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The single most important book on business strategy
on March 23, 2008
Michael E. Porter is a professor at Harvard Business School and a leading authority on Strategy and Competitiveness. He did his MBA and Ph.D from Harvard. He has served as an advisor to several business and government organizations. He was also a founder of the strategy and management consulting firm, Monitor Group.
Professor Porter is best known for his landmark books that defined the field of Strategy - Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors (1980) and Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance (1985). These books are must reads at the leading business schools.
I read Competitive Strategy (1980) for a Strategy course. It starts with a bang. On the very second page of the first chapter you will find the figure for the famous Five Forces Driving Industry Competition. While Porter did not intend this framework to be used for case interviews, in reality, this is a very important framework to know for the case interviews conducted by leading strategy and management consultancy firms. All top MBAs and anybody who has ever been hired by the best strategy and management consultancy firms knows this framework, and has probably read this book. The first chapter immediately proceeds to explaining each of the five forces:
1. Threat of new entrants
2. Intensity of rivalry among existing competitors
3. Pressure from substitute products
4. Bargaining power of buyers
5. Bargaining power of suppliers
While the first chapter alone is worth the cost of this book, I recommend it for the wisdom contained in the rest of the book. The chapters are organized under three parts (General Analytical Techniques, Generic Industry Environments, and Strategic Decisions). There are several thought provoking discussions on concepts such as A Framework for Competitor Analysis (Future goals, Assumptions, Current strategy, Capabilities), Market Signals and a Strategic Analysis of Vertical Integration.
This book is the single most important book on business strategy. It is a classic - like the management classics of Peter Drucker. As with every classic, the examples are old (not to be confused with outdated). But, the competition HP faced for electronic calculators in the 70s, it still faces for computers today. There have been several changes in the players, technology, industries, globalization, etc, but the foundation built by Porter's masterpieces are still relevant today.
Porter's second book Competitive Advantage (1985) introduced another important tool - The Value Chain. This analyzes primary activities (Inbound logistics, Operations, Outbound logistics, Marketing and Sales, Services) and support activities (Procurement, Technology development, Human resource management, Firm infrastructure) that firms must analyze to create value and competitive advantage.
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