The spectre of declining international competitiveness has haunted Britain since the latter half of the nineteenth century; but the need to improve the market performance of Britain's manufacturing industry in the light of the chronic decline in world market share, the rising penetration of manufactured imports in the domestic market, and a growing increase in the deficit on the balance of UK trade in manufactures, has been particularly stridently stated throughout the post‐war period. Numerous reports and academic studies have been generated that have tended to concentrate for the most part on the reasons for the poor economic performance. A pot pourri of explanations have been offered, ranging from an emphasis on traditional “empire” and hence captive markets, an inadequate educational system, and an over concentration of scarce R&D resources on defence sectors, through to a lack of a sufficiently inspired marketing orientation, a failure to invest in the longer term (because of inter alia the myopia of the UK financial community) and insufficient effort directed towards being technologically innovative. Within these it might be discerned lie the seeds of a range of policy prescriptions and strategies. The problem is that many of these tend to reside in the province of Government or are too general to have any effective relevance for management. What is needed is a more “on the ground” approach founded on a deeper understanding of how individual businesses establish a competitive position in their particular market, and the means that their managers employ to preserve competitiveness. It is also clear that one needs to explore the notion of competitiveness, which has received a glib notoriety, and possibly a variety of confused and probably in some cases meaningless interpretations. We have therefore established a research programme at UMIST aimed at exploring the nature of new technology sectors, the implications for, in particular, strategic management of businesses operating in them, and the competitive strategies such businesses employ. In this way we aimed to draw out some lessons on competitiveness.
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