Competition and Firm Strategy

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Competition and Firm Strategy Chuck Eesley Morgenthaler Faculty Fellow Assistant Professor Stanford University Management Science & Engineering School of Engineering cee@stanford.edu How to be a Monopoly 101 (building a company Warren Buffett would invest in)

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Excellent businesses What are some examples? What makes them excellent? In small groups of 3 5-10 minutes

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What is a competitive advantage?

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Competitive advantage = barriers to entry With no barriers, must constantly run firm as efficiently as possible

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Competitive advantage Definition: Something a firm can do that its rivals cannot.

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Examples Moutai vs. Tsingdao Sina Weibo ? QQ ? Tencent Ebay ? Alibaba Shanghai Jahwa vs. P&G\ Baidu ? Google Whirlpool ? Qingdao Haier Hanergy ? Traditional Energy - solar overcapacity Guangxi Wuzhou Zhongheng Group vs. Pharma firms YY vs. Google Hangouts BYD? Apple vs. Xiaomi Brand vs. low-cost

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Traditional View Porter’s Five Forces Long-term, durable competitive advantage Manufacturing-based Efficiency-based investments in manufacturing Use of capital – quote about profits being all the inventory/equipment vs. cash

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Barriers to Entry/Growth In markets without barriers, competition is intense! Loss of traditional sources of competitive advantage Low cost labor Protected markets Government ties (anti-corruption campaign)

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Sources of Competitive Advantage Monopoly Government ties (??) Cost advantage (Chinese manufacturing) Regulations (Energy, Pharma) Capital intensive industry Brand (Coca-Cola) Network effects (Microsoft Office) 2-sided networks (Ebay, Facebook, Google, Media companies)

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It is better to buy a wonderful business at a fair price than a fair business at a wonderful price. Warren Buffett

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Categories Demand competitive advantages Unequal access to customers Customer captivity Search costs Switching costs Government support/protection Cost (supply) competitive advantages Superior technology Patents Larger scale + declining marginal costs Special access to information

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Competition with Barriers to Entry? With barriers to entry is life necessarily all good? Airlines Automobiles Banking Avoiding competition that leaves every participant worse off is an especially enlightened choice – one that deserves to be called “strategic”.

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Sketch of current macro-economic situation Export/import deficits Chinese over-capacity in manufacturing US over-spending

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New View Series of short-term competitive advantages Could be based on technology, but not necessary All strategy is local Focus on Niche-markets – difficult to dominate global markets Services-based, retail – focus on one geography Wal-mart, Grocery stores, Universities Manufacturing-based – focus on one niche product Cannot dominate global automobiles in general Intel – only chips Nokia ? Apple ? Xiaomi?

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Sources of competition Domestic competitors, same industry Former employees Foreign low-cost competition (Africa) Neighboring industry competitors (TV/Radio) New industry competitors AT&T ? VOIP Hotels ? Airbnb Taxi ? Uber Newspapers/TV ?Social Media)

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Adjacent markets Perilous to chase growth across borders Dominate a set of discrete, contiguous markets, expand only at the edges Example of over-expansion ? Wal-Mart

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How to get from here to there? (Tactics) New market, same product New product, same market Not a bad idea to date before marriage Internal venturing (intra-preneurship) Corporate Venture Capital Joint Venture Alliances Investments in VC Acquisitions

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Circle of Competence Know the boundaries and push them slowly Industry Diversification typically hurts performance Geography Wal-mart, Verizon Product Apple, Microsoft, Intel Mode of entrepreneurship/investment If you have no experience with joint ventures or acquisitions, tread slowly with the first few

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Internal Venturing Great option when it works Fighting a war on two fronts sometimes

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Corporate Venture Capital Tough to get right and maintain

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The Intangible Element Strategy must be executed faithfully This is why company culture is so important It is also difficult to change

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Trust The highest form that civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust – not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another… In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has forty-seven pages, I suggest you not enter.” Charlie Munger (Wesco Financial annual meeting, 2008)

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Joint Venture Reduces risk on both sides Has been common for Chinese firms with foreign companies (experience) Step below an acquisition Step above an alliance Other party must bring something to the table Rotating leadership works best

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Alliances Both parties have to bring something to the table Another form of dating before marriage

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VC investments Great way to learn about technologies/new markets Beware: most VC firms lose money (only the top 25% make money) Can be a better idea than CVC More independence Might not wind up strategically related

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Acquisitions Goal – but tricky to do well Only buy businesses whose value you understand. Buy businesses for less than they are worth.

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Acquisitions On average acquisitions destroy value for the acquiring firm Beware: Paying a premium for “synergy” Thrill of an acquisition/enhanced size Paying in stock - "buyer sells part of itself to acquire seller" More successful when: Within circle of competence - Related industry Experience with acquisitions Business can raise prices easily and has a high return on capital Target is either left alone or thoughtfully integrated

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Conglomerates that work? (1) Berkshire would be a diffuse conglomerate, averse only to activities about which it could not make useful predictions. (2) Its top company would do almost all business through separately incorporated subsidiaries whose CEOs would operate with very extreme autonomy. (3) There would be almost nothing at conglomerate headquarters except a tiny office suite containing a Chairman, a CFO, and a few assistants who mostly helped the CFO with auditing, internal control, etc. (4) Berkshire subsidiaries would always prominently include casualty insurers. Those insurers as a group would be expected to produce, in due course, dependable underwriting gains while also producing substantial “float” (from unpaid insurance liabilities) for investment. (5) There would be no significant system-wide personnel system, stock option system, other incentive system, retirement system, or the like, because the subsidiaries would have their own systems, often different. (6) Berkshire’s Chairman would reserve only a few activities for himself. Then names several activities that Buffett does, mostly limited to managing investments, a lot of reading, and CEO replacements when necessary.

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(7) New subsidiaries would usually be bought with cash, not newly issued stock. (8) Berkshire would not pay dividends so long as more than one dollar of market value for shareholders was being created by each dollar of retained earnings. (9) In buying a new subsidiary, Berkshire would seek to pay a fair price for a good business that the Chairman could pretty well understand. Berkshire would also want a good CEO in place, one expected to remain for a long time and to manage well without need for help from headquarters. (10) In choosing CEOs of subsidiaries, Berkshire would try to secure trustworthiness, skill, energy, and love for the business and circumstances the CEO was in. (11) As an important matter of preferred conduct, Berkshire would almost never sell a subsidiary. (12) Berkshire would almost never transfer a subsidiary’s CEO to another unrelated subsidiary. (13) Berkshire would never force the CEO of a subsidiary to retire on account of mere age. (14) Berkshire would have little debt outstanding as it tried to maintain (i) virtually perfect creditworthiness under all conditions and (ii) easy availability of cash and credit for deployment in times presenting unusual opportunities. (15) Berkshire would always be user-friendly to a prospective seller of a large business. An offer of such a business would get prompt attention. No one but the Chairman and one or two others at Berkshire would ever know about the offer if it did not lead to a transaction. And they would never tell outsiders about it.

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Metrics Margins Turnover Growth Earnings growth Return on capital Management ROE Intrinsic value

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Example: MOOCs and Universities MOOCs as potential disruptive technology What is the source of the competitive advantage/moat in academia? Is this threatened by MOOCs? Christensen vs. Porter Debate: Disrupt your own business or use tech to extend your competitive advantage?

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Beware the Institutional Imperative Analogous to Newton’s first law of motion An institution (e.g. a business) will resist any change to its current direction Innovation is a dirty term in organizations Behavior of peer companies will be mindlessly imitated Corporate projects will materialize to soak up time (just as work expands to fill available time)

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What to avoid Institutional Imperative Purportedly strategic moves Acquiring companies Entering other markets Lowering price (by reducing margins) Pet projects (risky R&D) First mover advantage Everyone else is doing it…

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Framework What business is worth being in? Monopoly, not commodity (what is the source of the moat?) What price is worth paying to be in that business?

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Claim: China would be better off copying Berkshire Hathaway than copying Silicon Valley. Charlie Munger (Warran Buffett’s business partner) Is this true?

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Testing this claim

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VC-backed returns

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Outline – what we covered Excellent businesses Strategy Moats Circle of Competence Practical tactics Beware the Institutional Imperative Values

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Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. - Charlie Munger, USC commencement speech, 2007

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Competition and Firm Strategy Chuck Eesley Morgenthaler Faculty Fellow Assistant Professor Stanford University Management Science & Engineering School of Engineering cee@stanford.edu How to be a Monopoly 101 (building a company Warren Buffett would invest in)