I am a PhD Candidate focusing on Strategy and Entrepreneurship. My research examines how firms’ organizational design choices can shape their capabilities and, in turn, their performance outcomes. Related to this, I also study how the breadth of strategies firms pursue can influence their design choices and performance outcomes. These research interests have been shaped by my experiences as a strategy consultant and industry research scientist where I became fascinated as to why firms struggle to implement their preferred strategies.
Prior to coming to Wharton, I worked as a management consultant for A.T. Kearney, Booz & Co. (now Strategy&) and PwC. Prior to these roles, I was a research scientist at Unilever. I have an MBA from the University of Notre Dame as well as an MA (Chemistry) and D.Phil.(Physical Chemistry) from the University of Oxford. My chemistry doctorate focused on the domains of photo- and sono-electrochemistry.
“We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon, but in our organization, to build these kinds of products.” Steve Jobs
In my PhD dissertation, I examine how firms’ organizational design choices impact how firms innovate and the outcomes of those innovation efforts. How firms organize to innovate is of considerable academic and practical importance, and organizational design is a key lever through which managers can ensure the effective and efficient execution of their strategies. Despite the importance of understanding how organizational design choices impact firms’ innovation activities the topic has historically received limited attention. This in part was driven by a general scholastic shift away from the study of organizational design due to challenges associated with its study. However, recently scholars have started to reexamine how firms’ design choices can impact their innovation outcomes by leveraging new data sources and applying novel methodologies.
This dissertation aims to contribute to this emerging literature stream. In order to examine how design choices can shape firms’ innovation outcomes as well as how they innovate, I develop a process-based model of innovation distinguishing between the stages of invention, development and commercialization. This enables me to juxtapose a knowledge-based with an incentive-based theoretical perspective allowing me to develop several rich theoretical predictions. I test these predictions in the context of the pharmaceutical industry using a novel dataset consisting of both archival innovation and structural data, as well as data obtained from 61 interviews with senior managers of leading pharmaceutical firms.
The Breadth of Strategies Firms Pursue
“One strategy. We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” Jeff Bezos
On the one hand, a common refrain extols leaders to ‘keep your eye on the ball’ and stay focused tightly on a small number of key issues to drive advantage. However, in a fast-paced world, another school of thought encourages diligent leaders to maintain a wide lens of attention, allowing the firm to stay flexible and ahead of the pack to take advantage of strategic opportunities broadly. This is accentuated during periods of industry change where firms may need to simultaneously deliver against their existing strategies and execute novel strategies in order to adapt to the changing external environment.
In “Pursuing the New while Sustaining the Current: Incumbent Strategies and Firm Value during the Nascent Period of Industry Change” (with Rahul Kapoor, forthcoming in Organization Science), we focus on the challenge incumbents face simultaneously pursuing both their existing business model and a new model that threatens the viability of the existing model. This is a problem faced by incumbent firms in many industries today. For example, the potential shift away from a model of selling vehicles to one of providing personal transportation services has massive implications for established players such as General Motors and Ford. Other examples include Amazon’s entry into the online sale of prescription drugs that is expected to shake up this established industry in a similar way to Amazon’s impact on retail book sales and the disruption of the financial services industry by mobile payment platforms such as Venmo and paytm. In this paper, we examine the challenge incumbent US electric utilities face through the emergence of a decentralized model of electricity generation and consumption.
In other research with Michael Mannor, we have developed a linguistic analysis tool to examine the strategies firms describe in their public communications (e.g. quarterly earnings calls). In our first paper using this tool, “Keep Your Eye on the Ball or on the Field? Exploring the Performance Implications of Executive Strategic Attention”, we investigate how the breadth of executive attention influences performance under varying industry conditions. The goal of this study is to answer the critical question “does it pay to focus on a narrower array of strategies or pay attention to a broader swathe of strategies?”
Abstract: This study considers the nascent period of industry change when the prevalent business model is being threatened by a new model, but there is significant uncertainty with respect to whether and when the new model will dominate. We focus on the challenge of incumbents pursuing both models simultaneously during the nascent period, and the implications on their firms’ valuations. Our theory is premised on the adjustment costs incurred by incumbents associated with the sharing of resources across business models and the conflict between managers vying for limited resources. While firms’ assets and competitive environments are key drivers of their value, we argue that they also impact adjustment costs. Evidence from the US electric utility industry that is undergoing a change from a centralized to a decentralized model offers strong support for our arguments. The greater the level of incumbents’ assets that are specific to the existing model, and the greater the level of competition that they face, the lower are their firms’ valuations when investing in the new model relative to when investing in the existing model. Hence, ironically, those incumbents potentially most threatened by the change seem to be least rewarded for their efforts to renew themselves. However, pursuing the new model via alliances can help mitigate adjustment costs. The study uncovers the challenges that incumbents face as they pursue the new model in tandem with the existing dominant model, and helps explain why some incumbents may successfully navigate the changing industry landscape while others may stumble.
John C. Eklund (Working), The Knowledge-Incentive Trade-off: Understanding the Relationship between Organizational Design and Innovation.
Abstract: Managers face a fundamental trade-off when designing their organizations for innovation. On the one hand, a decentralized design with more independent sub-units is associated with reduced intra-organizational knowledge flows which can hinder innovation. On the other hand, greater decentralization is associated with higher observability of effort and the ability to more effectively use higher-powered incentives which can increase efforts to innovate. I offer a framework to understand the implications of this trade-off by unpacking the innovation process into upstream tasks around invention, and downstream tasks around product development and commercialization. I argue that knowledge flows play a more important role in upstream tasks and incentives play a more important role in downstream tasks. I explore this premise in the context of the global pharmaceutical industry between 1995 and 2015. I find that greater decentralization while yielding higher numbers of inventions is associated with less original inventions, and fewer inventions progressing through the earlier stages of development. In contrast, greater decentralization is associated with more inventions progressing through the later stages of development. These findings highlight how the knowledge- and incentives-based perspectives are intertwined with firms’ organizational design, and that viewing innovation as a process can help uncover the trade-offs associated with firms’ design choices.
John C. Eklund and Michael Mannor (Working), Keep Your Eye on the Ball or on the Field? Exploring the Performance Implications of Executive Strategic Attention.
Abstract: Markets offer competing narratives to executives: keep your eye on the ball and focus, but also fight complacency by staying in tune with a wide set of potential strategies to maintain flexibility. Scholars offer little help to resolve this conflict, echoing these two logics in parallel streams of research. In this paper we provide new insight into the nature of executive attention by developing a new tool for assessing attention to multiple strategies. We examine how the breadth of strategies to which executives pay attention varies across industries and time, and investigate how the breadth of executive attention influences performance under varying industry conditions. We find that focused executive attention has a consistent positive effect on performance, except in stagnant growth or low return industries.
John C. Eklund (Working), Looking in the Mirror or out of the Window: the Role of Capabilities and Competition in Strategic Choice.
Abstract: Managers often have to select between strategies with differing risk profiles. An organization’s capabilities associated with execution of each strategy and competitors’ capabilities in responding to each strategy are likely to adjust the relative risk profile of these strategies. I argue that when making choices between strategies, stronger capabilities associated with a specific strategy decrease its perceived risk, thereby increasing its relative usage. Further, weaker competitors’ capabilities in responding to a specific strategy decrease the strategy’s perceived risk, thereby increasing its relative usage. However, market leaders who have less to gain through considering their competitors’ capabilities are less likely to consider them when making their strategic choices. I find support for these arguments in the context of US college football.