Corporate Strategy

Course Number 1230

Adjunct Professor David J. Collis
Associate Professor Raffaella Sadun
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
28 Sessions

Course Content and Organization

Corporate Strategy is concerned with how companies, like Disney, create value across different businesses. It takes as given the RC lessons on competitive strategy, and asks how the corporation can add value over and above that which a business unit creates by itself. This requires the corporation to invest in a valuable set of resources, craft the business portfolio, and design the organization structure, systems and corporate functions to share activities or transfer skills across businesses.

The corollary of effective corporate strategy is that there is a limit to the scope of the firm. This insight suggests that issues of corporate strategy apply to firms of every size. Should a startup build its own salesforce or rely on third party distributors? Should an entrepreneur focus on a single niche or expand scope to serve many verticals? Thus while the course naturally covers strategy in large diversified companies, it also features smaller companies that appear to operate in a single business. Modules and topics covered in the course include:

Building on the RC module on Corporate Strategy, the course identifies valuable resources (popularly, but incorrectly, termed core competences) that can function as the "Mickey Mouse" that adds value to the corporate portfolio. By studying different strategies at firms like SilverLake and NCR, it introduces a continuum, ranging from conglomerates and private equity firms to tightly related corporate entities and startups, and demonstrates that the same logic of "better off" and "ownership" tests applies to every effective corporate strategy. This logic can be captured in a company's statement of its objective, scope and corporate advantage.

Defining the boundaries of the firm - the limit to its scope - is critical to crafting the corporate portfolio. At the extreme this determines which businesses to enter and exit, and the extent of vertical integration in the firm. More generally this requires developing a portfolio that is robust to changes in the external environment. This module therefore outlines the determinants of the corporate portfolio, examines approaches to resource allocation and the choice between internal development of new businesses and corporate M&A. It includes detailed examples of M&A synergies with Cadbury's acquisition of Adams gum, and corporate spinoffs at Kraft.

To justify ownership of any business a corporation must have the appropriate structures, systems, and policies to actually realise value. This module therefore examines these design choices, focusing on the size and roles of corporate headquarters in shaping and controlling business unit strategy and performance, building centres of competence, and sharing activities. It concludes by examining the choice between private and public ownership and governance currently being faced by Dell.

The perspective adopted throughout the course is that of the CEO of the corporation and the pragmatic challenges she faces in managing a multi-business entity. Thus the course should appeal to anyone interested in managing, financing, advising, or investing in a company that operates in multiple, businesses, geographies, or activities.