Profile: Michael E. Porter

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Michael E. PorterMichael E. Porter is the most famous professor in business school whose teachings and works are must reads in the MBA program at Harvard as well as other business schools around the world. He is a Bishop William Laurence University Professor at the Harvard Business School who has written eighteen books and countless of resource materials. Regarded as the gold standard in management thinking, he has received various academic, business awards and civic medals almost only given to military and extraordinary sports achievers.
Biography
Michael E. Porter was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan to an army officer on 1947. He studied mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University finishing with a B.S.E degree with honors. He then transferred to Harvard where he got earned his MBA and PhD in economics.

1990’s were a bad decade for strategy
Michael Porter was very disappointed in the 1990s decade because he noted that companies were not spending much time on strategy and instead argued that businesses change fast enough to have any long-term strategy. He says that Japan lead a philosophy on implementation that saw companies focus on offering higher quality products/services at lower cost and continuously improve on the offering as time goes by instead of sitting down for a strategy for the next five or ten years.
Michael disagreed on the fast paced belief; strategy is useless because the world has already moved by the time you finish formulating your strategy. He says that most CEOs say they have strategy but in fact they were operating in a single mindset of lowering cost and increasing quality without any long-term vision and direction for the company.
Michael’s viewpoint in a changing environment
Change is a constant but that doesn’t mean companies should not set a vision and direction for their long-term plan and strategy. He says that the most successful companies like Dell and Wal-Mart have balanced out short-term opportunities while continuously having long-term strategies for their business.
Companies became obsessed with increasing the business’ operational effectiveness to produce the highest quality at the lowest possible cost. Michael Porter says that strategy is about creating sustainable advantage and rising above your competition. A destructive level of competition will occur if all businesses doesn’t have a strategy and focus on operational effectiveness which makes all products and services almost the same, leaving customers to choose and dictate the prices.
Strategies formulated by the company may have a shorter lifespan at this era but the baseline strategy almost always stay the same while improvement and movement of dials to fine-tune strategies is more important today than ever before.
Case in Point
Microsoft has slightly been left behind by Google in the online wars, but a long-term strategy suggests that they keep their desktop software model while building their online presence through MSN.com. Little by little they have improved on the desktop and web model by creating Windows Vista, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Live.com.
Most popular works
Porter’s most popular work is a book titled Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors written in 1980 and is now in its 63rd imprint. The main points of discussion are:

There is a natural competition between existing players
New players are emerging threats
There is always a substitute of product or service
Bargaining power of suppliers
Bargaining power of consumers

He contends that competition is about:

Products and services should be cheaper
“Differentiation” in creation of products or services.
Win in niche markets and protect it from its competitors

In an excerpt of his book from Amazon:

Chapter 1: The Structural Analysis of Industries
The essence of formulating competitive strategy is relating a company to its environment. Although the relevant environment is very broad, encompassing social as well as economic forces, the key aspect of the firm’s environment is the industry or industries in which it competes. Industry structure has a strong influence in determining the competitive rules of the game as well as the strategies potentially available to the firm. Forces outside the industry are significant primarily in a relative sense; since outside forces usually affect all firms in the industry, the key is found in the differing abilities of firms to deal with them.
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and CompetitorsThe intensity of competition in an industry is neither a matter of coincidence nor bad luck. Rather, competition in an industry is rooted in its underlying economic structure and goes well beyond the behavior of current competitors. The state of competition in an industry depends on five basic competitive forces. The collective strength of these forces determines the ultimate profit potential in the industry, where profit potential is measured in terms of long run return on invested capital. Not all industries have the same potential. They differ fundamentally in their ultimate profit potential as the collective strength of the forces differs; the forces range from intense in industries like tires, paper, and steel — where no firm earns spectacular returns — to relatively mild in industries like oil-field equipment and services, cosmetics, and toiletries — where high returns are quite common.
This chapter will be concerned with identifying the key structural features of industries that determine the strength of the competitive forces and hence industry profitability. The goal of competitive strategy for a business unit in an industry is to find a position in the industry where the company can best defend itself against these competitive forces or can influence them in its favor. Since the collective strength of the forces may well be painfully apparent to all competitors, the key for developing strategy is to delve below the surface and analyze the sources of each. Knowledge of these underlying sources of competitive pressure highlights the critical strengths and weaknesses of the company, animates its positioning in its industry, clarifies the areas where strategic changes may yield the greatest payoff, and highlights the areas where industry trends promise to hold the greatest significance as either opportunities or threats. Understanding these sources will also prove to be useful in considering areas for diversification, though the primary focus here is on strategy in individual industries. Structural analysis is the fundamental underpinning for formulating competitive strategy and a key building block for most of the concepts in this book.
To avoid needless repetition, the term “product” rather than “product or service” will be used to refer to the output of an industry, even though the principles of structural analysis developed here apply equally to product and service businesses. Structural analysis also applies to diagnosing industry competition in any country or in an international market, though some of the institutional circumstances may differ.
Structural Determinants of the Intensity of Competition
Let us adopt the working definition of an industry as the group of firms producing products that are close substitutes for each other. In practice there is often a great deal of controversy over the appropriate definition, centering around how close substitutability needs to be in terms of product, process, or geographic market boundaries. Because we will be in a better position to treat these issues once the basic concept of structural analysis has been introduced, we will assume initially that industry boundaries have already been drawn.
Competition in an industry continually works to drive down the rate of return on invested capital toward the competitive floor rate of return, or the return that would be earned by the economist’s “perfectly competitive” industry. This competitive floor, or “free market” return, is approximated by the yield on long-term government securities adjusted upward by the risk of capital loss. Investors will not tolerate returns below this rate in the long run because of their alternative of investing in other industries, and firms habitually earning less than this return will eventually go out of business. The presence of rates of return higher than the adjusted free market return serves to stimulate the inflow of capital into an industry either through new entry or through additional investment by existing competitors. The strength of the competitive forces in an industry determines the degree to which this inflow of investment occurs and drives the return to the free market level, and thus the ability of firms to sustain above-average returns.
The five competitive forces — entry, threat of substitution, bargaining power of buyers, bargaining power of suppliers, and rivalry among current competitors — reflect the fact that competition in an industry goes well beyond the established players. Customers, suppliers, substitutes, and potential entrants are all “competitors” to firms in the industry and may be more or less prominent depending on the particular circumstances. Competition in this broader sense might be termed extended rivalry.
All five competitive forces jointly determine the intensity of industry competition and profitability, and the strongest force or forces are governing and become crucial from the point of view of strategy formulation. For example, even a company with a very strong market position in an industry where potential entrants are no threat will earn low returns if it faces a superior, lower-cost substitute. Even with no substitutes and blocked entry, intense rivalry among existing competitors will limit potential returns. The extreme case of competitive intensity is the economist’s perfectly competitive industry, where entry is free, existing firms have no bargaining power against suppliers and customers, and rivalry is unbridled because the numerous firms and products are all alike.
Different forces take on prominence, of course, in shaping competition in each industry. In the ocean-going tanker industry the key force is probably the buyers (the major oil companies), whereas in tires it is powerful original equipment (OEM) buyers coupled with tough competitors. In the steel industry the key forces are foreign competitors and substitute materials.
The underlying structure of an industry, reflected in the strength of the forces, should be distinguished from the many short-run factors that can affect competition and profitability in a transient way. For example, fluctuations in economic conditions over the business cycle influence the short-run profitability of nearly all firms in many industries, as can material shortages, strikes, spurts in demand, and the like. Although such factors may have tactical significance, the focus of the analysis of industry structure, or “structural analysis,” is on identifying the basic, underlying characteristics of an industry rooted in its economics and technology that shape the arena in which competitive strategy must be set. Firms will each have unique strengths and weaknesses in dealing with industry structure, and industry structure can and does shift gradually over time. Yet understanding industry structure must be the starting point for strategic analysis.
A number of important economic and technical characteristics of an industry are critical to the strength of each competitive force. These will be discussed in turn.
THREAT OF ENTRY
New entrants to an industry bring new capacity, the desire to gain market share, and often substantial resources. Prices can be bid down or incumbents’ costs inflated as a result, reducing profitability. Companies diversifying through acquisition into the industry from other markets often use their resources to cause a shake-up, as Philip Morris did with Miller beer. Thus acquisition into an industry with intent to build market position should probably be viewed as entry even though no entirely new entity is created.
The threat of entry into an industry depends on the barriers to entry that are present, coupled with the reaction from existing competitors that the entrant can expect. If barriers are high and/or the newcomer can expect sharp retaliation from entrenched competitors, the threat of entry is low.
Barriers To Entry
There are six major sources of barriers to entry:
Economies of Scale. Economies of scale refer to declines in unit costs of a product (or operation or function that goes into producing a product) as the absolute volume per period increases. Economies of scale deter entry by forcing the entrant to come in at large scale and risk strong reaction from existing firms or come in at a small scale and accept a cost disadvantage, both undesirable options. Scale economies can be present in nearly every function of a business, including manufacturing, purchasing, research and development, marketing, service network, sales force utilization, and distribution. For example, scale economies in production, research, marketing, and service are probably the key barriers to entry in the mainframe computer industry, as Xerox and General Electric sadly discovered.
Scale economies may relate to an entire functional area, as in the case of a sales force, or they may stem from particular operations or activities that are part of a functional area. For example, in the manufacture of television sets, economies of scale are large in color tube production, and they are less significant in cabinetmaking and set assembly. It is important to examine each component of costs separately for its particular relationship between unit cost and scale.
Units of multibusiness firms may be able to reap economies similar to those of scale if they are able to share operations or functions subject to economies of scale wi…

After Porter’s successful view on competition amongst businesses, he went on to write The Competitive Advantage of Nations in 1990 where looked on differences of wealth among nations. He noted the National Value Systems having four factors:

The toughness of domestic rivalry
Economic resources
Education of the people and the nations infrastructure
Cluster phenomenon.

Cluster phenomenon was viewed as one of the most important factors where it means a concentration of resources and potential to attract the best people in the world. A popular example of this is Silicon Valley.
In an excerpt of his book from Amazon:

Chapter 1
The Need for a New Paradigm
Why do some nations succeed and others fail in international competition? This question is perhaps the most frequently asked economic question of our times. Competitiveness has become one of the central preoccupations of government and industry in every nation. The United States is an obvious example, with its growing public debate about the apparently greater economic success of other trading nations. But intense debate about competitiveness is also taking place today in such “success story” nations as Japan and Korea. Socialist countries such as the Soviet Union and others in Eastern Europe and Asia are also asking this question as they fundamentally reappraise their economic systems.
The Competitive Advantage of NationsYet although the question is frequently asked, it is the wrong question if the aim is to best expose the underpinnings of economic prosperity for either firms or nations. We must focus instead on another, much narrower one. This is: why does a nation become the home base for successful international competitors in an industry? Or, to put it somewhat differently, why are firms based in a particular nation able to create and sustain competitive advantage against the world’s best competitors in a particular field? And why is one nation often the home for so many of an industry’s world leaders?
How can we explain why Germany is the home base for so many of the world’s leading makers of printing presses, luxury cars, and chemicals? Why is tiny Switzerland the home base for international leaders in pharmaceuticals, chocolate, and trading? Why are leaders in heavy trucks and mining equipment based in Sweden? Why has America produced the preeminent international competitors in personal computers, software, credit cards, and movies? Why are Italian firms so strong in ceramic tiles, ski boots, packaging machinery, and factory automation equipment? What makes Japanese firms so dominant in consumer electronics, cameras, robotics, and facsimile machines?
The answers are obviously of central concern to firms that must compete in increasingly international markets. A firm must understand what it is about its home nation that is most crucial in determining its ability, or inability, to create and sustain competitive advantage in international terms. But the same question will prove to be a decisive one for national economic prosperity as well. As we will see, a nation’s standard of living in the long term depends on its ability to attain a high and rising level of productivity in the industries in which its firms compete. This rests on the capacity of its firms to achieve improving quality or greater efficiency. The influence of the home nation on the pursuit of competitive advantage in particular fields is of central importance to the level and rate of productivity growth achievable.
But we lack a convincing explanation of the influence of the nation. The long-dominant paradigm for why nations succeed internationally in particular industries is showing signs of strain. There is an extensive history of theories to explain the patterns of nations’ exports and imports, dating back to the work of Adam Smith and David Ricardo in the eighteenth century. It has become generally recognized, however, that these theories have grown inadequate to the task. Changes in the nature of international competition, among them the rise of the multinational corporation that not only exports but competes abroad via foreign subsidiaries, have weakened the traditional explanations for why and where a nation exports. While new rationales have been proposed, none is sufficient to explain why firms based in particular nations are able to compete successfully, through both exporting and foreign investment, in particular industries. Nor can they explain why a nation’s firms are able to sustain their competitive positions over considerable periods of time.
Explaining the role played by a nation’s economic environment, institutions, and policies in the competitive success of its finns in particular industries is the subject of this book. It seeks to isolate the competitive advantage of a nation, that is, the national attributes that foster competitive advantage in an industry. Drawing on my study of ten nations and the detailed histories of over one hundred industries, I will present in Part I a theory of the competitive advantage of nations in particular fields. In Part II, I will illustrate how the theory can be employed to explain the competitive success of particular nations in a number of individual industries. In Part III, I will use the theory to shed light on the overall patterns of industry success and failure in the economies of the nations we studied and how the patterns have been changing. This will serve as the basis for presenting a framework to explain how entire national economies advance in competitive terms. Finally, in Part IV, I will develop the implications of my theory for both company strategy and government policy, The book concludes with a chapter entitled “National Agendas,” which illustrates how the theory can be used to identify some of the most important issues that will shape future economic progress in each of the nations I studied.
Before presenting my theory, however, I must explain why efforts to explain the competitiveness of an entire nation have been unconvincing, and why attempting to do so is tackling the wrong question. I must demonstrate that understanding the reasons for the ability of the nation’s firms to create and sustain competitive advantage in particular industries is addressing the right question, not only for informing company strategy but also for achieving national economic goals. I must also describe why there is a growing consensus that the dominant paradigm used to date to explain international success in particular industries is inadequate, and why even recent efforts to modify it still do not address some of the most central questions. Finally, I will describe the study that was conducted so, that the reader will understand the factual foundations of what follows.
CONFLICTING EXPLANATIONS
There has been no shortage of explanations for why some nations are competitive and others are not. Yet these explanations are often conflicting, and there is no generally accepted theory. It is far from clear what the term “competitive” means when referring to a nation. This is a major part of the difficulty, as we will see. That there has been intense debate in many nations about whether they have a competitiveness problem in the first place is a sure sign that the subject is not completely understood.
Some see national competitiveness as a macroeconomic phenomenon, driven by such variables as exchange rates, interest rates, and government deficits. But nations have enjoyed rapidly rising living standards despite budget deficits (Japan, Italy, and Korea), appreciating currencies (Germany and Switzerland), and high interest rates (Italy and Korea).
Others argue that competitiveness is a function of cheap and abundant labor. Yet nations such as Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden have prospered despite high wages and long periods of labor shortage. Japan, with an economy supposedly built on cheap, abundant labor, has also experienced pressing labor shortages. Its firms have succeeded internationally in many industries only after automating away much of the labor content. The ability to compete despite paying high wages would seem to represent a far more desirable national target.
Another view is that competitiveness depends on possessing bountiful natural resources. Recently, however, the most successful trading nations, among them Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, and Korea, have been countries with limited natural resources that must import most raw materials. It is also interesting to note that within nations such as Korea, the United Kingdom, and Germany, it is the resource-poor regions that are prospering relative to the resource-rich ones.
More recently, many have argued that competitiveness is most strongly influenced by government policy. This view identifies targeting, protection, export promotion, and subsidies as the keys to international success. Evidence is drawn from the study of a few nations (notably Japan and Korea) and a few large, highly visible industries such as automobiles, steel, shipbuilding, and semiconductors. Yet such a decisive role for government policy in competitiveness is not confirmed by a broader survey of experience. Many observers would consider government policy toward industry in Italy, for example, to have been largely ineffectual in much of the postwar period, but Italy has seen a rise in world export share second only to Japan along with a rapidly rising standard of living.
Significant government policy intervention has occurred in only a subset of industries, and it is far from universally successful even in Japan and Korea. In Japan, for example, government’s role in such important industries as facsimile, copiers, robotics, and advanced materials has been modest, and such frequently cited examples of successful Japanese policy as sewing machines, steel, and shipbuilding are now dated. Conversely, sustained targeting by Japan of industries such as aircraft (first targeted in 1971) and software (1978) has failed to yield meaningful international positions. Aggressive Korean targeting in large, important sectors such as chemicals and machinery has also failed to lead to significant market positions. Looking across nations, the industries in which government has been most heavily involved have, for the most part, been unsuccessful in international terms. Government is indeed an actor in international competition, but rarely does it have the starting role.
A final popular explanation for national competitiveness is differences in management practices, including labor-management relations. Japanese management has been particularly celebrated in the 1980s, just as American management was in the 1950s and 1960s. The problem with this explanation, however, is that different industries require different …

Some of his most popular books:
Competitive Strategy Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors (1980)
Comparative Advantage (1985)
The Competitive Advantage of Nations (1990)
Can Japan Compete? (1999)

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