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The role of external resource acquisition in firm strategy: the case of biopharmaceuticals

By Sotiris Konstantinos Rompas


This dissertation investigates the role which the acquisition of external resources plays in firm strategy. External Resource Acquisition (ERA) is a core strategic action for firm survival, especially when firms are faced with high munificence and uncertainty in regards to their resource environment. Primarily driven by the theoretical premises of the Resource Based View (RBV) of the firm (Barney, 1991; Wernerfelt, 1984), scholars have conceptualized ERA as predominantly a resource-driven action. Under this view, firms engage in ERA to alleviate their resource constraints (Combs & Ketchen, 1999), access complementary resources (e.g., Rothaermel, 2001b), and further enhance their knowledge base (e.g., Ahuja & Katila, 2001).\ud These contributions significantly advance understanding on various dimensions of ERA, but they treat the competitive environment of the firm as an exogenous factor. While there is a good theoretical rationale of the exclusion of the competitive environment in terms of the explanatory power of the RBV and its theoretical limits (Peteraf & Barney, 2003), the treatment of ERA as solely a resource-driven action, I argue, significantly fails to provide a holistic assessment on the strategic implications of ERA. I address this gap by a) developing a conceptual framework of ERA that takes into account both the firm’s idiosyncratic attributes and its competitive environment, and b) providing an extensive empirical analysis on the patterns of ERA activity among competing firms. Departing from this resource-driven view of ERA, I argue that ERA can be also seen as a competitor-driven action. I propose that firms engage in ERA to also respond to their competitive environment and more specifically to their competitors’ ERA-related actions. To build the competitive side of my argument, I draw upon the competitive dynamics literature and theories of interorganizational imitation. Taking these two views together, I argue that ERA can be seen as a strategic action that leads to a broader set of strategic choices.\ud Drawing from an extensive sample of 4,729 ERA actions among the top 50 biopharmaceutical firms between 1987 and 2006, my empirical analysis provides overall support for both the resource- and competitor- driven views of ERA.\ud This dissertation makes at least three contributions to the field of strategy. First, it illustrates that firm strategy, at least in the context of ERA, can be better explained when both firm- and competitor- specific explanations of firm action are taken into account. This particularly important for scholars who view firms from a RBV point of view, and tend to exclude the competitive environment of the firm from their conceptual development and analysis. Second, to better understand complex strategic actions, such as ERA, scholars must adopt a broader theoretical perspective of strategic choice. The empirical support of ERA as both resource- and competitor- driven, illustrates that firm strategy cannot be sufficiently explained by one theoretical view. Third, my empirical analysis provides support for the temporal dimension of strategy, when firms are faced with changing technological paradigms. In the case of the biotechnology paradigm, for example, the extent which firm- and competitor- specific factors explain patterns of ERA changes over time

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