Strategy Forum / Panelist

Daniel Levinthal

The Wharton School

University of Pennsylvania

United States

Professor Levinthal has published extensively on questions of organizational adaptation and industry evolution, particularly in the context of technological change. He is a fellow of both the Strategic Management Society and the Academy of Management. He currently serves as editor-in-chief of Strategy Science and has previously served as editor-in-chief of Organization Science.

Voting History

Statement Response
The diametric experiences of Disney and UEFA illustrate that firms should refrain from making political statements in support of particular stakeholders. Disagree “The challenge is when a firm has a diverse set of stakeholders who will react quite differently to a public position. In contrast, Patagonia can, unproblematically, make statements about the environment (and other issues), since its set of stakeholders have a high degree of alignment.”
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. Neither agree nor disagree “I would interpret BP’s decision as more reflective of the fact that the current geopolitical situation has made it easier to justify carbon-related investments than specific short-term pressures from financial markets have. Those pressures haven’t fundamentally driven changes, whereas the geopolitical situation has.”
The use of generative AI will restore competition in search. Agree “Certainly, this creates a bit of an opening for Microsoft. Google can meet the technological challenge. The more difficult question is whether this mode of search challenges aspects of the revenue model of search. Does keyword-based advertising become less effective? What distinctive ways of revenue generation does an NLP-based “conversation” offer? How effective will bundling ChatGPT prove in Microsoft Office products?”
Corporate investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion should be expected to generate a monetary return on investment. Agree “I think in the near term, such investments should yield some level of advantage — attracting and more effectively leveraging a more diverse workforce and thereby tapping into a broader set of talent. Longer term, when such behavior becomes the norm, I think the absence of such investments will have negative performance consequences, but when the bulk of firms engage in this behavior, the positive returns will become more modest.”
The era of dominance for Tesla in the EV market is coming to an end. Agree “When a niche becomes the mainstream, a dominant actor in the niche is likely to lose share. EVs will effectively become the automobile industry in the future. That doesn’t suggest Tesla is going to be displaced as a major force in the industry — just a statement of its relative share of this particular “pie.””
Starbucks’s plans to increase wages for nonunionized workers is a shortsighted strategy. Strongly disagree “Starbucks's initial strategy was to provide a distinct “experience” for its customers. Having an engaged and committed frontline team is critical for that aim to be realized. In the current labor market, a nontrivial increase in their wages seems like an appropriate strategic move.”
Blockchain is more likely to be a sustaining innovation than a disruptive innovation in the financial sector. Neither agree nor disagree “I think the answer will be a function of the firm’s current business model and market position. This reminds me of Benner and Waldfogel’s 2016 Strategy Science piece that looked at the impact of digitalization on the record industry — the impact played out quite differently for major labels versus the independents. I think we tend to think of “disruption” with an overly broad “brush.” Where exactly in the value chain or the ecosystem is a particular firm operating suggests different opportunities and threats.”
The field of strategic management has overlooked the role of corporate purpose in driving business performance. Agree “While the strategy field has long recognized that the quest for profits might be constrained by various stakeholders and the institutional environment in which the firm operates, the affirmative notion of some broader objective guiding the enterprise is still making its way into our understanding.”
Socially responsible mutual funds are more of a marketing tool than a solution to environmental and social problems. Disagree “While mutual fund companies are certainly interested in gathering more assets under management, the link between access and cost of capital, particularly for carbon-based firms, is important. One can imagine in coming years, more oil, gas, and chemical firms exiting as public companies and operating under a private equity structure. Not only may this impact the effective cost of capital for these firms, but it may have some consequence for their perceived legitimacy if such firms are not widely held public enterprises.”
Relaxing the rules around physical presence in the office will improve employee productivity and firm performance. Neither agree nor disagree “I think the effects will differ in the short run versus the longer term and for established employees versus individuals newer to the organization. In the short run, there are some efficiency benefits. However, over a longer period, the lack of interaction with colleagues, particularly more-spontaneous unplanned interactions, will likely hurt innovativeness. Also, new employees are likely to find the socialization process as to ’how things are done around here‘ more challenging in a world of remote work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed how companies should think about business strategy. Agree “The pandemic greatly accelerated systemic changes that were already taking place: Technology enabled remote work, online (and home delivered) goods. Whenever we enter a “post-pandemic” period from a public health perspective, it will not look like 2019 from a business strategy perspective.”
In the wake of recent climate-related disasters and related events, such as the bankruptcy of PG&E, corporations are now planning for the increased operational risks and potential liabilities caused by climate change. Agree “Clearly the answer here varies by industry and sector — but that is more an issue of degree than whether or not climatic changes are on the radar of executive teams for their implications for operational risk of specific events and longer-term strategic considerations regarding the viability of certain sites, shifts in demand patterns, and need for carbon-light processes.”
U.S. regulations have been rolled back in a number of areas, including emissions standards and clean water. Companies will decide to voluntarily adhere to rules that closely resemble the original standards. Neither agree nor disagree “I think there will be considerable diversity, with some firms taking advantage of the relaxed standards to shift their activities in that direction, while others will choose to adhere to the prior standards based on beliefs of subsequent regulatory shifts and broad macro trends.”
Introducing 5G networks 3-5 years ahead of other countries will give Chinese firms an advantage. Agree “The Chinese government can be expected to privilege national firms in building out this network and technology providers whose systems will interface with this platform.”
A hard Brexit will have a significant negative impact on many businesses, even if they do not have a U.K. or European presence. Agree “The hard Brexit would likely be a negative shock to the U.K. and EU, which in turn should act as a negative demand shock for the global economy.”
In the next five years, the blockchain will have a transformative effect on finance in emerging markets. Agree “in some cases, emerging economies without an existing ‘installed base’ of structures/products/service are early adopters of new platforms. This could be an instance of this phenomenon.”
In the absence of a carbon tax, industry self-regulation can help mitigate the worst fallout from climate change. Disagree “The volunteer approach would require a cooperative equilibrium across many players from a variety of industries — it is hard to see how such an equilibrium could emerge and be sustainable.”
Restrictions on skilled immigration will cause US firms to to shift more operations overseas. Agree “I would think this effect would be focused on R&D/development activities as this effect won’t seem to impact the already strong forces pushing/keeping manufacturing overseas.”
Uber has to develop self-driving cars in the next 10 years in order to remain viable. Strongly agree “Uber can be thought of as being in the technology enabled point-to-point transit business. Driverless cars will provide that same service at considerably less cost than the current driver-based [business].”
A trade war will be more disruptive to business than to consumers. Strongly agree “Consumers face possible high costs but have the availability of substitutes. Firms risk losing market access and/or viability — a loose analogy to a displacement of a Cournot equilibrium to a Bertrand equilibrium.”