Strategy

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The Science of Managing Black Swans

In business, a black swan is neither a bird nor a ballerina — it’s a very rare convergence of factors that leads to catastrophe. New research suggests that by exploiting all types of data, managers can help prevent some black swan events, and reduce the hazards of other risky blind spots. The caveat: less intuition; more data.

Image courtesy of Flickr user abplanalp_photography.
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When Should You Fire Customers?

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Many customers are simply not profitable. Letting them go is one option, but so is trying to train them out of expensive behavior. Options suggested by Jiwoong Shin and K. Sudhir, both of Yale School of Management, include reducing services to unprofitable customers and educating them to use less costly service channels.

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Strategic Decisions for Multisided Platforms

Some of the fastest growing businesses in recent years — companies such as Facebook, eBay and LinkedIn — are “multisided platforms” that enable interactions between two or more sets of participants. The spectacular success of some of these MSPs has caught the attention of many entrepreneurs and investors. But building a multisided platform business requires savvy decisions on everything from design to governance to pricing.

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How Big Data is Influencing Big Companies

A recent data and analytics survey sheds light on what large organizations are actually doing with big data initiatives.

The Big Data Executive Survey 2013: The State of Big Data in the Large Corporate World surveyed nearly 100 senior executives from Fortune 1000 companies, who reported increasing commitment to big data projects. Most executives (70%) are looking to improve their “time to answer” with big data.

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Acquisitions That Make Your Company Smarter

It’s challenging to successfully integrate any acquired company. It’s even more complicated when you purchase a business for its knowledge. From Pfizer Inc.’s acquisition of Icagen Inc. to Walt Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, knowledge-based acquisitions are focused on acquiring new knowledge — related to product features, customer needs, processes or technologies — and depend on assimilating the two companies’ expertise. Included: a sidebar on “Six Steps for Smoother Knowledge Transfer.”

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The Hidden Costs of the U.S. Government Shutdown

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Standard & Poor’s estimated the short-term cost of the recent U.S. government shutdown at $24 billion. MIT Sloan professor and former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson discusses the potential long-term consequences if trust in U.S. currency is undermined by continuing political uncertainty.

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The Sweet Spot of Sustainability Strategy

Today’s fringe issues in the sustainability world often become tomorrow’s mainstream and generic market expectations, writes Gregory Unruh of George Mason University. Between these two extremes lies a third territory, which Unruh calls “strategic.” “It is in this strategic territory that proactive companies have the best opportunity to influence the sustainability standards for their industry,” he writes.

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Driving Change Through Corporate Programs

CEOs of large companies introduce corporate programs as a way to foster strategic renewal. But whether the goal is boosting profitability, improving business models or establishing new directions for growth, it’s important to match the design of the program with the desired outcomes.

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Strategic Choices in Converging Industries

As industries converge and seemingly unrelated businesses suddenly become rivals, managers must understand the new challenges and the long-term implications. A six-year study of convergence in the telecommunications, information technology, media and entertainment sectors by the authors shows that savvy companies choose one of four strategic paths: they become a technology pioneer, a market attacker, an ecosystem aggregator or a business remodeler.

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Transparency as a Competitive Advantage: Think Very Carefully About Communicating Your Data Sharing Initiatives

In the weeks following revelations that the NSA has a domestic spying network that taps the electronic and telephone communiqués of nearly every American, consumers have intensified their concerns about corporate complicity in government data snooping. That leads to the question: Are we at the beginning of a consumer backlash that will stymie expected economic growth related to data-sharing? Or are consumers resisting the inevitable: a new era of diminished privacy?

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The Pitfalls of Using Online and Social Data in Big Data Analysis

Is Twitter a litmus test for how a segment of society is acting — or thinking — at any given moment? Not quite. Striking new research out of Princeton University and the University of North at Carolina Chapel Hill suggests that inferences based on how people use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook should be reconsidered because these platforms represent skewed samples from which it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions.

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Why Making Money Is Not Enough

The authors, who include Ratan Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group, argue that that “it is possible to build and lead companies that retain a deeper purpose.” Tata calls for companies to launch “corporate lifeboats” — such as new business experiments in next-generation clean technologies and serious business initiatives in the underserved space at the “base of the pyramid” — to transform their operations for sustainability.

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The Trouble With Stock Compensation

Research suggests that paying outside board members with equity grants leads to companies with less socially responsible behavior. That’s the conclusion of Yuval Deutsch and Mike Valente (both of Schulich School of Business, York University), who looked at social performance ratings and director compensation data for more than 1,100 U.S. public companies between 1998 and 2006. “Our findings suggest that there is a need to investigate more creative compensation arrangements,” they write.

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Can High-Frequency Trading Drive the Stock Market Off a Cliff?

Much of the time, high-frequency trading firms play a benign role in financial markets. These firms use fully automated computer systems to buy and sell stocks very rapidly, making thin profits by being ahead of human orders.

But in a nervous market with downward price pressure, high-frequency trading can create fierce volatility. A computer simulation of high-frequency trading behavior showed that a complex system “may turn into an unfamiliar monster when an invisible tipping point is passed.”

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Sustainable Finance: 7 Steps in Managing Reputational Risk

Financial institutions’ funding decisions makes them gatekeepers for sustainable development. But how do they develop the policies and procedures that will guide how they make decisions and satisfy stakeholders? According to Olivier Jaeggi of ECOFACT, effective decision-making for sustainability can be summed up in a set of seven best practices.

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New Energy Policies for the World’s Sixth Largest Bank

Crédit Agricole, the sixth largest bank in the world, puts its money where its principles are in its recently released social and environmental policies. In keeping with its stated policy of supporting projects that are “sustainably vitalizing,” the bank’s policies prohibit funding energy projects that rely heavily on unsustainable fuels.

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The Trouble With Too Much Board Oversight

The high-profile scandals of the late 1990s have increased the oversight duties of independent directors. Has the increased focus on board oversight improved the quality of board monitoring? And can board oversight become detrimental to desirable objectives? This article focuses on three aspects of oversight: design and implementation of suitable executive compensation packages; removal of underperforming CEOs; and disclosure of earnings that reflect the company’s true financial conditions.

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Bringing Opportunity Oversight Onto the Board’s Agenda

Boards have two broad responsibilities: overseeing the protection of existing value and creating new value. Even though most boards take growth seriously, in practice board oversight has become unbalanced. The imbalance between risk and opportunity is a potentially serious problem. Correcting the imbalance will require an active, constructive partnership between the board and senior leadership — and a board that understands how the company maintains a high level of value-creating performance.

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Rebuilding the Relationship Between Manufacturers and Retailers

In the tug of war between manufacturers and retailers, retailers seem to be winning. Retailers control market access and influence consumer behavior. Their power has moved downstream. What can be done to improve the situation? While manufacturers are locked into fixed investments and products with long payback cycles, retailers have a variety of ways of making money. This article explores how manufacturers can benefit by tailoring their approaches to a retailer’s specific business model.

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