Strategy Forum / Panelist

Alfonso Gambardella

Bocconi University


Alfonso Gambardella is a professor of management at Bocconi University, where he serves as head of the Department of Management and Technology. Professor Gambardella’s research focuses on firm strategy, particularly technology strategy and the impact of innovation on industry structures. He is a fellow of the Strategic Management Society and a research fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR).

Voting History

Statement Response
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s proposed ban on noncompete agreements will impact innovation and entrepreneurship outside of existing technology hubs. Disagree “I think that many firms other than startups or very small firms have alternative ways to protect their innovations, such as through downstream assets. Thus, noncompetes give them small additional protection. In technological hubs, this may increase innovation and entrepreneurship through spin-offs. In nontechnological hubs, technological opportunities are more limited and business opportunities depend to a greater extent on the control of downstream assets (production and commercialization). This reduces the potential of the ban to change innovation and entrepreneurship because the fortunes of new firms depend to a greater extent on these downstream assets, which are independent of the experience of employees with their former employers.”
The diametric experiences of Disney and UEFA illustrate that firms should refrain from making political statements in support of particular stakeholders. Neither agree nor disagree “I think that it depends on whether shareholders or owners of the company want to maximize financial returns or their general utility. In the former case, taking such stands has potential negative financial returns. In the latter case, increases in utility may offset the potential negative financial returns. But ultimately, the choice is a higher-level decision by owners or shareholders about their goals, values, and the purpose of their companies. I’d have my own opinions (and values) if I were a shareholder/owner, but they are irrelevant in the context of this comment.”
BP’s decision to dial back plans for cutting oil and gas production shows that short-term financial performance pressure will make it difficult for many firms to transition their strategies toward more sustainable business models. Agree “I basically agree with the statement, although I do not think it’s a problem of short- versus long-term perspective about financial performance. To the extent that a company’s purpose is financial performance (whether short or long term), it will be hard to make choices that involve concurrent and coordinated actions among several parties and that generate externalities. A broader company purpose could be a substitute for the multilateral coordination.”
Digital platform companies like Uber and Netflix have lost their first-mover advantage. Neither agree nor disagree “Both Uber and Netflix clearly face competition from new entrants (Lyft, Amazon, Disney+, etc.). However, they have retained advantages so far, and they have invested in technology and other assets to stay ahead of the competition. So the first-mover advantage has been gradually eroded, but they still are well into the game if not ahead.”
The use of generative AI will restore competition in search. Disagree “I think that from an industry structure point of view, it may be no different from what we know. Generative AI requires a fixed cost, and thus, maybe after an initial proliferation of standards, a dominant design might eventually emerge.”
New salary transparency laws will cause companies to increase bonus pay and other nonreportable perks as a share of total compensation. Agree “There will be an incentive to do so by both companies and employees. However, there will be heterogeneity across sectors of the economies and locations depending on culture. In more progressive locations, in which there is agreement on the underlying purpose of the law, the effect will probably be smaller.”
Artificial intelligence is reducing wasteful holiday giving (i.e., deadweight loss) by helping online retailers to better match people to presents. Agree “It’s a classical AI prediction exercise that seems to work in other contexts (e.g., predictions of related items of interest to customers in several platforms). There are still some questions. First, the antecedent: Will AI be used extensively for this purpose to make a difference? Second, will gift givers preserve the option of making their choice, so that the outcome is the max between choice of gift givers and AI? Third, will this raise expectations of a match, inducing more gift giving and a scale effect that increases the percentage of match but also raises the scale of mismatch?”
Charging for user verification will lead to increased user engagement and trust on Twitter. Neither agree nor disagree “It depends on the complementary actions that will be put in place. On the one hand, you need to expand the team and resources to ensure serious verification. If users feel that it can be easily circumvented, it can backfire. One the other hand, some users will like it because they dislike a lack of verification, especially of renowned users; others will not, because they run fake identities or because they enjoy it. In this case, it all depends on whether Twitter will take complementary steps to make it less varied in the extent to which it is a reliable source of news and direct democracy, as opposed to a place where everyone can voice their rants, whatever they are.”
Corporate investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion should be expected to generate a monetary return on investment. Disagree “If companies invest in DEI expecting economic returns, they will miss opportunities. DEI generates returns that cannot be quantified economically — for example, they produce a better company culture and climate that motivates employees and raises productivity, teamwork, information sharing, or other, similar benefits; or they raise a firm’s reputation, and that raises attention by customers, suppliers, investors, or other external parties. These benefits are hard to measure and attribute to DEI policies, but, with some heterogeneity across firms and contexts, they are there. DEI may have negative impacts on economic returns — for instance, if it restricts a company’s choice. However, on average, I expect a positive net effect thanks to DEI’s many hard-to-measure performance benefits.”
The era of dominance for Tesla in the EV market is coming to an end. Agree “Every innovator, sooner or later, comes to an end due to diffusion and imitation (Schumpeter). The question is how long the temporary monopoly of innovators lasts; sometimes it is long (due to difficulty to imitate, patent protection, or something else), sometimes it is shorter. In this case, Tesla starts from a very high share that is gradually coming down, but the downward path is recent and slow. At the same time, more carmakers are working on EVs and are coming up with good models and technologies. Tesla also targets a well-defined market, so there is room for differentiated products. The bottom line is the decline in Tesla’s market share is not going to be fast, but it will gradually take place.”
Online education and specialized degrees will supplant the traditional two-year full-time MBA.  Disagree “Both online education and specialized degrees will pick up. But especially with online education, I think we’ll face a differentiation in quality in which, in most of the cases, online programs will be less demanding and thus of lesser quality than offline.”
Starbucks’s plans to increase wages for nonunionized workers is a shortsighted strategy. Agree “This strategy fosters tensions and an unfriendly image with employees. Unionized employees will feel discriminated against and become less attached. Employees in stores that are considering unionization will be in the difficult position of choosing between free choice to unionize and a raise. Even employees who are not unionized may feel that the initiative affects individuals’ free choice. Today, reduced reputation with stakeholders is likely to have direct and indirect negative implications for the company’s business opportunities and competitive advantages.”
Sanctions against Russia will cause multinational companies to consider human rights protections in supply chains more broadly. Disagree “I think that in the eyes of these companies, the two issues are likely to appear as independent.”
Blockchain is more likely to be a sustaining innovation than a disruptive innovation in the financial sector. Neither agree nor disagree “Disruptive technologies start slow, and then accelerate when and if they reach an inflection point (S-curve). Blockchain is in the pre-inflection point. If it does not reach the inflection point, it is likely to be sustaining in that incumbents have the time to absorb and manage it without having to dismantle extant competencies and operations. If we get to the inflection point, it will be hard for them to catch up and to dismantle rapidly extant competencies and operations. New actors are more likely to come in. But I am still unsure about the antecedent (blockchain reaching the inflection point).”
The field of strategic management has overlooked the role of corporate purpose in driving business performance. Disagree “Corporate purpose has gained increased interest in strategic management lately. More needs to be done, both empirically and theoretically. In particular, we need more on the problem at a high theoretical level. The issue defies standard perspectives, such as shareholder maximization value, which raises questions such as whether corporate purpose is a substitute or complement to extant theories of the firm. We then need to understand better what are the relevant issues and why, and what are the implications. Based on this theoretical understanding, we need empirical analysis guided by these frameworks that provide evidence and test theories and mechanisms.”
Socially responsible mutual funds are more of a marketing tool than a solution to environmental and social problems. Disagree “They provide a reference point that also creates incentives to companies to follow ESG practices. Monitoring by activist groups and other interested parties also helps. The extent to which their size and diffusion is sufficient to solve our many environmental and social problems is still an open question. But this is more a question of how to expand these funds than whether they serve the purpose.”
When hackers take data hostage, companies should pay the ransom. Disagree “This is a hard question. In Italy in 1991, the government issued a law that blocked all the wealth of families (and sometimes of friends) of kidnapped people. Together with other factors (more resources to police and security), this ended 20 years of kidnappings in the country. From a company-strategy perspective, this suggests that the decision not to pay has to come with complementary actions, such as coordinating with other companies or organizations for complementary actions, lobbying governments for public investments in cybersecurity, or other similar initiatives when there are market failures for doing it privately. Bottom line, the strategy response is not just to not pay the ransom but to set up a series of complementary actions.”
Relaxing the rules around physical presence in the office will improve employee productivity and firm performance. Agree “There are clearly trade-offs. However, relaxing the rule means that firms (and employees) can choose how to optimize this trade-off. There could be frictions. For example, employees may choose based on goals other than productivity or firm performance; or high-level managers in some firms may stick to ‘old’ managerial styles and not see the opportunities of work-from-elsewhere. But overall, my sense is that the optimization of the trade-off will dominate.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how companies should think about business strategy. Disagree “The pandemic has created opportunities to run experiments, albeit under special conditions, and use of digital has made a good leap forward. But these are mostly organizational changes (e.g., smart-working). Of course, this has also impacted strategy in the sense that companies have seen new opportunities and new ways of doing things. However, in a more fundamental way, I don’t think that this has changed the ways companies think. Digital is changing the way companies think, and to the extent that the pandemic has raised the speed of digitalization, it might have had an effect. But the primary cause is digitalization, and the pandemic explains only a small part of its evolution and diffusion.”