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Investing in transferable strategic human capital through alliances in the luxury hotel industry

Michel Ferrary (Geneva School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is explore an organizational design that allows firms to invest in transferable strategic human capital. Strategic human capital requires considerable investment in training costs, effective compensation, opportunities for professional development and expectancy of long employment relationship within a firm. A firm can undertake investment in strategic knowledge and workers can engage in learning only in these circumstances. However, there are a number of risks that are associated with investment in strategic human capital within a firm. In this paper, the author argues that providing strategic human capital to other firms within alliances could be a strategy for leveraging resource. Strategic knowledge facilitates transactions between firms possessing co-specialized human capital and tangible resources. Organizational design of an alliance based on co-specialization allows to balance costs and returns for the human capital supplier, as well as for beneficiary and workers. Within an alliance, the human capital supplier provides workers to a beneficiary firm and coordinates their activities. Supplier specialized in human capital investment ensures improved performance, productivity and efficiency of workers. Possibility to form a greater pool of labor force and to centralize training allows optimizing cost and sharing risks associated with investment activity among alliance participants. Human resource practices in an alliance system foster long-term employment relationship. Entering an alliance increases number of job positions, professional development opportunities through horizontal mobility, promotion and learning opportunities for workers. Finally, alliances allow leveraging investment in human capital beyond a single organization.


This paper conceptualizes the use of alliance based on co-specialization as a strategy to optimize investment in strategic human capital resource. It draws upon the resource-based view (Barney, 1991; Wernerfelt, 1995) and transaction cost theory (Coase, 1937; Williamson, 1981) to examine an alliance as a strategy for leveraging the human capital resources for accessing new markets, building reputation and sharing the risks across more than one organization.


First, the paper reviews the theoretical literature on human capital as a strategic resource (Becker, 1962; Coff, 1997), its sourcing on internal and external labor markets and respective employment systems (Delery and Doty, 1996; Doeringer and Piore, 1971). Second, it focuses on the features of human capital resource (Barney, 1986; Chi, 1994; Doz and Hamel, 1998). Third, it conceptualizes the use of alliances based on co-specialization as organizational structures for investment in human capital across organizations and examines respective employment system and HR practices (Delery and Doty, 1996; Doeringer and Piore, 1971). As result, the author argues that an alliance can be an alternative mean to optimize returns on investment in human capital with strategic transferable knowledge. By consequence, the author describes an alliance employment system and illustrates the arguments with a case of human capital trading in a co-specialization alliance under a long-term management contract in the luxury hotel industry.


This paper discusses collaborative ventures as a sourcing strategy of the human capital. An alliance strategy is relevant for sourcing the strategic human capital resources. Human capital resource can be accessed by firms through transfer of skills and organizational routines within collaborative agreements, such as alliances based on co-specialization. In this case, alliance is an organizational architecture between organizations that improves the efficiency and productivity, reduces marginal cost on training due to larger scale of operations and reduces risk by splitting investment in human capital and by offering more career and development opportunities for strategic knowledge workers.



Ferrary, M. (2015), "Investing in transferable strategic human capital through alliances in the luxury hotel industry", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 1007-1028.



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