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3.2 Which “A” Strategy Should a Company Use?

A company’s financial statements can be a useful guide for signaling which of the “A” strategies will have the greatest potential to create global value. Firms that heavily rely on branding and that do a lot of advertising, such as food companies, often need to engage in considerable adaptation to local markets. Those that do a lot of R&D—think pharmaceutical firms—may want to aggregate to improve economies of scale, since many R&D outlays are fixed costs. For firms whose operations are labor intensive, such as apparel manufacturers, arbitrage will be of particular concern because labor costs vary greatly from country to country.

Which “A” strategy a company emphasizes also depends on its globalization history. Companies that start on the path of globalization on the supply side of their business model, that is, that seek to lower cost or to access new knowledge, first typically focus on aggregation and arbitrage approaches to creating global value, whereas companies that start their globalization history by taking their value propositions to foreign markets are immediately faced with adaptation challenges. Regardless of their starting point, most companies will need to consider all “A” strategies at different points in their global evolution, sequentially or, sometimes, simultaneously.

Nestlé’s globalization path, for example, started with the company making small, related acquisitions outside its domestic market, and the company therefore had early exposure to adaptation challenges. For most of their history, IBM also pursued an adaptation strategy, serving overseas markets by setting up a mini-IBM in each target country. Every one of these companies operated a largely local business model that allowed it to adapt to local differences as necessary. Inevitably, in the 1980s and 1990s, dissatisfaction with the extent to which country-by-country adaptation curtailed opportunities to gain international scale economies led to the overlay of a regional structure on the mini-IBMs. IBM aggregated the countries into regions in order to improve coordination and thus generate more scale economies at the regional and global levels. More recently, however, IBM has also begun to exploit differences across countries (arbitrage). For example, it has increased its work force in India while reducing its headcount in the United States.

Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) early history parallels that of IBM, with the establishment of mini-P&Gs in local markets, but it has evolved differently. Today, the company’s global business units now sell through market development organizations that are aggregated up to the regional level. P&G has successfully evolved into a company that uses all three “A” strategies in a coordinated manner. It adapts its value proposition to important markets but ultimately competes—through global branding, R&D, and sourcing—on the basis of aggregation. Arbitrage, while important—mostly through outsourcing activities that are invisible to the final consumer—is less important to P&G’s global competitive advantage because of its relentless customer focus.

3.3 From A to AA to AAA

Although most companies will focus on just one “A” at any given time, leading-edge companies—such as General Electric (GE), P&G, IBM, and Nestlé, to name a few—have embarked on implementing two, or even all three of the “A”s. Doing so presents special challenges because there are inherent tensions between all three foci. As a result, the pursuit of “AA” strategies, or even an “AAA” approach, requires considerable organizational and managerial flexibility. [1]

Pursuing Adaptation and Aggregation

P&G started out with a focus on adaptation. Attempts to superimpose aggregation across Europe first proved difficult and, in particular, led to the installation of a matrix structure throughout the 1980s, but the matrix proved unwieldy. So, in 1999, the then CEO, Durk Jager, announced another reorganization whereby global business units (GBUs) retained ultimate profit responsibility but were complemented by geographic market development organizations (MDOs) that actually managed the sales force as a shared resource across GBUs. The result was disastrous. Conflicts arose everywhere, especially at the key GBU-MDO interfaces. The upshot: Jager departed after less than a year in office.

Under his successor, A. G. Lafley, P&G has enjoyed much more success, with an approach that strikes a better balance between adaptation and aggregation and that makes allowances for differences across general business units and markets. For example, the pharmaceuticals division, with distinct distribution channels, has been left out of the MDO structure. Another example: in emerging markets, where market development challenges are huge, profit responsibility continues to rest with country managers.

Aggregation and Arbitrage

VIZIO, founded in 2002 with only $600,000 in capital by entrepreneur William Wang to create high quality, flat panel televisions at affordable prices, has surpassed established industry giants Sony Corporation and Samsung Electronics Company to become the top flat-panel high definition television (HDTV) brand sold in North America. To get there, VIZIO developed a business model that effectively combines elements of aggregation and arbitrage strategies. VIZIO’s contract manufacturing model is based on aggressive procurement sourcing, supply-chain management, economies of scale in distribution.

While a typical flat-screen television includes thousands of parts, the bulk of the costs and ultimate performance are a function of two key components: the panel and the chipset. Together, these two main parts account for about 94% of the costs. VIZIO’s business model therefore focuses on optimizing the cost structure for these component parts. The vast majority of VIZIO’s panels and chipsets are supplied by a handful of partners. Amtran provides about 80% of VIZIO’s procurement and assembly work, with the remaining 20% performed by other ODMs, including Foxconn and TPV Technology.

One of the cornerstones of VIZIO’s strategy is the decision to sell through wholesale clubs and discount retailers. Initially, William Wang was able to leverage his relationships at Costco from his years of selling computer monitors. VIZIO’s early focus on wholesale stores also fit with the company’s value position and pricing strategy. By selling through wholesale clubs and discount stores, VIZIO was able to keeps its prices low. For VIZIO, there is a two-way benefit: the prices of its TVs are comparatively lower than those from major manufacturers at electronics stores, and major manufacturers cannot participate as fully as they would like to at places like Costco.

VIZIO has strong relationships with its retail partners and is honored to offer them only the most compelling and competitively priced consumer electronics products. VIZIO products are available at valued partners including Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Sears, Dell, and Target stores nationwide along with authorized online partners. VIZIO has won numerous awards including a number-one ranking in the Inc. 500 for “Top Companies in Computers and Electronics,” Good Housekeeping’s “Best Big-Screens,” CNET’s “Top 10 Holiday Gifts,” and PC World’s “Best Buy,” among others. [2]

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