No Firm is an Island: Succeeding with Alliances
High levels of uncertainty often lead businesses into predictable directions, many of them negative. Extreme risk aversion, pre-emptive layoffs, and a laser focus on the short term are all common examples. On the positive side is the forming of alliances, a move that has become increasingly popular during the pandemic. Partnering with other firms can help strengthen a competitive position by enhancing market power, increasing efficiencies, accessing new or critical resources or capabilities, and entering new markets.
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“In many instances, alliances are not only the preferred method for growth, but also the only feasible one,” says Wharton management professor Harbir Singh. Consider the race for a COVID vaccine. Multinational pharma giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca, for example, respectively joined forces with BioNTech, a boutique German firm, and scientists at Oxford University. Singh, academic director of Wharton’s Driving Growth Through Strategic Partnerships, says these partnerships were not altruistic, but instead based on self-preservation. “Improving your competitive position alone is often no longer an option. COVID has gotten companies to reexamine their footprint – they must consider how much they want to do in house versus outsourcing through partnerships.”
Alliances are invaluable not only in challenging and uncertain times, but also otherwise as a means to drive competitive advantage and growth. As the business world explores opportunities that materialized with the growth of the digital economy or efforts to address environmental sustainability, alliances and partnerships play a critical role. For example, to help clients with digital transformation, consulting companies like McKinsey or Accenture are partnering with design firms to build capabilities in design thinking to complement their in-house strategy or technology consulting skills. Walmart has partnered with Microsoft to strengthen its position in the “phygital” (physical + digital) retailing landscape.