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Owned, monitored, but not always controlled: understanding the success and failure of Scottish Free-Standing Companies, 1862-1910

Tennent, Kevin (2009) Owned, monitored, but not always controlled: understanding the success and failure of Scottish Free-Standing Companies, 1862-1910. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Mira Wilkins argues that the free-standing company was an important form of foreign investment in the pre-1914 period, although its implications for economic development in home and host countries remain unclear. The free-standing company, here defined as a company that invested abroad without any domestic operations, was held to be at an immediate disadvantage since it lacked competitive advantage and core competencies, and had to rely on intermediaries. Scotland was home to at least 400 free-standing companies between 1862 and 1900. A core debate around these firms has been the extent to which they were entrepreneurial firms or merely devices for speculation. This thesis examines five of these companies to analyse the role of their Scottish Head Offices within the company. Two of these five companies operated in Australasia and three operated in the USA. The thesis finds that the two firms operating in Australasia were more effective in establishing control over their operations there by devising clear command structures. They were more adept than the U.S.-based firms at using their head office presence to establish marketing links in the United Kingdom, and also better at internalising information and innovating to create new combinations. The Australasian companies further had the advantage that the UK formed their main marketplace, while domestic consumption was the main focus for the companies operating in the US. The thesis concludes that the role of the principal based in the home country was important for free-standing companies in establishing competitive advantage in their operations in the host country. The Home Office is therefore key in overcoming the lack of initial competitive advantage that Wilkins claimed disadvantaged them. This can be attained either by a relationship of direct hierarchical control or by close monitoring.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2009 Kevin Tennent
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Leunig, Tim

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