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1.6: Global Strategy and Risk

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    Even with the best planning, globalization carries substantial risks. Many globalization strategies represent a considerable stretch of the company’s experience base, resources, and capabilities.This section draws on Behrendt and Khanna (2004). The firm might target new markets, often in new—for the company—cultural settings. It might seek new technologies, initiate new partnerships, or adopt market-share objectives that require earlier or greater commitments than current returns can justify. In the process, new and different forms of competition can be encountered, and it could turn out that the economics model that got the company to its current position is no longer applicable. Often, a more global posture implies exposure to different cyclical patterns, currency, and political risk. In addition, there are substantial costs associated with coordinating global operations. As a consequence, before deciding to enter a foreign country or continent, companies should carefully analyze the risks involved. In addition, companies should recognize that the management style that proved successful on a domestic scale might turn out to be ineffective in a global setting.

    Over the last 25 years, Western companies have expanded their activities into parts of the world that carry risks far greater than those to which they are accustomed. According to Control Risks Group, a London-based international business consultancy, multinational corporations are now active in more than 100 countries that are rated “medium” to “extreme” in terms of risk, and hundreds of billions are invested in countries rated “fairly” to “very” corrupt. To mitigate this risk, companies must understand the specific nature of the relationship between corporate globalization and geopolitics, identify the various types of risk globalization exposes them to, and adopt strategies to enhance their resilience.

    Such an understanding begins with the recognition that the role of multinational corporations in the evolving global-geopolitical landscape continues to change. The prevailing dogma of the 1990s held that free-market enterprise and a liberal economic agenda would lead to more stable geopolitical relations. The decline of interstate warfare during this period also provided a geopolitical environment that enabled heavy consolidation across industries, resulting in the emergence of “global players,” that is, conglomerates with worldwide reach. The economy was paramount; corporations were almost unconstrained by political and social considerations. The greater international presence of business and increasing geopolitical complexity also heightened the exposure of companies to conflict and violence, however. As they became larger, they became more obvious targets for attack and increasingly vulnerable because their strategies were based on the assumption of fundamentally stable geopolitical relations.

    In recent years, the term “global player” has acquired a new meaning, however. Previously a reference exclusively to an economic role, the term now describes a company that has, however unwillingly, become a political actor as well. And, as a consequence, to remain a global player today, a firm must be able to survive not only economic downturns but also geopolitical shocks. This requires understanding that risk has become an endemic reality of the globalization process—that is, no longer simply the result of conflict in one country or another but something inherent in the globalized system itself.

    Globalization risk can be of a political, legal, financial-economic, or sociocultural nature. Political risk relates to politically induced actions and policies initiated by a foreign government. Crises such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Pakistan, instability in the Korean peninsula, and the recent global financial crisis have made geopolitical uncertainty a key component of formulating a global strategy. The effect of these events and the associated political decisions on energy, transportation, tourism, insurance, and other sectors demonstrates the massive consequences that crises, wars, and economic meltdowns, wherever and however they may take place, can have on business.

    Political risk assessment involves an evaluation of the stability of a country’s current government and of its relationships with other countries. A high level of risk affects ownership of physical assets and intellectual property and security of personnel, increasing the potential for trouble. Analysts frequently divide political risk into two subcategories: global and country-specific risk. Global risk affects all of a company’s multinational operations, whereas country-specific risk relates to investments in a specific foreign country. We can distinguish between macro and micro political risk. Macro risk is concerned with how foreign investment in general in a particular country is affected. By reviewing the government’s past use of soft policy instruments, such as blacklisting, indirect control of prices, or strikes in particular industries, and hard policy tools, such as expropriation, confiscation, nationalization, or compulsory local shareholding, a company can be better prepared for potential future government action. At the micro level, risk analysis is focused on a particular company or group of companies. A weak balance sheet, questionable accounting practices, or a regular breach of contracts should give rise to concerns.

    Legal risk is risk that multinational companies encounter in the legal arena in a particular country. Legal risk is often closely tied to political country risk. An assessment of legal risk requires analyzing the foundations of a country’s legal system and determining whether the laws are properly enforced. Legal risk analysis therefore involves becoming familiar with a country’s enforcement agencies and their scope of operation. As many companies have learned, numerous countries have written laws protecting a multinational’s rights, but these laws are rarely enforced. Entering such countries can expose a company to a host of risks, including the loss of intellectual property, technology, and trademarks.

    Financial or economic risk in a foreign country is analogous to operating and financial risk at home. The volatility of a country’s macroeconomic performance and the country’s ability to meet its financial obligations directly affect performance. A nation’s currency competitiveness and fluctuation are important indicators of a country’s stability—both financial and political—and its willingness to embrace changes and innovations. In addition, financial risk assessment should consider such factors as how well the economy is being managed, the level of the country’s economic development, working conditions, infrastructure, technological innovation, and the availability of natural and human resources.

    Societal or cultural risk is associated with operating in a different sociocultural environment. For example, it might be advisable to analyze specific ideologies; the relative importance of ethnic, religious, and nationalistic movements; and the country’s ability to cope with changes that will, sooner or later, be induced by foreign investment. Thus, elements such as the standard of living, patriotism, religious factors, or the presence of charismatic leaders can play a huge role in the evaluation of these risks.

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