Business Strategy/History of Business Management until the 1970s
Historical development of strategic management
Birth of strategic management
Strategic management as a discipline originated in the 1950s and 60s. Although there were numerous early contributors to the literature, the most influential pioneers were Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Philip Selznick, Igor Ansoff, and Peter Drucker.
Alfred Chandler recognized the importance of coordinating the various aspects of management under one all-encompassing strategy. Prior to this time the various functions of management were separate with little overall coordination or strategy. Interactions between functions or between departments were typically handled by a boundary position, that is, there were one or two managers that relayed information back and forth between two departments. Chandler also stressed the importance of taking a long term perspective when looking to the future. In his 1962 groundbreaking work Strategy and Structure, Chandler showed that a long-term coordinated strategy was necessary to give a company structure, direction, and focus. He says it concisely, “structure follows strategy.”
In 1957, Philip Selznick introduced the idea of matching the organization's internal factors with external environmental circumstances. This core idea was developed into what we now call SWOT analysis by Learned, Andrews, and others at the Harvard Business School General Management Group. Strengths and weaknesses of the firm are assessed in light of the opportunities and threats from the business environment.
Igor Ansoff built on Chandler's work by adding a range of strategic concepts and inventing a whole new vocabulary. He developed a strategy grid that compared market penetration strategies, product development strategies, market development strategies and horizontal integration|horizontal and vertical integration and diversification strategies. He felt that management could use these strategies to systematically prepare for future opportunities and challenges. In his 1965 classic Corporate Strategy, he developed the gap analysis still used today in which we must understand the gap between where we are currently and where we would like to be, then develop what he called “gap reducing actions”.
Peter Drucker was a prolific strategy theorist, author of dozens of management books, with a career spanning five decades. His contributions to strategic management were many but two are most important. Firstly, he stressed the importance of objectives. An organization without clear objectives is like a ship without a rudder. As early as 1954 he was developing a theory of management based on objectives. This evolved into his theory of management by objectives (MBO). According to Drucker, the procedure of setting objectives and monitoring your progress towards them should permeate the entire organization, top to bottom. His other seminal contribution was in predicting the importance of what today we would call intellectual capital. He predicted the rise of what he called the “knowledge worker” and explained the consequences of this for management. He said that knowledge work is non-hierarchical. Work would be carried out in cross-functional team|teams with the person most knowledgeable in the task at hand being the temporary leader.
In 1985, Ellen-Earle Chaffee summarized what she thought were the main elements of strategic management theory by the 1970s:
- Strategic management involves adapting the organization to its business environment.
- Strategic management is fluid and complex. Change creates novel combinations of circumstances requiring unstructured non-repetitive responses.
- Strategic management affects the entire organization by providing direction.
- Strategic management involves both strategy formation (she called it content) and also strategy implementation (she called it process).
- Strategic management is partially planned and partially unplanned.
- Strategic management is done at several levels: overall corporate strategy, and individual business strategies.
- Strategic management involves both conceptual and analytical thought processes.
Growth and portfolio theory
In the 1970s much of strategic management dealt with size, growth, and portfolio theory. The PIMS study was a long term study, started in the 1960s and lasted for 19 years, that attempted to understand the Profit Impact of Marketing Strategies (PIMS), particularly the effect of market share. Started at General Electric, moved to Harvard in the early 1970s, and then moved to the Strategic Planning Institute in the late 1970s, it now contains decades of information on the relationship between profitability and strategy. Their initial conclusion was unambiguous: The greater a company's market share, the greater will be their rate of profit. The high market share provides volume and economies of scale. It also provides experience and learning curve advantages. The combined effect is increased profits. The studies conclusions continue to be drawn on by academics and companies today: "PIMS provides compelling quantitative evidence as to which business strategies work and don't work" - Tom Peters.
The benefits of high market share naturally lead to an interest in growth strategies. The relative advantages of horizontal integration, vertical integration, diversification, Franchising|franchises, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and organic growth were discussed. The most appropriate market dominance strategies were assessed given the competitive and regulatory environment.
There was also research that indicated that a low market share strategy could also be very profitable. Schumacher (1973), Woo and Cooper (1982), Levenson (1984), and later Traverso (2002) showed how smaller niche players obtained very high returns.
By the early 1980s the paradoxical conclusion was that high market share and low market share companies were often very profitable but most of the companies in between were not. This was sometimes called the “hole in the middle” problem. This anomaly would be explained by Michael Porter in the 1980s.
The management of diversified organizations required new techniques and new ways of thinking. The first CEO to address the problem of a multi-divisional company was Alfred Sloan at General Motors. GM was decentralized into semi-autonomous “strategic business units” (SBU's), but with centralized support functions.
One of the most valuable concepts in the strategic management of multi-divisional companies was portfolio theory. In the previous decade Harry Markowitz and other financial theorists developed the theory of modern portfolio theory|portfolio analysis. It was concluded that a broad portfolio of financial assets could reduce specific risk. In the 1970s marketers extended the theory to product portfolio decisions and managerial strategists extended it to operating division portfolios. Each of a company’s operating divisions were seen as an element in the corporate portfolio. Each operating division (also called strategic business units) was treated as a semi-independent profit center with its own revenues, costs, objectives, and strategies. Several techniques were developed to analyze the relationships between elements in a portfolio. B.C.G. Analysis, for example, was developed by the Boston Consulting Group in the early 1970s. This was the theory that gave us the wonderful image of a CEO sitting on a stool milking a cash cow. Shortly after that the G.E. multi factoral analysis|G.E. multi factoral model was developed by General Electric. Companies continued to diversify until the 1980s when it was realized that in many cases a portfolio of operating divisions was worth more as separate completely independent companies.
The marketing revolution
The 1970s also saw the rise of the marketing orientation|marketing oriented firm. From the beginnings of capitalism it was assumed that the key requirement of business success was a product (business)|product of high technical quality. If you produced a product that worked well and was durable, it was assumed you would have no difficulty selling it at a profit. This was called the production orientation and it was generally true that good products could be sold without effort, encapsulated in the saying "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." This was largely due to the growing numbers of affluent and middle class people that capitalism had created. But after the untapped demand caused by the second world war was saturated in the 1950s it became obvious that products were not selling as easily as they had been. The answer was to concentrate on selling. The 1950s and 1960s is known as the sales era and the guiding philosophy of business of the time is today called the sales orientation. In the early 1970s Theodore Levitt and others at Harvard argued that the sales orientation had things backward. They claimed that instead of producing products then trying to sell them to the customer, businesses should start with the customer, find out what they wanted, and then produce it for them. The customer became the driving force behind all strategic business decisions. This marketing orientation, in the decades since its introduction, has been reformulated and repackaged under numerous names including customer orientation, marketing philosophy, customer intimacy, customer focus, customer driven, and market focused.
- Chandler, Alfred Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the history of industrial enterprise, Doubleday, New York, 1962.
- Selznick, Philip Leadership in Administration: A Sociological Interpretation, Row, Peterson, Evanston Il. 1957.
- Ansoff, Igor Corporate Strategy McGraw Hill, New York, 1965.
- Drucker, Peter The Practice of Management, Harper and Row, New York, 1954.
- Chaffee, E. “Three models of strategy”, Academy of Management Review, vol 10, no. 1, 1985.
- Buzzell, R. and Gale, B. The PIMS Principles: Linking Strategy to Performance, Free Press, New York, 1987.
- Schumacher, E.F. Small is Beautiful: a Study of Economics as if People Mattered, ISBN 0061317780 (also ISBN 0881791695)
- Woo, C. and Cooper, A. “The surprising case for low market share”, Harvard Business Review, November–December 1982, pg 106–113.
- Levinson, J.C. Guerrilla Marketing, Secrets for making big profits from your small business, Houghton Muffin Co. New York, 1984, ISBN 0-396-35350-5.
- Traverso, D. Outsmarting Goliath, Bloomberg Press, Princeton, 2000.