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Coopetition and innovation. Lessons from worker cooperatives in the Spanish machine tool industry

Imanol Basterretxea (Department of Finance, Business and Marketing, Universidad del Pais Vasco, Bilbao, Spain)
Jon Charterina (Department of Business, Finance and Marketing, University of the Basque Country - UPV/EHU, Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain and Clare Hall College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)
Jon Landeta (Institute of Business Applied Economics, Universidad del Pais Vasco, Bilbao, Spain)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 3 June 2019

Issue publication date: 7 October 2019




This paper aims to investigate how the implementation of the inter-cooperation principle among Spanish machine-tool cooperatives helps them to coopete–collaborate with competitors, in their innovation and internationalization processes and achieve collaborative advantages.


The paper uses a multi-case approach based on interviews with 15 CEOs and research and development (R&D) managers, representing 14 Spanish machine tool firms and institutions. Eight of these organizations are worker-cooperatives.


Worker-cooperatives achieve advantages on innovation and internationalization via inter-cooperation (shared R&D units, joint sales offices, joint after-sale services, knowledge exchange and relocation of key R&D technicians and managers). Several mutual bonds and ties among cooperatives help to overcome the risk of opportunistic behaviour and knowledge leakage associated to coopetition. The obtained results give some clues explaining to what extent and under which conditions coopetitive strategies of cooperatives are transferable to other types of ownership arrangements across sectors.

Practical implications

Firms seeking cooperation with competitors in their R&D and internationalization processes can learn from the coopetitive arrangements analyzed in the paper.

Social implications

Findings can be valuable for sectoral associations and public bodies trying to promote coopetition and alliances between competitors as a means to benefit from collaborative advantages.


Focussing on an “ideal type” of co-operation–cooperative organizations – and having access to primary sources, the paper shows to what extent (and how) strong coopetitive structures and processes foster innovation and internationalization.



This paper forms part of a special section “Value innovation in practice: leveraging learning in distant contexts”, guest edited by Fredrik Nordin and Nishant Kumar.

This paper draws on the research project “Dirección de Innovación y Personas”, funded by the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU (GIU-15/08).

The authors would like to acknowledge interviewed managers and also professors John Storey, David Wilson and Bjorn Claes, from the Open University (UK) for their valuable advise to improve the paper.


Basterretxea, I., Charterina, J. and Landeta, J. (2019), "Coopetition and innovation. Lessons from worker cooperatives in the Spanish machine tool industry", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 6, pp. 1223-1235.



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