The search for sustainable competitive advantage : a stakeholder management perspective : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Management at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Competitive advantage and stakeholder management are two important research
streams that have attracted much attention during the past two decades. Although
competitive advantage is the core issue of strategic management in which stakeholder
management is rooted, the two topics have developed seemingly independently in the
The main purpose of this thesis is to explore how stakeholder management
influences competitive advantage. The research is guided by a theoretical framework
that employs a stakeholder perspective, linking three perspectives of competitive
advantage—the resource-based view, the relational view, and the activity-position
view. The general research approach chosen is a qualitative, multiple-case study. Ten
cases were selected, from leading firms of several industries in Taiwan, and in-depth
interviews were conducted.
Results showed that a firm’s competitive advantage comes from its resource
capacity (superior resources, unique capabilities, and solid relationships) and a mix of
activities that respond to the competitive context. Competitive advantage, too, can be
analysed in terms of two components: resource advantage and positional advantage.
Stakeholder management can have significant influences on resource advantages as
stakeholders play important roles in the process of value creation. They are the
providers who supply valued resources to the firm and, as such, can act as catalysts or
hindrances that either facilitate or impede the generation of valued resources.
Successful stakeholder management strengthens a firm’s resource profile and thus
enhances its resource advantages. Stakeholder management also has considerable
influences on positional advantages, as stakeholders are relevant to activities and
drivers that determine cost and differentiation. Moreover, stakeholders are key players
in the competitive context, who help to shape the competitiveness of the firm.
The study reported that stakeholder management helps to sustain competitive
advantage through advancing a firm’s resource capacity—resource commitment,
developing capabilities, and building relationships. Stakeholder management also
generates several isolating mechanisms that preserve competitive advantage,
including time compression diseconomies, causal ambiguity, social complexity, and
transaction costs. However, in the face of ever-changing situations, managers need to
adopt different strategies for managing stakeholder relations. To achieve sustained
competitive advantage in a dynamic context, firms not only have to strengthen the
capacity of resource advantage to fit the competitive strategy, but also need to use
innovative and entrepreneurial approaches for managing their stakeholder relations.