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Strategic business alliances between Canada and the newly industrialized countries of Pacific Asia.

Introduction

A strategic business alliance (SBA) can be defined as a long term cooperative business agreement between two or more companies to pool, exchange and/or integrate specified company resources for achieving some agreed objectives. This broad definition embodies a vast array of corporate linkage arrangements ranging from almost an arm's length vendor-customer relationship to an affiliation just short of a complete merger. These include joint ventures, cross licensing, reciprocal distribution and promotion arrangements, technology swaps, information exchange agreements, collaborative research programs, sharing of complementary assets, and cooperative product development and servicing contracts.

Irrespective of the form, all SBAs must possess: (a) a business objective, (b) a long term agreement indicating a continuous relationship, (c) distinct and identifiable non-equity contributions by both parties, and (d) active participation and interaction in the management of the alliance by both parties.

Cooperation between companies in the form of joint ventures and distribution agreements have existed for many years, but today's SBAs portray something qualitatively very different. While traditional corporate linkages tend to take place in areas peripheral to the partner companies' core skills and competitive strength and are formed mostly by non-competing companies, SBAs are often formed by hither-to rivalling companies in order to enhance their respective capabilities and competitive positions in non-competing lines of operations or markets. Yet, at the same time, they may face each other as competitors in different lines of operations or markets. Notable examples are the alliances formed by General Motors and Toyota, Siemens and Philips, Canon and Kodak, Thomson and JVC, Apple and Canon, Honeywell and NEC, Texas Instruments and Hitachi, and most recently, I.B.M. and Apple, and Northern Telecom and Motorola. But apart from these alliances between industry giants, there are also thousands of alliances between companies of different sizes and strengths. While one company may enter into an alliance with another company in search for entrepreneurial capabilities and market niches, the latter may be looking to the former as a source for venture capital and research support for innovative ideas.

SBAs have grown exponentially in number in recent years, and are now a very popular instrument for global market competition. In a Survey Research International survey on 419 U.S. firms in 1990, SBAs were used by over half (51.2%) of the companies for world wide expansion. This proportion exceeded by a significant margin those of the other modes such as acquisitions (36.3%), direct exporting (34.8%), new product introduction (34.2%) and start-up (18.8%). In the 1980s, U.S. companies formed over 2,000 alliances with European companies alone (Kraar 1989).

While the proliferation of SBAs in recent years has definitely been enhanced by improved communication technology linking geographically dispersed companies, the underlying driving force is unquestionably the realization of their necessity and benefits. The world market of today is characterised by a move towards globalization, escalating capital requirements for research and development, increased sophistication of new products and rapid technological obsolescence which shortens the product life cycle. These trends are forcing companies to reexamine the feasibility and wisdom of traditional market development methods and market positioning strategies. Inevitably, they come to realize that no matter how strong and resourceful is a company, there is no way it can have competitive advantage in each and every step of the value added process in all national markets, nor can it maintain a cutting edge in all the different critical technologies required for the development, production and marketing of today's sophisticated products. There are tremendous and often prohibitive costs, risks and time required to set up new research, manufacturing and distribution facilities. Thus, SBAs have become the logical means to rationalize operations, to overcome market barriers and to maintain a company's global competitive position.

Academic interest on SBAs has also increased immensely in the last several years. Many discussions and propositions have been put forward on their objectives, conditions of use, problems in formation, organization and control, sharing of benefits, performance evaluation, effectiveness and impact upon global competition (e.g., Anderson and Gatignon 1986; Auster 1987; Buckley and Casson 1988; Business Week 1991; Contractor and Lorange 1988; Douglas and Craig 1989; Geringer and Hebert 1989; Ghemawat, Porter and Rawlinson 1986; Gupta 1987; Hamel 1991; Hamel, Doz and Prahalad 1989; Harringan 1987; Koot 1988; Lorange and Roos 1991; Ohmae 1989; Perimutter and Heenan 1986; Porter and Fuller 1986). A good portion of these studies have also been placed on SBAs formed between companies in Western countries and in developing or newly industrialized countries, focusing upon the problems and opportunities unique to this type of SBAs (e.g., Al-Aali and Ali 1991; Badaracco and Hasegwa 1988; Beamish 1987; Chiang 1989; Connally 1984; Dobkin 1988; Geringer 1988; Dymsza 1988; O'Reilly 1988; Paliwoda and Liebrenz 1984; Reich and Mankin 1986; Tallman and Shenkar 1990; Woodside and Kandiko 1990). However, because of the numerous difficulties in extracting information from private companies and the myriad complexities in compiling aggregative data, almost all of these propositions are generalization based upon observations or in-depth interviews with a small number of alliances and partner companies. Also, there has been little discussion and no validity test of these propositions based upon the experience of Canadian companies.

Purpose and Survey Description

This paper sets out to survey the type of SBA agreements entered into by Canadian companies in the newly industrialized countries (NICs) of Pacific Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), their motives, their contributions, the problems they face, and how they feel about a few propositions on the benefits of SBAs. In the last two decades, the business relations between Canada and these NICs as well as other countries in Pacific Asia have expanded dramatically. Presently, Pacific Asia is Canada's second largest trading partner next to the U.S. In 1990, two-way trade between Canada and Pacific Asia amounted to more than C$ 12 billion. Of this amount, C$ 9.3 billion or close to 80% represented trade with the NICs. This Canada-NIC trade consists mostly of manufactured consumer goods going westward, and primary produce and resource materials going eastward. In 1990, just as in each and every years of the 1980s, Canada imported almost twice as much as it exported and incurred a huge deficit of CS 2.6 billion (Table 1).

This huge trade imbalance has often been a bone of contention in the business relations between Canada and the NICs. It has become even more serious in these two years when Canada is having a recession and people are complaining that Canadian companies are not pushing hard enough into the Pacific Asian markets while at the same time keeping its doors wide open to Asian imports. One secondary purpose of this paper will be to examine how the use of SBAs may help to achieve a more balanced and harmonious trading relationship between Canada and the NICs.

According to records kept by External Affairs Canada and Canadian consulate offices in Pacific Asia as of early 1991 there were slightly more than 1,000 Canadian companies and organizations in the region. This number included private companies, subsidiaries, government agencies, bank offices, consultants, legal firms, investment service representatives, educational institutions and cultural organizations. After cross checking with directories of Canadian companies, TABULAR DATA OMITTED 253 industrial and merchandising companies in Canada which had business interest in Pacific Asia were selected. Questionnaires were mailed out in the Summer of 1991 to these companies to enquire whether or not they had SBAs in Pacific Asia, and if they did, where and what were their operations, expectations, experience and opinions. After a waiting period of two months, 49 companies completed and returned the questionnaire. Of these 49 companies, 33 had SBAs in one or more of the NICs. These 33 companies comprised of 26 manufacturing companies and 7 merchandising companies. In addition, 44 companies replied that they did not have SBAs even though they had business interest in the region. There were also 15 undelivered questionnaires because the companies had either ceased operations or moved and could not be traced.

Because of the unknown number of Canadian companies which might have SBAs in the NICs, there is no way to calculate the degree of representativeness of the 33 responses for the total population. Moreover, some companies might not be sure whether a business agreement they had qualified being a strategic alliance. However, from all available indications there were probably less than 100 companies with SBAs in the NICs (Lorinc 1990). Hence, this sample of 33 companies should provide a reasonably good representation of Canadian companies with SBAs in the NICs. Nonetheless, in the ensuing presentation of the results some reservations must be made with the limitations in mind.

Results and Discussion

Form of Agreements

Table 2 gives a breakdown of the form of SBA agreements entered into by the 33 Canadian companies in Pacific Asia NICs. The total number of agreements amounts to 110, or on average, 3.3 agreements per company. Only a few Canadian companies have more than one SBA each in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, but on average, those with SBAs in South Korea have two agreements each in that country. Of the total 110 agreements, 61 or more than half are local distribution agreements. Next to local distribution, market development/promotion agreements are the most numerous. Since a total of 76 or 70% of the agreements are directly related to distribution and promotion, Canadian SBAs in Pacific Asia NICs are clearly primarily market oriented. In addition, there are 8 multi-purpose joint ventures, 7 contract manufacturing agreements and 6 licensing agreements. Eight companies are also engaged in technology transfer, 3 in collaborative research and 2 in information exchange with their alliance partners. Bearing in mind that there are only 26 manufacturing companies among the 33 respondents, it can be seen that even though the main focus TABULAR DATA OMITTED has been on distribution and market development, a significant number of Canadian companies are also production oriented in their alliances.

Looking across countries, there is a very notable difference in the form of agreements between Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan on one side and South Korea on the other. In each of the former countries, all but three of the agreements are market oriented. But in South Korea, less than one-half of the agreements belong to this category. In fact, South Korea alone accounts for the bulk of production oriented agreements entered into by Canadian companies in Pacific Asia NICs -- all 7 of the contract manufacturing agreements, all 3 of the collaborative research agreements, 6 out of 8 technology transfer agreements and 5 out of 6 licensing agreements. Evidently, Canadian SBAs in South Korea are as much production oriented as are market oriented.

Contributions to the Alliances

Canadian companies' contributions to their SBAs in the NICs are mostly of non-equity nature. Of the 33 responding Canadian companies, only 5, or about 15% have equity investments in addition to non-equity contributions in their alliances. In contrast, there are many more of them which provide production facilities/technologies, management, employee training and product/process research and development. Interestingly, not a single one of them enter into alliances as a supplier of raw material or component parts. Even though 26 out of 33 companies also mention that they contribute to local distribution and promotion and 14 companies to foreign distribution and promotion, the overall pattern indicates that the contributions made by Canadian companies are more production related than marketing related.

TABULAR DATA OMITTED

An examination of the contributions by Canadian companies' partners in the NICs exposes evenly more clearly the nature of the SBAs. Firstly, there are also only a relatively small number of local companies which contribute equity capital to the alliances, and this reinforces the contractual non-equity character of the agreements. Secondly, at least two-thirds of all the local partners contribute to local distribution and promotion. Thirdly, their production and management related contributions are across the board significantly less than the Canadian companies. Fourthly, again there is not a single supplier of raw materials or component parts. Thus, the overall picture which emerges from Table 3 shows unambiguously a coalition of Canadian production strength with local marketing strength in the alliances.

Motives

Table 4 summarises the motives and fundamental objectives of the responding companies. Since the bulk of the alliance agreements are market oriented, TABULAR DATA OMITTED not surprisingly, the most important motive by far is to 'gain access to local market'. It is also the only one out of 22 motives to receive a mean score of greater than 4.0 which is the median value on the rating scale. Other motives which have some importance are to 'become global more quickly' (3.90), 'share the business risk' (3.60), 'overcome trade barriers' (3.51), 'minimize capital investment' (3.32), 'stabilize earnings' (3.22), 'share regional markets' (3.20) and 'reduce cost of product development' (2.78). Much lower in ratings are motives such as to 'generate new ideas to stimulate internal innovation' (2.40), 'acquire foreign technology' (2.02) and 'gain knowledge of how other companies manage' (1.95). These results lend some support to the contention that many Western companies enter into SBAs mainly to avoid investments, and are more interested in reducing the costs and risk of entering new markets than in acquiring new skill (Hamel, Doz and Prahalad 1989). Also, the relatively low ratings given to 'gain political protection' (2.30) and 'circumvent investment restrictions' (1.93) suggest that political and legal considerations are not important as motives for entering into SBAs by the responding companies.

In fifth position among the list of motives is to 'develop cultural familiarity' (3.43). This motive is not as directly linked to production or marketing operations as many other motives which are assessed as less important. This indicates that many Canadian companies do realize that significant cultural differences exist between Canada and Pacific Asia and cultural familiarity is an important attribute for successful market development in the region.

The fundamental objective for Canadian companies entering into SBAs in the NICs is apparently more aggressive than defensive. 'Growth' and 'increased profit' are rated significantly higher than 'market stability', 'survival' and 'risk reduction'.

Problems In Formation and Management

The results on SBA formation and management problems encountered by Canadian companies in the NICs are given in Table 5.

Canadian companies do not seem to have encountered much difficulties in forming SBAs in the NICs. While some companies have difficulties in negotiations arising from differences in corporate and personal cultures, the most often mentioned difficulty is to get the right partner company, one which has compatible objectives and is trustworthy, though not necessarily with comparable size and bargaining strength. As one respondent puts it: "After the right partner is found, then there should not be much problems in sorting out the two parties' contributions, how the alliance be managed and how the benefits be shared." Local government's legal restrictions on collaborative agreements are also not perceived as a serious problem in alliance formation.

There has not been serious problems in management encountered either. All the nine problems mentioned received a mean score of less than 4.0, indicating that they have only been, at the most, moderate problems. The three management problems which are rated as the most serious are 'incompatibility of management style', 'unwillingness of one or both parties to be flexible with agreement' and 'incompatibility of partners' objectives'. This again points squarely on the importance of selecting the right partner for an alliance. 'Uneven sharing of management control', 'perception of uneven sharing of benefits' and 'failure of one party to contribute according to terms of agreement' are not perceived as serious problems even though these are common sources of dissatisfaction TABULAR DATA OMITTED and failure cited in the literature (e.g., Geringer and Hebert 1989; Koot 1988; Lorange and Roos 1991).

Propositions on Benefits

SBAs, if properly formed and managed, can bring substantial benefits to the alliance partners. As a result of its increasing importance and popularity, a great deal of interest has been placed on how to generate, maintain and increase the benefits for the alliance partners, and under what circumstances would the benefits accrue to the parties. Many propositions have been put forward and, not surprisingly, controversies abound. In order to find out about how Canadian companies feel about these propositions, the respondents were asked in the questionnaire survey to assess the following propositions related to SBA benefits:

1: "Both partners would benefit more if they know clearly the other's objectives." (P1)

2: "An alliance would benefit both partners more if its real terms go beyond the legal agreement." (P2)

3: "An alliance would benefit both partners more if there is some vagueness and flexibility in the agreement." (P3)

4: "Equal sharing of benefits is in practice impossible in an alliance." (P4)

5: "The partner who is more willing to learn from the other partner will benefit more from the alliance." (P5)

6: "Alliances benefit the Asian partner(s) more than the Western partner(s)." (P6)

A detailed discussion of these propositions is beyond the scope of this paper; but some brief explanations of why they were proposed are necessary.

Very few companies, if any at all, will enter into SBAs without knowing what they themselves want. And certainly, they would search for and negotiate with potential allies with their objectives in mind. However, knowing one's own objectives does not necessarily mean that one is willing and ready to tell everything to the other party. Some alliance partners, realizing that they are competing with each other in other lines of operations and markets, may worry that they would be revealing their areas of weakness if they let the other party know what they are going after in the alliance, and in the end, weaken their competitive position vis-a-vis their partners. But according to the first proposition (P1), this would not be a wise thing to do. Being up-front and truthful with each other will benefit both parties more than trying to hide from each other. The rationale behind this is: if partners do not know each other's objectives, they will not know whether or not they have the right partner with compatible objectives and the ability to contribute. If one company expects more from its partner than what the latter is prepared to contribute, the former may blame the latter for being uncooperative when things do not work out as planned while the latter may accuse the former of being overly aggressive and greedy. Hence, it is important that alliance partners should enter into alliances with a clear understanding of each other's objectives and how these objectives complement and interact with one another.

Objectives are set under a set of assumptions and predictions on environment; however, the environments within which the alliance is supposed to work may change, and sometimes suddenly and drastically. In order that the alliance can adapt itself to changing environments and be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, the second proposition suggests that both parties of an alliance will benefit more if the alliance's real terms go beyond the legal agreement (P2) (Hamel, Doz and Prahalad 1989). What this means is that, with trust and mutual understanding which is not written into the agreement, the alliance should be allowed to move in a direction and venture into areas not specified in the original agreement as long as this move is within the confines of the undertaking. The rationale is that no matter how meticulous a legal agreement is, it can never document all possible scenarios and contingencies which surround and impact upon the operation of an alliance. Furthermore, drawing up legal documents is a time-consuming and often frustrating process. Hence, for an alliance to serve the parties best, some mutual understanding of the general purpose of the alliance that goes beyond the legal clauses should be present. This is why some people believe that a good informal relationship between the alliance partners, or their chief executives, is more important to the success of the alliance than a good formal contract. And some even go a step further in claiming that an alliance would benefit both partners more if the there is some vagueness and flexibility in the agreement (P3) (e.g., Niederkofler 1991; Ohmae 1989).

With regard to the sharing of benefits, SBAs are unlike traditional joint ventures in which benefits are shared according to equity contributions or a written contract. Alliance partners often enter into SBAs with less well-defined contributions and divergent motives, and the resultant benefits are often derived from the complementarity of resources and capabilities and through a learning process instead of vertical integration, economies of scale or increased in output. For example, while one partner may have the objective of acquiring technology from the other party to improve its production capability, the other partner's objective may be to gain access to the former's distribution network and marketing skill. Since the aspired and anticipated benefits may be intangible and unmeasurable, 'equal sharing of benefits is in practice impossible in an alliance' (P4). Instead, the partner who is more willing to learn from the other partner will benefit more from the alliance (P5), and since Asian companies (and people) are more accustomed to the role of being a learner and follower whereas Western companies (and people) are more accustomed to the role of being a teacher and leader, SBAs between the two tend to benefit the former more than the latter (P6) (Hamel, Doz and Prahalad 1989; Reich and Mankin 1986). But this also has something to do with the belief that Western partners' contributions are often more easily transmitted and absorbed independent of particular individual or corporate culture (e.g., in product design and engineering technology) while Asian partners' contributions are often more difficult to unravel and adopt (e.g., in organizational networking and supplier/customer relations).

As can be seen from Table 6, Canadian companies with SBAs in NICs are in general consensus but do not agree entirely with all these propositions. While they essentially agree that both parties will benefit more if they know clearly the other's objectives (P1) and if the real terms of the alliance go beyond the legal TABULAR DATA OMITTED agreement (P2), they are not too sure whether some vagueness and flexibility in the agreement will benefit both partners nore (P3). There are more companies which disagree with this proposition (P3) than those which agree. The results indicate that they usually enter into SBAs in NICs with some definite goals in mind. As for the propositions regarding sharing of benefits, the respondents do not seem to have a strong opinion either way. While on the whole there is an inclination in agreeing that 'the partner who is more willing to learn from the other partner will benefit more from the alliance' (P5), there is an overall disagreement to the proposition that 'equal sharing of benefits is in practice impossible in an alliance' (P4). At any rate, the great majority of them believe that they and their alliance partners have been sharing the benefits equitably and it is not true that alliances have benefited the Asian partner(s) more than the Western partner(s) (P6).

Experience and Expectations

There is general consensus among the responding companies that they have benefited from having SBAs in the NICs -- in developing markets, in strengthening the company's competitiveness and in raising the company's image. Hence, the number one objective of gaining access to local markets is to a good extent accomplished. The majority of them also agree that SBAs are the best way to enter Pacific Asia markets, and many of them are actively searching for more alliances. Moreover, the great majority of them believe that they and their alliance partners have been sharing the benefits equitably and neither side has gained more from the alliance than the other.

TABULAR DATA OMITTED

Since the great majority of alliance agreements are market oriented and few of them entered into alliances with technology acquisition in mind, most of the responding companies do not think that their technological knowhow has improved through the alliances. At the same time, they do not see their alliances as more defensive than offensive -- something which is consistent with their fundamental objectives for growth and increased profits, much more than for survival, risk reduction and market stability.

The responding companies on the whole appear to be quite satisfied with their alliances in NICs. Not a single one of the NICs receive a mean rating below 4.0. Singapore has the highest rating (5.52), followed by Hong Kong (4.89) and Taiwan (4.78). Interestingly, South Korea, which has about half of the agreements being production oriented, received the lowest rating of 4.65. Even though it is still a satisfactory rating and the difference is only marginal, this can still be taken to suggest that the production oriented alliance agreements entered into by Canadian companies in the NICs have not been as successful as the market oriented agreements.
Table 8. Degree of Success
 Number of Responses Mean
Singapore 17 5.52
Hong Kong 18 4.89
Taiwan 18 4.78
South Korea 23 4.65
Notes:
1. The mean is the average on a scale of 1 ( = 'very
unsuccessful') to 7 (= 'very successful').
2. Total number of companies: 49


Concluding Remarks

Canadian companies have not been relying on SBAs to develop foreign markets as much as their counterparts in the U.S., Japan and Western Europe. Partly because of its abundant resources and capability for self-sufficiency and partly because of the predominance of one neighbouring country as its trading partner -- the U.S., Canada has been, until recently, very much inward oriented. However, the upsurge in economic prowess in Pacific Asia and Western Europe in the last two decades coupled with the current recession in North America have forced many Canadian companies to re-examine their positions and strategies in the global market place, and to look beyond the North American continent. Pacific Asia, which had an average economic growth rate significantly higher than those of North America and Western Europe in the 1980s and which is expected to continue to outperform all other regions of the world in the remaining years of this century, offers by far the best prospect for growth and market diversification. The NICs are particularly important, not only because they are robust markets in their own rights, but also, they provide the gateway to other country markets in the region such as China, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

But in developing markets across the Pacific, there are many natural as well as artificial obstacles that need to be overcome -- physical distance, trade barriers, legal restrictions, cultural differences and political uncertainties; and this often requires much more than many Canadian companies can afford by themselves. Hence, an increasing number of Canadian companies have begun to realize the necessity and benefits of using SBAs not only for market entry and development in Pacific Asia, but also for their global competitiveness and survival in the world market place in the long term.

However, while SBAs can confer substantial benefits, they are not without challenges and risks. There could be problems in finding a trust-worthy partner, in negotiating the alliance agreement, in managing the alliance, and in sustaining a compatible and mutually beneficial relationship. All these problems must be resolved with a clear understanding of the purpose of the alliance and the partners' respective objectives, and their implications on how the alliance should be formed and managed. Numerous SBAs have failed -- because of ill-conceived plans and policies arising from unrealistic expectations, misunderstanding of either or both parties' objectives and capabilities, incompatibility of management, or inflexibility of the arrangement in responding to the challenges of global business dynamics. Hopefully, the above findings and discussions on Canadian SBAs in the NICs of Pacific Asia will help to clarify some of the common issues and major concerns, and the satisfactory experience and positive evaluations by Canadian companies would serve as an impetus to other Canadian companies which are exploring market opportunities in Pacific Asia.

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C. L. Hung, Associate Professor, Faculty of Management, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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