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 / Fourth Quarter 2002 / Issue 29(originally published by Booz & Company)


Yves Doz: The Thought Leader Interview

Multinational companies, says the INSEAD professor, must learn to discover, access, mobilize, and leverage knowledge from across the globe.

Photograph by Jane Evelyn Atwood
The now-familiar criticism of multinational corporations is that they take too much from the communities in which they operate, in resources and cheap labor, and return too little. While acknowledging the legitimacy of much of the antiglobalization movement’s concerns, Yves Doz offers a different observation: Most multinationals fail to harvest the most precious resources — ideas and innovation — from the far-flung regions in which they operate, and they will suffer for it.

The Timken Professor of Global Technology and Innovation at INSEAD, the international business school with campuses in Singapore and Fontainebleau, France, Professor Doz posits a new type of global corporation attuned to the dynamics of the knowledge economy: the “metanational.” In his latest book, From Global to Metanational: How Companies Win in the Knowledge Economy (Harvard Business School Press, 2001), written with INSEAD colleagues José Santos and Peter Williamson, the metanational is described as “a company that builds a new kind of competitive advantage by discovering, accessing, mobilizing, and leveraging knowledge from many locations around the world.”

Becoming a global company once meant penetrating markets around the world. A traditional multinational develops a standard product for its home market, and then sells, or, in Professor Doz’s words, “projects” that standard around the world. But the demands of the knowledge economy are turning this strategy on its head, he says. Today, the challenge is to innovate by learning from the world. And because innovation drives growth, those companies that fail to learn will be left behind, he says.

Professor Doz and his colleagues define the metanational by three core capabilities: being the first to identify and capture new knowledge emerging all over the world; mobilizing this globally scattered knowledge to out-innovate competitors; and turning this innovation into value by producing, marketing, and delivering efficiently on a global scale. They say managers can build a metanational advantage for their own organizations by prospecting for and accessing untapped pockets of technology and emerging consumer trends from around the world, leveraging knowledge imprisoned in the multinational’s local subsidiaries, and mobilizing this fragmented knowledge to generate innovations, profits, and shareholder value.

Although he singles out no one company as a perfect metanational, Professor Doz identifies hotspots of learning capability in such innovators as the Nokia Corporation, in cell phones; Shiseido Company Ltd., in perfumes; and STMicroelectronics NV, in semiconductors. (See “STMicroelectronics: The Metaphysics of a Metanational Pioneer,” by Lawrence M. Fisher, s+b, Third Quarter 2002; Click here.) He notes that each of these companies benefited from “being born in the wrong place,’’ that is, outside the recognized centers of critical knowledge for their industries, and so had no choice but to learn from world markets.

Alliances are one tool of the metanational, and “beating the odds of failure in strategic alliances” has long been one of Professor Doz’s key themes. His Strategic Alliances executive seminar at INSEAD has had a waiting list and been standing-room-only for years, and an earlier book, Alliance Advantage: The Art of Creating Value through Partnering (Harvard Business School Press, 1998), written with Gary Hamel, was widely acclaimed as a strong practical treatise on the subject.

At INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus, Professor Doz is dean of executive education. His executive seminars concentrate on strategic alliances, multinational management, and entrepreneurial innovation and renewal. Professor Doz has also led a cross-disciplinary research effort on technology and innovation and held the position of associate dean for research and development. Besides INSEAD, he has taught at Harvard and at Stanford in the U.S., and at Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan.

Over the years, Professor Doz has advised many major multinationals, including Philips, IBM, and Xerox, as well as such new multinationals as Intel, Nokia, Toyota, and Glaxo Wellcome, on global strategy and organization.

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