across at times as bit contrived (it works towards the underlying assumption that one size fits all – the institutionalized business models that are successful in the west are the best) and at other times a bit naïve (for example, the report mixes up vertical integration, related diversification and unrelated diversification), the report is well written and worth a read. It raises several key questions and invigorates critical thinking on the state of India’s economic landscape.

If India is to finish the long journey to superpower status that has been plotted for it by many forecasters, it will have to get its act together on things like infrastructure, efficient land allocation, education, bond markets, reliable supply chains and the enforcement of contracts. Yet if it manages to make progress in these areas, the rationale for sprawling big business groups—sometimes almost like mini-states in their own right, as substitutes for the real thing—will gradually disappear. A big danger, then, to Indian business’s current way of doing things is long-term economic success. It would make today’s approach to organising firms redundant.

Read more at Business in India: Building India Inc | The EconomistAdventures in capitalism | The EconomistFamily firms: The Bollygarchs’ magic mix | The Economist, and The Indian miracle and the future: Rolls-Royces and pot-holes | The Economist.

Challenges for middle ranked business schools

The Economist says that middle level business schools in developed economies are finding the going tough as prospective students question their value proposition (starting salary divided by fees). The fees at these schools are increasing due to increases in wages and infrastructure investments. To offset decreasing domestic enrollment, these school have to undertake high costs of recruiting students from emerging economies – which further inflates their cost structures. To continue to attract emerging economy students in the future, these schools will have to consider changes to their curriculum to reflect different realities in different parts of the world.

The Birmingham Business School

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Asian business schools still have a long way to grow. The Economist currently ranks just eight of them among the world’s top 100. Of these, only one, the China Europe International Business School, can be found on mainland China; it has campuses in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. India, too, has only one: the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

In time, though, Asian and other emerging-economy business schools will be able to attack the incumbents on a second front: their curriculums.

Read more at Business education: Trouble in the middle | The Economist.

Business Education – Different Strokes for Different Folks?

The Economist tells the story of Russia’s leading international business school, which prepares its students to ‘get things done’ in ‘difficult economies’, like the BRICs.

When compared with most schools that are introducing compulsory courses on Ethics, this seems to be more Durmstrang than Hogwarts.

However, ground realities in ‘difficult economies’ are quite different from their more developed counterparts – institutionalized corruption, infrastructure constraints, slothful bureaucracy and the constant need to do more with less (money, time, people). Thus the troubling shade of grey.

Read more at Which MBA? | School of the dark arts.