Executive Overview

Academy of Management Executive. 2005, Vol. 19, No. 4 Reprinled from 2001, Vol. 15, No. 4
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Donald C. Hambiick and James W. Fiediickson
Executive Overview
After more than 30 years of hard thinking about strategy, consultants and scholars have
provided an abundance of frameworks for analyzing strategic situations. Missing,
however, has been any guidance as to what the product of these tools should be
what actually constitutes a strategy. Strategy has become a catchall term used to mean
whatever one wants it to mean. Executives now talk about their “service strategy,” their
“branding strategy,” their “acquisition strategy,” or whatever kind of strategy that
is on
their mind at a particular moment.
But strategistswhether they are CEOs of established
firms, division presidents, or entrepreneurs
must have a strategy, an integrated,
overarching concept of how the business will achieve its objectives. If a business must
have a single, unified strategy, then it must necessarily have parts. What are those parts?
We present a framework for strategy design, arguing that a strategy has five elements,
providing answers to five questions
arenas: where will we be active? vehicles: how will
we get there? differentiators: how will we win in the marketplace? staging: what will be
our speed and sequence of moves? economic logic: how will we obtain our returns? Our
article develops and illustrates these domains of choice, particularly emphasizing how
essential it is that they form a unified whole.
Consider these statements of strategy drawn from
actual documents and announcements of several
strategy is to be the low-cost provider.”
“We’re pursuing a global strategy.”
“The company’s strategy is to integrate a set of
regional acquisitions.”
“Our strategy is to provide unrivaled customer
“Our strategic intent is to always be the firstmover.”
“Our strategy is to move from defense to industrial applications.”
What do these grand declarations have in common? Only that none of them is a strategy. They
are strategic threads, mere elements of strategies.
But they are no more strategies than Dell Computer’s strategy can be summed up as selling direct to
customers, or than Hannibal’s strategy was to use
elephants to cross the Alps. And their use reflects
an increasingly common syndrome—the catchall
fragmentation of strategy.
After more than 30 years of hard thinking about
strategy, consultants and scholars have provided
executives with an abundance of frameworks for
analyzing strategic situations. We now have fiveforces analysis, core competencies, hypercompetition, the resource-based view of the firm, value
chains, and a host of other helpful, often powerful,
analytic tools.’ Missing, however, has been any
guidance as to what the product of these tools
should be—or what actually constitutes a strategy.
Indeed, the use of specific strategic tools tends to
draw the strategist toward narrow, piecemeal conceptions of strategy that match the narrow scope of
the tools themselves. For example, strategists who
are drawn to Porter’s five-forces analysis tend to
think of strategy as a matter of selecting industries
and segments within them. Executives who dwell
on “co-opetition” or other game-theoretic frameworks see their world as a set of choices about
dealing with adversaries and allies.
This problem of strategic fragmentation has
worsened in recent years, as narrowly specialized
academics and consultants have started plying
their tools in the name of strategy. But strategy is
not pricing. It is not capacity decisions. It is not
52 Academy of Management Executive November
setting R&D budgets. These are pieces of strategies, and they cannot be decided—or even considered—in isolation.
Imagine an aspiring painter who has been
taught that colors and hues determine the beauty
of a picture. But what can really be done with such
advice? After all, magnificent pictures require far
more than choosing colors: attention to shapes and
figures, brush technique, and finishing processes.
Most importantly, great paintings depend on artful
combinations of
all these elements. Some combinations are classic, tried-and-true; some are inventive and fresh; and many combinations—even for
avant-garde art—spell trouble.
Strategy has become a catchall term used to
mean whatever one wants it to mean. Business
magazines now have regular sections devoted to
strategy, typically discussing how featured firms
are dealing with distinct issues, such as customer
service, joint ventures, branding, or e-commerce. In
turn, executives talk about their “service strategy,”
their “joint venture strategy,” their “branding strategy,” or whatever kind of strategy is on their minds
at a particular moment.
Executives then communicate these strategic
threads to their organizations in the mistaken belief that doing so will help managers make tough
choices. But how does knowing that their firm is
pursuing an “acquisition strategy” or a “firstmover strategy” help the vast majority of managers do their jobs or set priorities? How helpful is it
to have new initiatives announced periodically
with the word strategy tacked on? When executives call everything strategy, and end up with a
collection of strategies, they create confusion and
undermine their own credibility. They especially
reveal that they don’t really have an integrated
conception of the business.
When executives call everything
strategy, and end up with a collection of
strategies, they create confusion and
undermine their own credibility.
Many readers of works on the topic know that
strategy is derived from the Greek
strategos, or
“the art of the general.” But few have thought much
about this important origin. For example, what is
special about the general’s job, compared with
that of a field commander? The general is responsible for multiple units on multiple fronts and multiple battles over time. The general’s challenge—
and the value-added of generalship—is in
orchestration and comprehensiveness. Great generals think about the whole. They have a strategy;
it has pieces, or elements, but they form a coherent
whole. Business generals, whether they are CEOs
of established firms, division presidents, or entrepreneurs, must also have a strategy—a central,
integrated, externally oriented concept of how the
business will achieve its objectives. Without a
strategy, time and resources are easily wasted on
piecemeal, disparate activities; mid-level managers will fill the void with their own, often parochial,
interpretations of what the business should be doing; and the result will be a potpourri of disjointed,
feeble initiatives.
Examples abound of firms that have suffered
because they lacked a coherent strategy. Once a
towering force in retailing. Sears spent 10 sad
years vacillating between an emphasis on hard
goods and soft goods, venturing in and out of illchosen businesses, failing to differentiate itself in
any of them, and never building a compelling economic logic. Similarly, the once-unassailable Xerox is engaged in an attempt to revive itself, amid
criticism from its own executives that the company
lacks a strategy. Says one: “I hear about asset
sales, about refinancing, but I don’t hear anyone
saying convincingly, ‘Here is your future.'”^
A strategy consists of an integrated set of
choices, but it isn’t a catchall for every important
choice an executive faces. As Figure 1 portrays, the
company’s mission and objectives, for example,
stand apart from, and guide, strategy. Thus we
would not speak of the commitment of the New
Times to be America’s newspaper of record as
part of its strategy. GE’s objective of being number
one or number two in all its markets drives its
strategy, but is not strategy itself. Nor would an
objective of reaching a particular revenue or earnings target be part of a strategy.
Similarly, because strategy addresses how the
business intends to engage its environment,
choices about internal organizational arrangements are not part of strategy. So we should not
speak of compensation policies, information systems, or training programs as being strategy.
These are critically important choices, which
should reinforce and support strategy; but they do
not make up the strategy itself.^ If everything important is thrown into the strategy bucket, then this
essential concept quickly comes to mean nothing.
We do not mean to portray strategy development
as a simple, linear process. Figure 1 leaves out
feedback arrows and other indications that great
strategists are iterative, loop thinkers.^ The key is
not in following a sequential process, but rather in
achieving a robust, reinforced consistency among
the elements of the strategy itself.

2005 Hambrick and Fredrickson 53
Strategic Analysis
• industry analysis
• customer/marketplace trends
• environmental forecast
• competitor analysis
• assessment ot internal
strengths, weaknesses,
‘ fundamental
‘ values
• specific targets
The central
externally oriented
concept of how we
will achieve our
• structure • rewards
• process •people
• symbols • activities
• functional policies
and profiles
Putting Strategy in Its Place
The Elements of Strategy
If a
business must have a strategy, then the strategy must necessarily have parts. What are those
parts? As Figure 2 portrays, a strategy has five
elements, providing answers to five questions:
• Arenas: where will we be active?
• Vehicles: how will we get there?
• Differentiators: how will we win in the marketplace?
• Staging: what will be our speed and sequence of
• Economic logic: how will we obtain our returns?
This article develops and illustrates these domains of choice, emphasizing how essential it is
that they form a unified whole. Where others focus
on the inputs to strategic thinking (the top box in
Figure 1), we focus on the output—the composition
and design of the strategy itself.
The most fundamental choices strategists make
are those of where, or in what arenas, the business
will be active. This is akin to the question Peter
Drucker posed decades ago: “What business will
we be in?”^ The answer, however, should not be
one of broad generalities. For instance, “We will be
the leader in information technology consulting” is
more a vision or objective than part of a strategy. In
articulating arenas, it is important to be as specific
as possible about the product categories, market
segments, geographic areas, and core technologies, as well as the value-adding stages (e.g., product design, manufacturing, selling, servicing, distribution) the business intends to take on.
For example, as a result of an in-depth analysis,
a biotechnology company specified its arenas: the
company intended to use T-cell receptor technology to develop both diagnostic and therapeutic
products for battling a certain class of cancers; it
chose to keep control of all research and product
development activity, but to outsource manufacturing and a major part of the clinical testing process
required for regulatory approvals. The company
targeted the U.S. and major European markets as
its geographic scope. The company’s chosen arenas were highly specific, with products and markets even targeted by name. In other instances,
especially in businesses with a wider array of
products, market segments, or geographic scope,
the strategy may instead reasonably specify the
classes of, or criteria for, selected arenas—e.g.,
women’s high-end fashion accessories, or coun

54 Academy of Management Executive November
Where will we be active?
(and with how much emphasis?)
• Which product categories?
• Which market segments?
• Which geographic areas?
• Which core technologies?
• Which value-creation stages?
What will be OUT speed and sequence
of moves?
Speed of expansion?
• Sequence of initiatives?
How will we obtain our returns?
• Lowest costs through scale advantages?
• Lowest costs through scope and replication advantages?
• Premium prices due to unmatchable service?
• Premium prices due to proprietary product features?
How will we get there?
• Internal development?
• Joint ventures?
• Licensing/franchising?
• Acquisitions?
• Image?
• Customization?
• Price?
• Styling?
• Product reliability?
The Five Major Elements of Strategy
tries with per-capita GDP over $5,000. But in all
cases, the challenge is to be as specific as possible.
In choosing arenas, the strategist needs to indicate
not only where the business will be active, but also
how much emphasis will be placed on each. Some
market segments, for instance, might be identified as
centrally important, while others are deemed secondary. A strategy might reasonably be centered on
one product category, with others—while necessary
for defensive purposes or for offering customers a
full line—being of distinctly less importance.
Beyond deciding on the arenas in which the business will be active, the strategist also needs to
decide how to get there. Specifically, the means for
attaining the needed presence in a particular product category, market segment, geographic area, or
value-creation stage should be the result of deliberate strategic choice. If we have decided to expand our product range, are we going to accomplish that by relying on organic, internal product
development, or are there other vehicles—such as
joint ventures or acquisitions—that offer a better
means for achieving our broadened scope? If we
are committed to international expansion, what
should be our primary modes, or vehicles—greenfield startups, local acquisitions, licensing, or joint
ventures? The executives of the biotechnology
company noted earlier decided to rely on joint ventures to achieve their new presence in Europe,
while committing to a series of tactical acquisitions
for adding certain therapeutic products to complement their existing line of diagnostic products.
The means by which arenas are entered matters
greatly. Therefore, selection of vehicles should not
be an afterthought or viewed as a mere implementation detail. A decision to enter new product categories is rife with uncertainty. But that uncertainty may vary immensely depending on whether
the entry is attempted by licensing other companies’ technologies, where perhaps the firm has
prior experience, or by acquisitions, where the
company is a novice. Failure to explicitly consider
and articulate the intended expansion vehicles
can result in the hoped-for entry’s being seriously
delayed, unnecessarily costly, or totally stalled.
Failure to explicitly consider and
articulate the intended expansion
vehicles can result in the hoped-for
entry’s being seriously delayed,
unnecessarily costly, or totally stalled.

2005 Hambrick and Fredrickson 55
There are steep learning curves associated with
the use of alternative expansion modes. Research
has found, for instance, that companies can develop highly advantageous, well-honed capabilities in making acquisitions or in managing joint
ventures.s The company that uses various vehicles
on an ad hoc or patchwork basis, without an overarching logic and programmatic approach, will be
at a severe disadvantage compared with companies that have such coherence.
A strategy should specify not only where a firm
will be active (arenas) and how it will get there
(vehicles), but also how the firm w^ill win in the
marketplace—how it will get customers to come its
way. In a competitive world, winning is the result
of differentiators, and such edges don’t just happen. Rather, they require executives to make upfront, conscious choices about which weapons will
be assembled, honed, and deployed to beat competitors in the fight for customers, revenues, and
profits. For example, Gillette uses its proprietary
product and process technology to develop superior razor products, w^hich the company further differentiates through a distinctive, aggressively advertised brand image. Goldman Sachs, the
investment bank, provides customers unparalleled
service by maintaining close relationships with
client executives and coordinating the array of services it offers to each client. Southwest Airlines
attracts and retains customers by offering the
lowest possible fares and extraordinary on-time
Achieving a compelling marketplace advantage
does not necessarily mean that the company has to
be at the extreme on one differentiating dimension; rather, sometimes having the best combination of differentiators confers a tremendous marketplace advantage. This is the philosophy of
Honda in automobiles. There are better cars than
Hondas, and there are less expensive cars than
Hondas; but many car buyers believe that there is
no better value—quality for the price—than a
Honda, a strategic position the company has
worked hard to establish and reinforce.
Regardless of the intended differentiators—image, customization, price, product styling, aftersale services, or others—the critical issue for strategists is to make up-front, deliberate choices.
Without that, two unfortunate outcomes loom. One
is that, if top management doesn’t attempt to create unique differentiation, none will occur. Again,
differentiators don’t just materialize; they are very
hard to achieve. And firms without them lose.
The other negative outcome is that, without upfront, careful choices about differentiators, top
management may seek to offer customers acrossthe-board superiority, trying simultaneously to
outdistance competitors on too broad an array of
differentiators—lower price, better service, superior styling, and so on. Such attempts are doomed,
however, because of their inherent inconsistencies
and extraordinary resource demands. In selecting
differentiators, strategists should give explicit
preference to those few forms of superiority that
are mutually reinforcing (e.g., image and product
styling), consistent with the firm’s resources and
capabilities, and, of course, highly valued in the
arenas the company has targeted.
Choices of arenas, vehicles, and differentiators
constitute what might be called the substance of a
strategy—what executives plan to do. But this substance cries out for decisions on a fourth element—
staging, or the speed and sequence of major moves
to take in order to heighten the likelihood of success.’^ Most strategies do not call for equal, balanced initiatives on all fronts at all times. Instead,
usually some initiatives must come first, followed
only then by others, and then still others. In erecting a great building, foundations must be laid,
followed by walls, and only then the roof.
Of course, in business strategy there is no universally superior sequence. Rather the strategist’s
judgment is required. Consider a printing equipment company that committed itself to broadening
its product line and expanding internationally.
The executives decided that the new products
should be added first, in stage one, because the
elite sales agents they planned to use for international expansion would not be able or willing to
represent a narrow product line effectively. Even
though the executives were anxious to expand
geographically, if they had tried to do so without
the more complete line in place, they would have
wasted a great deal of time and money. The left
half of Figure 3 shows their two-stage logic.
The executives of a regional title insurance company, as part of their new strategy, were committed to becoming national in scope through a series
of acquisitions. For their differentiators, they
planned to establish a prestigious brand backed
by aggressive advertising and superb customer
service. But the executives faced a chicken-andegg problem: they couldn’t make the acquisitions
on favorable terms without the brand image in
place; but with only their current limited geographic scope, they couldn’t afford the quantity or

56 Academy of Management Executive November
Printing equipment manufacturer with plans to
expand internationally
and broaden the
product line
Regional title insurance company with
plans to expand nationally by acquisition
and build a superior, prestigious brand
Narrow Currently
Stage 1
• T< National
Narrow Wide
Product-line breadth
Weak Strong
Brand power
Examples of Strategic Staging
quality of advertising needed to establish the
brand. They decided on a three-stage plan (shown
in the right half of Figure 3): 1) make selected
acquisitions in adjacent regions, hence becoming
a super-regional in size and scale; 2) invest moderately heavily in advertising and brand-building;
3) make acquisitions in additional regions on more
favorable terms (because of the enhanced brand, a
record of growth, and, they hoped, an appreciated
stock price) while simultaneously continuing to
push further in building the brand.
Decisions about staging can be driven by a number of factors. One, of course, is resources. Funding
and staffing every envisioned initiative, at the
needed levels, is generally not possible at the outset of a new strategic campaign. Urgency is a second factor affecting staging; some elements of a
strategy may face brief windows of opportunity,
requiring that they be pursued first and aggressively. A third factor is the achievement of credibility. Attaining certain thresholds—in specific
arenas, differentiators, or vehicles—can be critically valuable for attracting resources and stakeholders that are needed for other parts of the strategy. A fourth factor is the pursuit of early wins. It
may be far wiser to successfully tackle a part of the
strategy that is relatively doable before attempting
more challenging or unfamiliar initiatives. These
are only some of the factors that might go into
decisions about the speed and sequence of strategic initiatives. However, since the concept of staging has gone largely unexplored in the strategy
literature, it is often given far too little attention by
strategists themselves.
Economic Logic
At the heart of a business strategy must be a clear
idea of how profits will be generated—not just
some profits, but profits above the firm’s cost of
capital.^ It is not enough to vaguely count on having revenues that are above costs. Unless there’s a
compelling basis for it, customers and competitors
won’t let that happen. And it’s not enough to generate a long list of reasons why customers will be
eager to pay high prices for your products, along
with a long list of reasons why your costs will be
lower than your competitors’. That’s a sure-fire
route to strategic schizophrenia and mediocrity.
J* is not enough to vaguely count on
having revenues that are above costs.
Unless there’s a compelling basis for it,
customers and competitors won’t let that
The most successful strategies have a central
economic logic that serves as the fulcrum for profit
creation. In some cases, the economic key may be
to obtain premium prices by offering customers a
difficult-to-match product. For instance, the
York Times
is able to charge readers a very high
price (and strike highly favorable licensing arrangements with on-line information distributors)
because of its exceptional journalistic quality; in
addition, the
Times is able to charge advertisers
high prices because it delivers a large number of
dedicated, affluent readers. ARAMARK, the highly
profitable international food-service company, is
able to obtain premium prices from corporate and
institutional clients by offering a level of customized service and responsiveness that competitors
cannot match. The company seeks out only those
clients that want superior food service and are
willing to pay for it. For example, once domestic
airlines became less interested in distinguishing

2005 Hambrick and Fredrickson 57
themselves through their in-flight meals, ARAMARK
dropped that segment.
In some instances, the economic logic might reside
on the cost side of the profit equation. ARAMARK—
adding to its pricing leverage—uses its huge scale
of operations and presence in multiple market segments (business, educational, healthcare, and correctional-system food service) to achieve a sizeable
cost advantage in food purchases—an advantage
that competitors cannot duplicate. GKN Sinter Metals, which has grown by acquisition to become the
world’s major powdered-metals company, benefits
greatly from its scale in obtaining raw materials and
in exploiting, in country after country, its leadingedge capabilities in metal-forming processes.
In these examples the economic logics are not
fleeting or transitory. They are rooted in the firms’
fundamental and relatively enduring capabilities.
ARAMARK and the
New York Times can charge
premium prices because their offerings are superior in the eyes of their targeted customers, customers highly value that superiority, and competitors
can’t readily imitate the offerings. ARAMARK and
GKN Sinter Metals have lower costs than their
competitors because of systemic advantages of
scale, experience, and know-how sharing. Granted,
these leads may not last forever or be completely
unassailable, but the economic logics that are at
work at these companies account for their abilities to
deliver strong year-in, year-out profits.
The Imperative of Strategic Comprehensiveness
this point, it should be clear why a strategy
needs to encompass all five elements—arenas, vehicles, differentiators, staging, and economic logic.
First, all five are important enough to require intentionality. Surprisingly, most strategic plans emphasize one or two of the elements without giving
any consideration to the others. Yet to develop a
strategy without attention to all five leaves critical
Surprisingly, most strategic plans
emphasize one or two of the elements
without giving any consideration to the
Second, the five elements call not only for choice,
but also for preparation and investment. All five
require certain capabilities that cannot be generated spontaneously.
Third, all five elements must align with and support each
other. When executives and academics
think about alignment, they typically have in mind
that internal organizational arrangements need to
align with strategy (in tribute to the maxim that
“structure follows strategy”^), but few pay much
attention to the consistencies required among the
elements of the strategy itself.
Finally, it is only after the specification of all five
strategic elements that the strategist is in the best
position to turn to designing all the other supporting activities—functional policies, organizational
arrangements, operating programs, and processes—that are needed to reinforce the strategy. The
five elements of the strategy diamond can be considered the hub or central nodes for designing a
comprehensive, integrated activity system.’°
Comprehensive Strategies at IKEA and Brake
Products International
IKEA: Revolutionizing an Industry
So far we have identified and discussed the five
elements that make up a strategy and form our
strategy diamond. But a strategy is more than simply choices on these five fronts: it is an integrated,
mutually reinforcing set of choices—choices that
form a coherent whole. To illustrate the importance
of this coherence we will now discuss two examples of fully elaborated strategy diamonds. As a
first illustration, consider the strategic intent of
IKEA, the remarkably successful global furniture
retailer. IKEA’s strategy over the past 25 years has
been highly coherent, with all five elements reinforcing each other.
The arenas in which IKEA operates are well defined: the company sells relatively inexpensive,
contemporary, Scandinavian-style furniture and
home furnishings. IKEA’s target market is young,
primarily white-collar customers. The geographic
scope is worldwide, or at least all countries where
socioeconomic and infrastructure conditions support the concept. IKEA is not only a retailer, but
also maintains control of product design to ensure
the integrity of its unique image and to accumulate
unrivaled expertise in designing for efficient manufacturing. The company, however, does not manufacture, relying instead on a host of long-term
suppliers who ensure efficient, geographically dispersed production.
IKEA is not only a retailer, but also
maintains control of product design to
ensure the integrity of its unique image
and to accumulate unrivaled expertise in
designing for efficient manufacturing.

58 Academy of Management Executive November
As its primary vehicle for getting to its chosen
arenas, IKEA engages in organic expansion, building its own wholly owned stores. IKEA has chosen
not to make acquisitions of existing retailers, and
it engages in very few joint ventures. This reflects
top management’s belief that the company needs
to fully control local execution of its highly innovative retailing concept.
IKEA attracts customers and beats competitors
by offering several important differentiators. First,
its products are of very reliable quality but are low
in price (generally 20 to 30 percent below the competition for comparable quality goods). Second, in
contrast to the stressful, intimidating feeling that
shoppers often encounter in conventional furniture
stores, IKEA customers are treated to a fun, nonthreatening experience, where they are allowed to
wander through a visually exciting store with only
the help they request. And third, the company
strives to make customer fulfillment immediate.
Specifically, IKEA carries an extensive inventory
at each store, which allows a customer to take the
item home or have it delivered the same day. In
contrast, conventional furniture retailers show
floor models, but then require a 6- to 10-week wait
for the delivery of each special-order item.
As for staging, or IKEA’s speed and sequence of
moves, once management realized that its approach would work in a variety of countries and
cultures, the company committed itself to rapid
international expansion, but only one region at a
time. In general, the company’s approach has been
to use its limited resources to establish an early
foothold by opening a single store in each targeted
country. Each such entry is supported with aggressive public relations and advertising, in order to
lay claim to the radically new retailing concept in
that market. Later, IKEA comes back into each
country and fills in with more stores.
The economic logic of IKEA rests primarily on
scale economies and efficiencies of replication. Although the company doesn’t sell absolutely identical products in all its geographic markets, IKEA
has enough standardization that it can take great
advantage of being the world’s largest furniture
retailer. Its costs from long-term suppliers are exceedingly low, and made even lower by IKEA’s
proprietary, easy-to-manufacture product designs.
In each region, IKEA has enough scale to achieve
substantial distribution and promotional efficiencies. And each individual store is set up as a highvolume operation, allowing further economies in
inventories, advertising, and staffing. IKEA’s
phased international expansion has allowed executives to benefit, in country after country, from
what they have learned about site selection, store
design, store openings, and ongoing operations.
They are vigilant, astute learners, and they put
that learning to great economic use.
Note how all of IKEA’s actions (shown in Figure
4) fit together. For example, consider the strong
alignment between its targeted arenas and its
expansion, by region
• Early footholds
in each country;
fill in later
Economic Logic
• Economies of scale (global,
regional, and individual-store
• Efficiencies from replication
Inexpensive contemporary furniture
• Young, white-collar customers
• Worldwide
• Organic expansion
• Wholly owned stores
• Very reliable quality
• Low price
• Fun, nonthreatening shopping experience
• Instant fulfillment
IKEA’s Strategy

2005 Hambrick and Fredrickson 59
competitive differentiators. An emphasis on low
price, fun, contemporary styling, and instant fulfillment is well suited to the company’s focus on
young, first-time furniture buyers. Or consider the
logical fit between the company’s differentiators
and vehicles—providing a fun shopping experience and instant fulfillment requires very intricate
local execution, which can be achieved far better
through wholly owned stores than by using acquisitions, joint ventures, or franchises. These alignments, along with others, help account for IKEA’s
long string of years with double-digit sales growth,
and current revenues of $8 billion.
The IKEA example allows us to illustrate the
strategy diamond with a widely familiar business
story. That example, however, is admittedly retrospective, looking backward to interpret the company’s strategy according to the framework. But the
real power and role of strategy, of course, is in
looking forward. Based on a careful and complete
analysis of a company’s environment, marketplace, competitors, and internal capabilities, senior managers need to craft a strategic intent for
their firm. The diamond is a useful framework for
doing just that, as w^e will now illustrate with a
business whose top executives set out to develop a
new strategy that would allow them to break free
from a spiral of mediocre profits and stagnant
Brake Products International: Charting a New
The strategy diamond proved very useful when it
was applied by the new executive team of Brake
Products International (BPI), a disguised manufacturer of components used in braking and suspension systems for passenger cars and light trucks. In
recent years, BPI had struggled as the worldwide
auto industry consolidated. Its reaction had been
combination of disparate, half-hearted diversification initiatives, alternating with across-the-board
expense cuts. The net result, predictably, was not
good, and a new management team was brought
to try to revive performance. As part of this
turnaround effort, BPI’s new executives developed
a new strategic intent by making critical decisions
for each of the five elements—arenas, vehicles,
differentiators, staging, and economic logic. We
will not attempt to convey the analysis that gave
rise to their choices, but rather (as with the IKEA
example) will use BPI to illustrate the articulation
of a comprehensive strategy.
For their targeted arenas, BPI executives committed to expanding beyond their current market
scope of North American and European car plants
by adding Asia, where global carmakers were rapidly expanding. They considered widening their
product range to include additional
auto components, but concluded that their unique design and
manufacturing expertise was limited to brake and
suspension components. They did decide, however,
that they should apply their advanced capability in antilock-braking and electronic tractioncontrol systems to develop braking products for
off-road vehicles, including construction and farm
equipment. As an additional commitment, executives decided to add a new service, systems integration, that would involve bundling BPI products
with other related components, from other manufacturers,
that form a complete suspension system,
and then providing the carmakers with easy-tohandle, preassembled systems modules. This initiative would allow the carmakers to reduce assembly costs significantly, as well as to deal with
a single suspension-system supplier, with substantial logistics and inventory savings.
The management team identified three major
vehicles for achieving BPI’s presence in their selected arenas. First, they were committed to organic internal development of new generations of
leading-edge braking systems, including those for
off-road vehicles. To become the preferred suspension-system integrator for the major auto manufacturers, executives decided to enter into strategic
alliances with the leading producers of other key
suspension components. Finally, to serve carmakers that were expanding their operations in Asia,
BPI planned to initiate equity joint ventures with
brake companies in China, Korea, and Singapore.
BPI would provide the technology and oversee the
manufacturing of leading-edge, high-quality antilock brakes; the Asian partners would take the
lead in marketing and government relations.
BPI’s executives also committed to achieving
and exploiting a small set of differentiators. The
company was already a technology leader, particularly in antilock-braking systems and electronic
traction-control systems. These proprietary technologies were seen as centrally important and
would be further nurtured. Executives also believed they could establish a preeminent position
as a systems integrator of entire suspension assemblies. However, achieving this advantage
would require new types of manufacturing and
logistics capabilities, as well as new skills in managing relationships with other component companies. This would include an extensive e-business
capability that linked BPI with its suppliers and
customers. And finally, as one of the few brakes/
suspension companies with a manufacturing presence in North America and Europe—and now in

60 Academy of Management Executive November
Asia—BPI executives concluded that they had a
potential advantage—what they referred to as
“global reach”—that was well suited to the global
consolidation of the automobile industry. If BPI did
a better job of coordinating activities among its
geographically dispersed operations, it could provide the one-stop, low-cost global purchasing that
the industry giants increasingly sought.
// BPI did a better job of coordinating
activities among its geographically
dispersed operations, it could provide the
one-stop, low-cost global purchasing that
the industry giants increasingly sought.
BPI’s executives approached decisions about
staging very deliberately. They felt urgency on
various fronts, but also realized that, after several
years of lackluster performance, the firm lacked
the resources and credibility to do everything all at
once. As is often the case, decisions about staging
were most important for those initiatives where the
gaps between the status quo and the strategic
intent were the greatest. For example, executives
decided that, in order to provide a clear, early sign
of continued commitment to the major global auto
manufacturers, a critical first step was to establish
the joint ventures with brake manufacturers in
Asia. They felt just as much urgency to gain a
first-mover advantage as a suspension-system integrator. Therefore, management committed to
promptly establish alliances with a select group of
manufacturers of other suspension components,
and to experiment with one pilot customer. These
two sets of initiatives constituted stage one of BPI’s
strategic intent. For stage two, the executives
planned to launch the full versions of the systemsintegration and global-reach concepts, complete
with aggressive marketing. Also in this second
stage, expansion into the off-road vehicle market
would commence.
BPI’s economic logic hinged on securing premium prices from its customers, by offering them
at least three valuable, difficult-to-imitate benefits. First, BPI was the worldwide technology
leader in braking systems; car companies would
pay to get access to these products for their new
• Stage 1: Asian JVs and
alliances with
• Stage 2: Aggressively
design and market
offering; commence
off-road vehicle market
• North American, European, and
Asian passenger-car and
light-truck makers
• Brakes and suspension-system
• Suspension-system integration
• Braking systems for off-road
Preferred supplier status and premium pricing,
due to leading-edge technology
• Preferred supplier status and premium pricing,
by providing customers global solutions
• Premium pricing by providing customers
integrated kits
Economic Vehicles^ • Internal development of
new, leading-edge
braking products
‘ Strategic alliances with
‘ Joint ventures with brake
companies in Asia
• ABS design technology
• Electronic traction control
• Systems integration capability
• E-business capability with
suppliers and customers
• Global reach
BPI’s Strategy

2005 Hambrick and Fredrickson 61
high-end models. Second, BPI would allow global
customers an economical single source for braking
products; this would save customers considerable
contract administration and quality-assurance
costs—savings that they would be willing to share.
And third, through its alliances with major suspension-component manufacturers, BPI would be able
to deliver integrated-suspension-system kits to
customers—again saving customers in purchasing
costs, inventory costs, and even assembly costs, for
which they would pay a premium.
BPI’s turnaround was highly successful. The substance of the company’s strategy (shown in Figure
5) was critically important in the turnaround, as
was the concise strategy statement that was communicated throughout the firm. As the CEO stated:
finally identified what we want to be,
and what’s important to us. Just as importantly, we’ve decided what we don’t want to
be, and have stopped wasting time and effort.
Since we started talking about BPI in terms of
arenas, vehicles, differentiators, staging, and
economic logic, we have been able to get our
top team on the same page. A whole host of
decisions have logically fallen into place in
support of our comprehensive strategic
Of Strategy, Better Strategy, and No Strategy
Our purpose in this article has been elemental—to
identify what constitutes a strategy. This basic
agenda is worthwhile because executives and
scholars have lost track of what it means to engage
the art of the general. We particularly hope to
counter the recent catchall fragmentation of the
strategy concept, and to remind strategists that
orchestrated holism is their charge.
But we do not want to be mistaken. We don’t
believe that it is sufficient to simply make these
five sets of choices. No—a business needs not just
a strategy, but a
sound strategy. Some strategies
are clearly far better than others. Fortunately, this
is where the wealth of strategic-analysis tools that
have been developed in the last 30 years becomes
valuable. Such tools as industry analysis, technology cycles, value chains, and core competencies,
among others, are very helpful for improving the
soundness of strategies. When we compare these
tools and extract their most powerful central messages, several key criteria emerge to help executives test the quality of a proposed strategy. These
criteria are presented in Table 1.” We strongly
encourage executives to apply these tests throughout the strategy-design process and especially
when a proposed strategy emerges.
Table 1
Testing the Quality of Your Strategy
Key Evaluation Criteria
1. Does your strategy fit with what’s going on in the
Is there healthy profit potential where you’re headed? Does
your strategy align with the key success factors of your
chosen environment?
Does your strategy exploit your key resources?
With your particular mix of resources, does this strategy
give you a good head start on competitors? Can you pursue
this strategy more economically than competitors?
Will your envisioned differentiators be sustainable?
Will competitors have difficulty matching you? If not, does
your strategy explicitly include a ceaseless regimen of
innovation and opportunity creation?
Are the elements of your strategy internally consistent?
Have you made choices of arenas, vehicles, differentiators,
and staging, and economic logic? Do they all fit and
mutually reinforce each other?
Do you have enough resources to pursue this strategy?
Do you have the money, managerial time and talent, and
capabilities to do all you envision? Are you sure
you’re not spreading your resources too thinly, only to be
left with a collection of feeble positions?
Is your strategy implementable?
Will your key constituencies allow you to pursue this
strategy? Can your organization make it through the
transition? Are you and your management team able
willing to lead the required changes?
There might be those who wonder whether strategy isn’t a concept of yesteryear, whose time has
come and gone. In an era of rapid, discontinuous
environmental shifts, isn’t the company that attempts to specify its future just flirting with disaster? Isn’t it better to be flexible, fast-on-the-feet,
ready to grab opportunities when the right ones
come along?
Some of the skepticism about strategy stems
from basic misconceptions. First, a strategy need
not be static: it can evolve and be adjusted on an
ongoing basis. Unexpected opportunities need not
be ignored because they are outside the strategy.
Second, a strategy doesn’t require a business to
become rigid. Some of the best strategies for today’s turbulent environment keep multiple options
open and build in desirable flexibility—through
alliances, outsourcing, leased assets, toehold investments in promising technologies, and numerous other means. A strategy can help to intentionally build in many forms of flexibility—if that’s
what is called for. Third, a strategy doesn’t deal
only with an unknowable, distant future. The appropriate lifespans of business strategies have become shorter in recent years. Strategy used to be
equated with 5- or 10-year horizons, but today a
horizon of two to three years is often more fitting. In
any event, strategy does not deal as much with

62 Academy of Management Executive November
preordaining the future as it does with assessing
current conditions and future likelihoods, then
making the best decisions possible today.
Strategy is not primarily about planning. It is
about intentional, informed, and integrated
choices. The noted strategic thinkers Gary Hamel
and C. K. Prahalad said: “[A company’s] leadership
cannot be planned for, but neither can it happen
without a grand and well-considered aspiration.”‘^
We offer the strategy diamond as a way to craft
and articulate a business aspiration.
We thank the following people for helpful suggestions: Ralph
Biggadike, Warren Boeker, Kathy Harrigan, Paul Ingram, Xavier
Martin, Atul Nerkar, and Jaeyong Song.
‘ Porter, M. E. 1980. Competitive strategy. New York: The Free
Press, provides an in-depth discussion of the five-forces model.
Hypercompetition is addressed in D’Aveni, R. A. 1994.
Hypercompetition. New York: The Free Press. The resource-based
view of the firm is discussed in Barney, J. 1991. Firm resources
and sustained competitive advantage.
Journal of Management,
17: 99-120. See Brandenburger, M., & Nalebuff, R. J. 1995. The
right game: Use game theory to shape strategy.
Harvard Business Review, July-August: 57-71, for a discussion of co-opetition.
^ Bianco, A., & Moore, P. L. 2001. Downfall: The inside story of
the management fiasco at Xerox. BusinessWeek, 5 March 2001.
^ A widely applicable framework for strategy implementation is discussed in Galbraith, J. R., & Kazanjian, R. K. 1986.
Strategy implementation: Structure, systems and process, 2nd
ed. St. Paul: West Publishing. A similar tool is offered in Hambrick, D. C, & Cannella, A. 1989. Strategy implementation as
substance and selling.
The Academy of Management Executive,
3(4): 278-285.
^ This observation has been made for years by many contributors, including Quinn, J. B. 1980.
Strategies for change: Logical
Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin Publishing;
and Mintzberg, H. 1973. Strategy making in three modes.
California Management f?eview, 15: 44-53.
^ Drucker, P. 1954.
The practice of management. New York:
Harper & Row.
^Haleblian, J., & Finkelstein, S. 1999. The influence of organizational acquisition experience on acquisition performance:
A behavioral learning perspective.
Administrative Science
44: 29-56.
^ Eisenhardt, K. M., & Brown, S. L. 1998. Time pacing: Competing in markets that won’t stand still.
Harvard Business Review, March-April: 59-69, discusses “time pacing” as a component of a process of contending with rapidly changing
^ The collapse of stock market valuations for Internet companies lacking in profits—or any prospect of profits—marked a
return to economic reality. Profits above the firm’s cost of capital are required in order to yield sustained or longer-term
shareholder returns.
^ Galbraith & Kazanjian, op. cit., and Hambrick & Cannella,
op. cit.
‘° Porter, M. E. 1996. What is strategy?
Harvard Business Review, November-December: 61-78.
” See Tilles, S. 1963. How to evaluate strategy.
Harvard Business Review, July-August: 112-121, for a classic, but more limited, set of evaluative tests.
‘^ See Hamel, G., & Prahalad, C. K. 1993. Strategy as stretch
and leverage.
Harvard Business Review, March-April: 84-91.
Donald C. Hambrick is the Samuel Bronfman Professor of Democratic Business Enterprise at the Graduate School of Business,
Columbia University. He holds degrees from the University of
Colorado (B.S.), Harvard University (MBA), and the Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D.). An active consultant and executive
education instructor, he also served as president of the Academy of Management. Contact: [email protected]
James W. Fredrickson is a professor of strategic management
and Chevron Oil Centennial Foundation Fellow in the McCombs School of Business of the University of Texas at Austin.
He was previously on the Faculties of Columbia University and
the University of Pittsburgh, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Contact: ;[email protected]