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CONFIGURATION OF STRATEGIC BUSINESS UNITS AND CORPORATE COMPETITIVE STRATEGY

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									CONFIGURATION OF STRATEGIC BUSINESS UNITS
  AND CORPORATE COMPETITIVE STRATEGY

                                  Leonel Cezar Rodrigues
                         Nine of July University - UNINOVE, Brazil

                       Edison Fernandes Polo and Valeria Riscarolli
                           University of São Paulo - USP, Brazil

                                    Fernando César Lenzi
                         Itajaí Valley University - UNIVALI, Brazil


                                                ABSTRACT
Here we analyze the structural reforms undergone by Hering Company at the end of the 90s. The aim was to
characterize the reconfiguration of Hering, followed the premises of genuine Strategic Business Units, as
intended. A theoretical model was proposed in order to analyze the changes. Main results indicated a flattening
of Hering’s structure, reconfigured under five SBUs following its trademarks, and two internal supporting units,
and a focus on market interface specialization. This reconfiguration did support Hering’s competitive strategy,
although some SBUs operated more like internal division than genuine SBUs.


                                          INTRODUCTION
          One of the greatest contributions that the structuralist school of administrative thinking left to
practitioners was the idea that it is possible to compete advantageously by means of an improved and updated
organizational design (Nadler and Tushman, 1997). Large companies, leaders in their respective segments
during the 80’s and 90’s had to remodel their businesses in order to remain competitive, as in the widely
discussed, classic cases of AT&T, Xerox, IBM, Corning, GE and GM, for example; to which others not less
important or not even less rich, could be added, such as Cremer S/A and Hering S/A, both in the textile segment,
in Brazil.
          The war over competitive advantages in the internal and external markets definitively altered the old
rules associated with sector domination by bigger companies. It is no longer possible to have the luxury of
‘sufficient time’ for change, attributable to the large sector leaders, as pointed by Hamel (2000). New
companies, agile and technologically more advanced, rapidly insert themselves into any market space left
unattended. More than that, they compete directly and aggressively for new and bigger slices of the market,
with the already established enterprises.
          The current meaning of business determinants (centrality of the consumer and technological advances)
carries a double lesson for modern executives. First, in Hamel’s interpretation (2000), they need to create a
business concept for their organizations that allows them to exploit their core competence, in such a way that
allows for greater competitive capacity. As such, restructuring in order to improve competitiveness does not
simply mean rearranging hierarchical flow charts. In order to re-configure, it is necessary to create a basic
rationale, i.e., a value logic that, according to Prahalad and Doz (2003), sustains the organizational configuration
in the way it is intended to. It is this value logic that will make managers to orient their efforts in the direction of
the strategic objectives of the organization.
          Secondly, executives need to recognize that reconfiguration of the organization is a process, not a
project. Since competitive environments change constantly, it is necessary to create alternative strategies for
overcoming challenges. Redirection in general requires new structures associated with maintaining or increasing
performance. Thus organizations must constantly be receptive to organizational designs flexible enough to adapt
themselves to environmental instability.
Problem and Objective
          Despite perceiving the speed of changes and the needs for structural flexibility, many organizations live
under inflexible bureaucratic and mechanistic structures. This in turn makes it difficult for them to adapt their
business model and capacity to compete in the environment in which they operate. It is necessary to reconfigure
the organization.
          An efficient path for this mission is the redesign of the strategic business units (SBU). This is a way of
restructuring businesses that considers both market objectives, as pointed out by Bourgeois III (1996), and
objectives of organizational effectiveness, or positioning, according to Porter (1996). In most cases, according to
Prahalad and Doz (2003), there is no clear definition between value logic and necessary configuration,
especially when dealing with SBU configurations. On the one hand, the principle of unit autonomy determines
the level of unit independence, consequently resulting in deterioration of the synergy function. On the other
hand, sustaining synergy through restrictions on autonomy seriously limits unit performance. This article,
therefore, discusses organizational re-configuration under the SBU format and the function of SBU in business.
It describes the premises of re-configuration of a company, the value logic or strategic benefits of sustaining re-
configuration and the practice of SBU´s management that took place at Hering S/A, in the period 1998-2001.
Hering was chosen because it is representative of the sector as a whole, being the second-largest producer of
knitwear in Latin America. With sales of R$ 340 million in 2004 (IEMI, 2004), Hering has been engaged in de-
verticalization since 1994, transforming its market brands into Strategic Business Units.


                RESEARCH METHODS AND TECHNIQUES
          This research has been designed as a case study, because it focuses on the changes underwent by
Hering S/A during a selected period of time. Yin (2005), argues that case studies are appropriate when searching
for the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of a phenomenon or event. Eisenhardt (1989) asserts that is perfectly possible to
identify the presence of emerging paradigms and to create new theories by means of case studies. To the author,
what is essential is to sufficiently circumscribe the problem, to collect data in a systematic and trustworthy
manner and the rational interpretation of the collected information. To this research, the collection, analysis and
interpretation of the information, we used the methodological design for case studies proposed by Gordon
(2001), as shown in Figure 1.

                                                  Figure 1: Model for a Case Study

                        CONTEXT ANALYSIS                                       PROCESS ANALYSIS
                                                                                        DIAGNOSIS
                          DESCRIPTION
                                                                            IDENTIFICATION OF CAUSES
                     DATA COLLECTION
                [Observation, Documentation, Interview,                   [Identification of factors that led to the
                            Questionnaire]                                           current situation]


                          PRESCRIPTION                                             INTERPRETATION

                             SOLUTIONS                                            CAUSES X EFFECTS
               [Identification and proposal for changing                [Use of theories and concepts from the
                              the situation]                            Literature in understanding cause and effect
                                                                        relationships]


Source: Adapted from Gordon, Judith R. A Diagnostic Approach to Organizational Behavior
Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001, p. 7.

        SBUs – STRUCTURES, STRATEGIES AND MARKET
          Structuring an organization is an intuitive act in administration, since operating in an unorganized
environment can become highly inefficient or unproductive. Colenghi (2003) alerts to the fact that restructuring
an organization is a means of defining functional rules and determining objectives that need to be achieved.
However simple, this conception of arranging tasks and responsibilities within an organization touches on two
essential elements of structuring: procedures and objectives.
        The structuring an organization runs a greater gamut of elements and factors that must be considered for
the organization to function efficiently. The vision of organizational structure perceived by Vasconcelos and
Hemsley (1997), gives a more precise idea of the task involved. For these authors, the structure of an
organization would be the result of a process by means of which authority is distributed and activities from the
most basic levels to the highest levels of administration are specified. The structure gives rise to a system of
communication, allowing people to perform their activities efficiently and to exercise the authority they need in
order to achieve their organizational objectives.
         Re-organizing the divisions or departments of an organization, as a process of organization of its
functions, tasks and resources under criteria of similarity (Oliveira, 2000) it possibly is the most common
fundament of organizational re-structuring. The process of departmentalization, that leads to obtaining more
rigid (mechanistic) or more flexible (organic) organizational structures, is grounded in three basic elements: a)
complexity; b) formalization, and c) centralization.
        The search for optimization of results pressures for firms to find new forms of organizational structuring.
Results are mainly obtained through mastery in strategic areas that allow companies to control internal and
external elements they consider to be important to their objectives. The principles of restructuring and
departmentalization of organizations are ways of achieving this control. There are, however, other equally or
more efficient forms of structuring organizations capable giving out results. One of these forms is structuring
into Strategic Business Units (SBU).

Strategic Business Units – concepts and markets
           As defined by Fischmann and Santos (1982), SBUs refer to the division of ‘business reality’, following
specific criteria of common connection. Such criteria can be of an internal order (the chain of values within a
company) or an external order (the market environment of its operation). For the authors, the criteria of common
connection can be congruent or diversified. In any case, however, they must be catalyzers of the common
characteristics of the businesses that in turn represent the profile of each Strategic Unit.
          According to Fischmann and Santos (1982), catalyzing criteria are, in fact, the criteria for constitution
of an SBU. A catalyzing criterion can be, for example, a production line of a company. In this case, the
production line specific for each product or for each set of products can group common activities under the same
autonomous administration, creating the rationale to configure an SBU.
          For companies in which technological factors are a differentiating element in their production
processes, sub-division or grouping under specific technologies can be, according to Fischmann and Santos
(1982), the criterion for constituting an SBU. Mastery of technology in producing tankers, for example, can be
the determining factor for setting up an SBU, whether those tankers are used for the transportation of water, oil,
gasoline or any other product.
          Bourgeois III (1996) defines an SBU in terms of market vision. In truth, the author uses the definition
of Arthur D. Little (ADL) for an SBU. ADL is based on the principles of a) segmentation of the market; b)
product life-cycles, and c) the competitive position of the company, in order to single out a strategic business
unit, i.e. to justify the configuration of an organization into SBUs. According to ADL, an SBU is a business
involving a group of products that serve common markets, compete with the same rivals and are connected in
such a way that strategies cannot be formulated for any one of its products without having an impact on its other
products.
          Among recent work done on the concept of constitution of SBUs, that of Prahalad and Doz (2003) is
perhaps the most comprehensive and integrated. According to them, an SBU is a business obedient to the logic
of portfolio configuration, whose contributive economic value to the corporation results from the value logic
and the logic of internal governance.
       According to these authors, the creation of value logic for a certain configuration within a corporation
depends on the vision and the ability of top management create the rationale of value logic in a company above
and beyond what it could created if it existed separately.
         Prahalad and Doz (2003) go on to say that it is the job of executives to guarantee that reconfiguration of
a corporation into SBUs, within the logic of value proposed, be duly managed by the company’s middle
managers. As such, it is necessary to have structural clarity, formalized administrative processes and basic
premises regarding the nature and quality of interactions and values, beliefs, and behavior.

Strategic Business Units and Synergy. When a company is structured into SBUs, starting from an
already existing company, there is obviously a loss of synergy. Therefore, in order to structure such a company
into SBUs there must be strategic advantages for the monolithic company; if not, there would be no reason to
restructure it (Prahalad and Doz, 2003). Even so, despite restructuring into independent units, the new format
must look for possible synergies between units.
        From the point of view of competitive strategy, the contributions of Ansoff (1990) to the concept of
synergy are perhaps the most interesting. To Ansoff (1990), synergy refers to the combination of product-market
that contributes to the general profitability of the company. The strategic value of synergy lies exactly in the fact
that there are advantages of scale under which a large company, with the same total sales of various smaller
companies, is able to operate at costs lower than the sum of the operational costs of smaller companies.
        In the process of operating an SBU in such a way as to make it contributive to the objectives of the
corporation, it is necessary to not lose sight of three elements that form the conceptual foundation for
configuring an SBU: (a) administrative elements; (b) operational elements and (c) market elements. The
arrangement of an SBU based on these elements or on a combination of them, must contribute to the strategic
objectives of the company in such a way that justifies its structuring into an SBU. What is proposed, then, is a
theoretical model for sustaining the logic of structuring an organization into SBUs. Figure 2 shows this model,
along with how the strategic objectives of an organization can be better fulfilled if the configuration presents a
value logic (Strategic Benefits) that sustains performance, or strength (Administration) of managers, in the sense
of leading the organization in the direction of its objectives.

                   Figure 3. Theoretical Model of the Constitution of an SBU
                                               Administrative elements


                           Configuration        Operations and           Strategic
                               SBU               Marketing               Benefits

                                                   Strategic
                     Administrative Elements                       Administrative Elements
                                                Objectives of theOperations and Marketing
                  Operations and Marketing
                                                 Organization



                                                Management
                  Source: authors

Competitive Strategy
         To Chandler (1962), belongs the well-known statement that connects organizational structure to
business: according to him, “structure follows strategy”. Thus the act of structuring an organization, or
reconfiguring organizational design, comes after the definition of, or must be aligned to the strategy.
       Strategy constitutes an instrument of efficient administrative management in an organization, beginning
with the business vision of its executives. In Mintzberg (1987), we find some conceptualizations for strategy, as
a course of action consciously defined for an organization, or a search for a competitive position in the market.
       Other authors, such as Tregoe and Zimmerman (1988), define strategy as a mental structure that guides
the choices that determine the nature and direction of an organization. Miles and Snow (1978) already produced
a taxonomy of competitive strategies, as opposed to corporate strategies. While corporate strategies relate to the
type of business in which the company must operate, competitive strategies refer to the way in which a company
positions itself in the market.
        The visions of Whittington (1993) and of Slywotzky and Morrison (1998) resemble each other greatly in
their approach to maximizing profit. Hamel and Prahalad (1995) propose a different vision of strategy. It is
based on the necessity of constructing an architecture of core competencies for the organization.
        The most popular concept for formulating strategy today is perhaps that of Porter (1996), who proposes a
typology of strategies called Generic. The concept is based on three distinct routes for gaining market
leadership: (a) Total Cost Leadership; (b) Differentiation and (c) Focus. Porter (1996) affirms that good
positioning of a company in the market enables it to attract high rates of return, independent of any unfavorable
structure and average profitability in the sector. Positioning well means to be able to apply well any one the
three generic strategies.
                               THE CASE OF HERING S/A
The reconfiguration of the structure and the product portfolio of Hering obeyed a value logic imagined by its top
management as the most appropriate way for the company to reach its desired strategic objective: to be the
largest fashion manufacturer in Latin America. The format of reconfiguration analyzed here is concentrated on
the structuring of the company into SBUs, beginning with the basis of the market positioning of its products.

A short history. The Companhia Hering, based in Blumenau, SC, Brazil, began in 1880, when the brothers
Hermann and Bruno Hering, German immigrants, began to produce fabrics. The company went through various
phases of growth and consolidation of its business up through the 1990’s. The basic concern in its first 100 years
was to verticalize its business. In the first years, Hering concentrated on consolidating itself and on widening its
participation within Brazil, while later expanding into the international market, finally becoming the top fabric
company in Latin American and the fourth largest in the world, in sales, during the 1990’s. In the mid 90’s,
Hering began the horizontalization of its business, seeking to accommodate itself to globalization and the
economic opening of Brazil. To turn it business horizontal, Hering ceased to be a mesh fabric manufacturer and
devoted itself to apparel. It completely eliminated its spinning facilities and began the process of partial
contracting out of various manufacturing processes, such as dyeing, fabric finishing, part of its fabric
manufacturing and great deal of its clothing manufacturing.
         Hering stopped to be a mesh maker to adopt a new mission: to be a mesh apparel fashion business.
Starting there, it concentrated itself on the core requisites of its new business mission: to manage its brand
names, to manage demand and to build a network of partnerships with other small companies to support the
horizontalization of its business.

Diagnosis. With a basis in the concept of a horizontally organized company, i.e. as an orchestrator of
partnership companies, Hering developed a new internal structure, in SBUs, that could sustain its competitive
objectives.
The strategy to reconfiguring. In the years that followed the restructuring of its business, Hering worked
strongly on the idea of market brands. According to the interviewed people, Hering’s strategy was to re-position
itself within the market, based on the potential merchandizing of its brands. Instead of marketing its products
based on price competition, as the company had been doing, resulting in low aggregate value and a consequent
policy of low pricing, Hering decided on a strategy of differentiation for its brands through premium prices.
        In order to give value to its brands, Hering created direct channels to consumers (a network of franchised
stores called Hering Store) and transformed its brands into valuable trademarks. At the same time, it developed
market specialization for each brand, with a distinct pricing policy and other aggregated services.
The SBUs brand name as the premise of reconfiguration. After identifying the potential of the Hering brand,
the company began to franchise the Hering and the other brands (Omino, Mafisa, Public Image, Folha and
PUC), called the Hering family of brands. The Hering brand franchise system began in Argentina and moved
into Brazil, later expanding throughout Latin America. Concomitantly, Hering sub-licensed the brand dzarm for
the Brazilian market, and various Disney brands for production and commercialization in the European market.
Figure 4 shows how Hering restructured itself in order to manage its business within its new business concept in
the period analyzed.
                                          Figure 4. Corporate Structure of Hering
                                    Market Business Units

   Hering                   dzarm                   Brands                       Export                       Licenses
                                                                                       Hering Stores:
         Hering brand                                                                                          Brazil
                                                        PUC stores system
                                  Stores system                                         .Argentina
         products for
                                  dzarm                                                 .Bolivia               Sales
         franchise stores                             Other brands for
                                  dzarm brand         multi-brand stores                .Chile                 International
         Hering brand             products for                                          .Paraguay              licensed
                                                       .PUC      .Mafisa
         products for
                                  multi-brand                                                                  brands
                                  stores              .Omino     .Public Image          .Uruguay
         Multi-brand
                                                               .Folha                  .Venezuela
         Stores
                                                                                       International sales
                                                                                       for multi-brand
                                                                                       stores


                                                 Units of Common Support
      Business Units - Manufacturing                                               Business Units - Support
      Dyeing                Weaving        Assembly
  (Stonewashing)            (Partial)                                      Logistics               Finances             Control
                                            (Partial)

Source: Adapted from BISLAND, David C.M. Avaliação das Mudanças Estratégicas na Cia. Hering.
Master’s Thesis, in Business Administration. Universidade Regional de Blumenau, 108p. Blumenau (SC), 2000,
p. 93.

          Hering arranged its business structure into seven units. Five units are oriented towards brand
management (Market Business Units - Hering, dzarm, Brands, Exportation and Licenses). Two others are
oriented towards supporting the others (Common support units - Manufacturing and Support).
        According to information gathered from the interviewed Hering’s managers, the functions of each of
these strategic units derives from the conception of the collections – three annual collections were created and
launched – up to their manufacture, launching, commercialization and promotion (collection exhaustion). The
autonomy of the brand SBUs was circumscribed to the elaboration and budget execution, the structure and
strategy of operation, including market decisions, segmentation and price determinations. Physically, the units
were spread out over various locations, functioning in an independent and separate ways.
          Regarding to common support units, these functioned more like departments of the main unit.
Manufacturing and Logistics units leveraged on possible synergies from the production and from the logistics of
the brand units. According to those interviewed, there were notoriously two areas of distinct competence at
Hering: the area of cutting fabrics and the creation of collections. As the assembly of clothing was highly sub-
contracted, the logistics unit became essential to transport production inputs and finished products, especially to
maintain its network production scheduling in a synchronized way. These two units, along with top
management, comprise the structural axis of the matrix.
Analysis and Interpretation. The most striking factor that can be seen in the restructuring of Hering is
that the company correctly associated the concept of horizontal structuring with:
     (a) transference (some totally, others partially) of its primary activities (thread manufacturing, dyeing,
          weaving, clothing assembly and stamping);
     (b) formation of a network of partners able to support its production needs;
     (c) development of core competencies like the foundation of its business: Cutting – Creating Collections –
          Management of market brands, and
     (d) redesign of its internal structure in order to support the new business concept: Strategic Business Units
          (market brands) – Divisions for synergy gains.
The data in Table1 show the real behavior of Hering’s brand units, as strategic business units. The functions of
marketing, sales, research and development, price setting and innovation demonstrate to be characteristic of
SBUs. Financial function, however, is divided, showing the units with independent behavior when it refers to
budgetary execution, and a dependent behavior, that is a behavior of a corporate division, when it refers to
budgetary planning and determination of costs.
                       Table 1: Profile of Brand Units: Function as Division or in SBU
                                            Division                                     SBU
                   Marketing                      1     2          3            4
                   Sales                          1     2          3            4
                   Human Resources                1     2          3                       5
                   Finance                              2          3            4
                   Manufacturing                        2          3            4          5
                   Logistics                            2          3            4          5
                   Research & Dev.               1      2          3            4
                   Purchasing                    1      2                       4          5
                   IT                                   2          3            4          5
                   Maintenance                          2          3            4          5
                   Resources and Infrastructure 1       2                       4          5
                  Processes :
                   Decision Process             1       2          3                       5
                   Costs                                2          3            4          5
                   Price Setting                1       2          3            4
                   Intra-departmental synergy   1                  3            4          5
                   Innovation                   1       2          3            4
                   Automation and Integration           2          3            4          5
        Source: Research data.

          Analyzing Hering’s strategic option during the period, we may notice that the company is no longer
interested on being a fabric manufacturer –with less built-in value in its products. The company decided to move
forward on to another concept of its business, directly connected to the consumer through which Hering could
bring greater profit. In this way, reconfiguration should support the new orientation of the company. This
would be achieved if Hering were able to transfer the new value logic of the company to its managers. In these
first steps, its main challenges seem to have been: (a) development of core competencies; (b) development of a
network of partnerships and (c) organizational re-design.
          Hering showed that it was able to carry out the two first easily. The third one, however, does not seem
to have happened in the way Hering intended. The company bet that incorporation of the value logic would be
better and more efficiently achieved if there would be adequate motivation for doing so. By giving autonomy to
its brand units, the company stimulated managers in the direction of its strategic objective. However, the
concern to achieve synergy between SBUs created internal detours that led SBUs to become more akin to
functional divisions than being SBUs.
          The human resources function displayed sufficient enough independent behavior, but not totally. In the
perception of the interviewed people, the SBUs were not completely autonomous, and should be adherent to
hiring, remuneration and career policies, issued and approved by the matrix. Purchasing, Resources and
Infrastructure function also followed the same path. Acquisition of essential materials like thread, raw materials
and some equipment was centralized, while other types of specific needs were decentralized.
          The functions of manufacturing, logistics, information technology and maintenance were centralized in
the matrix. According to the interviewed, the SBUs needed to program their needs ahead, so services and
products carried out within the SBUs were always performed seeking to gain synergy. Equally, there was
centralization of the automation and integration processes of information technology. The decision-making
process was not totally independent. There was only autonomy in regard to questions concerning market
segmentation, price setting, marketing and sales, research and development and localized innovation.
          This context of unequal autonomy caused a distortion in the units, in such a way that Manufacturing
and Logistics (that were, in fact, divisions) ended up behaving like SBUs. They wanted administrative and
operational autonomy and contrary to behaving like divisions seeking the benefits of synergy, behaved as if they
were SBUs.


                                                    CONCLUSIONS
          As we can see, the design of Hering’s business structure was well conceived theoretically. There is a
clear logic of value behind the configuration, determined by the functions of its business. Its new configuration
seems to be the correct approach for the intended market: de-verticalize operational functions with less
aggregate value and return to functions that guarantee passing on greater value to consumers, directly connected
to its trademark products. Hering competencies turned to brand management, not to production.
        The transference of production activities to partner companies, forming a network, happened
systematically, allowing Hering to dedicate itself to create competences in the consumer market. Thus the value
logic (strategic benefits) of the company, as shown in Figure 3, is aligned with its corporate strategy.
        Reconfigurating the company into SBUs, however, does not seem to have worked in the intended form.
Despite being called strategic units, Hering’s SBUs functioned, in part, as if they were functional divisions of
the company. Analysis of the data in Table 1 shows partial autonomy of the SBUs, emphasized by the decision-
making process. Although mutual support units (Fig. 4) were promising gains in synergy, the non-duplication of
departments within the units, such as sales, information technology and maintenance, as well as their own
efforts to increase synergy, compromised the decision-making ability of the SBUs, besides inducing the mutual
units to behave like SBUs themselves. However, administrative dynamics compensated for eventual detours and
corporate strategy on the whole was not compromised. Judging by its annual balance sheet and financial report,
Hering gradually increases its annual revenues and profits. We strongly recommend the development of specific
capabilities, related to demand management and collection development, which are common to all Hering´s
SBU and could increase synergy among Units, benefiting Hering´s business as a whole. Finally, its also
important that Hering´s higher management makes clear the logic value of the SBU restructuring in order to
guarantee mutual units to comply with its role within the corporation.


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