Posts Tagged ‘globalisation’

Join my conversation about Uniqlo

October 10, 2013

Hi patient blog readers,

I’ve been making noise over at The Conversation again, this time about the arrival of various international retailers to Australia, including one of Japan’s finest: Uniqlo.

“Japanese fashion label Uniqlo and homeware store Muji will enter the Australian market next year, following other recent arrivals H&M, Topshop and Zara. Despite the purported decline of brick and mortar stores, Australian shoppers will finally be able to shop at stores they’d once only encountered overseas. It seems a far cry from only a few years ago…”

Read more here, make comments, tell you friends etc…

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See Dick jump, see Dick rant

February 1, 2012

Perennial soundbite provider Dick Smith has been very vocal in the past couple of days about the prospect of his namesake retail business falling into ‘foreign hands’. Despite him selling the electronics chain to Woolworth’s two decades ago, he is threatening to ‘trash the brand‘ if some foreign mob tries to buy it.

The logic he throws around on this (and other ‘buy Australian’ campaigns) is spurious at best.  It is very unclear why so much importance is placed on the specific ownership structure of such businesses.  Perhaps it reflects Dick’s own background as a business owner (and therefore someone who derived their income from the ‘surplus’ or profits of the firm). But for almost all stakeholders in the firm, and the overall health of the economy, the question of the location of the major shareholders (and principal decision-makers) should be of little importance.

Dick Smith Electronics sale Woolworths blog Consider the Dick Smith Electronics case.

The firm operate 433 stores across Australia and NZ (we’ll get back to this Trans-Tasman dimension in a second), and made $1.8b in sales last year.  The economic and societal impact on Australia of these operations is most heavily felt in terms of the 5300+ employees and the wages they earn (and then spend/invest), the flow of moneys to landlords, supply chain participants and other ancillary service providers.  The ‘earnings’ of the firm (i.e. the ‘surplus’ or ‘profit extracted by Woolworth’s) last year was a paltry $20m or so.

If Dick Smith Electronics were sold to a non-Australian entity, they would be buying the right to extract such profit, but also taking on the role of paying a wages bill that presumably exceeds $250m, and feeding through a lot of income to the other parts of the Dick Smith sphere of activity.  The firm would still pay taxes, rents, and provide consumers with access to products. The firm might remit profits offshore, but it’s just as likely said profits would be reinvested in Australian in an attempt to improve the business and its performance. This is hardly a case of ‘selling the farm’.

There is also one clearly irreconcilable contradiction in the jingoistic rants of Smith and other mercantilists: outward foreign direct investment.

If the logic says Aussie interests are hurt by any sort of inward investment (e.g. by acquisitions of local firms by big bad foreign folks), then surely any instance when an Australian firm expands offshore is similarly deleterious to the host nation. Where was Dick when his namesake firm made their imperialistic entre into NZ?  And when they signed agreements to ally with Tata in India?

Bluing about brewing: Will SABMiller bring on an Aussie apocalypse?

September 22, 2011

I’m not sure which is less surprising: (a) the announcement that the Foster’s Board are now supporting SABMiller’s takeover offer; or (b) the ill-informed hysteria in the tabloid press about the ‘loss of an Aussie icon’.

But let’s have a look at The Hysteria.  The grounds for concern are shaky at best.  The three main complaints are: (i) jobs may be lost; (ii) iconic brands might be neglected, and (iii) profits will head offshore.

Let’s take each complaint. First, will jobs be lost?

I can’t see massive changes to the location of manufacturing . Beer is one of the least international-trade-worthy products due to its high weight-to-value ratio and perishability.  That’s why we see so much licensing of brands across borders, contract brewing, and takeovers just like this one. So brewing jobs won’t be heading offshore (nor packaging, labelling, distribution, engineering). Likewise, technology-wise there are no real gains or innovations that are likely to change labour-capital ratios in this extremely mature industry. So, the brewery jobs should stay.  In anything, if SABMiller can successfully launch and market their deep suite of brands (which will inevitably be brewed locally), then we could actually see some upswing in manufacturing.  Any job losses that might occur are most likely to be in the (old) head-office, with some scope to reduce duplication of tasks.  Even then, I’d predict more turnover than simple shedding of positions, as SABMiller attempts to rejuvenate a pretty moribund mob.

So, will these Anglo-South African-Yankee newcomers tear down long-adored Aussie beer brands?

This is a really curious set of concerns, and based on a number of falsehoods.  Foster’s (and it’s various previous incarnations) has itself been pretty free-willing and cannibalistic in its stewardship of brands for decades. One time icons like Abbotsford Lager/Stout have been demoted, labels have been dramatically altered, sleepy bit-players have been promoted (including VB and Crown Lager) and pushed beyond their Victorian homeland, and even the headline ‘brand’ of Fosters’ holds little-to-no local market relevance (as every Aussie traveller finds themselves having to explain to befuddled foreigners).  Indeed, Foster’s has been making much higher margins on licensed foreign brands such as Corona in recent years than on these supposed national treasures. Yet local ‘Aussie battlers’ haven’t been hitting the airwaves to protest that ‘treachery’.

It is in SABMiller’s interests to maintain and perhaps even revitalise the fortunes of many/all of the aforementioned product lines.  Given Foster’s retreat from foreign beer markets in the past decade, SABMiller taking ownership of these Aussie brands might indeed be the best chance of seeing more than a token blue and white can of Australian ale on overseas shelves.  My personal hope: that SABMiller promotes the much tastier Fat Yak as a higher end export (and maybe also Blue Tongue which I’m guessing comes with the suite of CCAmatil/Pacific Beverages assets that appear to be part of this deal).  That would be doing a lot more to improve Australia’s beer reputation than the currently bland product licensing.

Of course, SABMiller will presumably also increase the availability of its broader range of international brands.  That will test the ‘loyalty’ of died-in-the-wool Aussie drinkers.  But that isn’t SABMiller’s problem or fault.

Finally, won’t profits head offshore?

Firstly, it’s not clear how the average Australia benefitted from Foster’s profits up to now.  Sure, the firm paid taxes, but so will SABMiller.  Shareholders got returns (although pretty paltry ones in recent years given the wine debacle), but they are also getting a decent premium in the takeover.  And if they want to keep getting a piece of the action, SABMiller is listed on the London stock exchange (and in Johannesburg). Again, SABMiller is likely to be making more generous investments in revitalising the Foster’s business in the coming years than the incumbent management have been, so it remains unclear that this is a case where the business is going to be ‘taken offshore’.

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So, in conclusion, I’m arguing that this particular foreign takeover is likely to be one the least harmful we see in Australia in the near future. The nature of the industry is one that doesn’t lend itself to offshoring of key functions, and we should be more interested in what it might do to resurrect a dull duopoly market.

 

Westfield gets a Brazilian… and goes Italiano

August 12, 2011

It is rare to see an Australian multinational announce two international expansion moves in the same week. And it’s even rarer when said moves are to two different continents.

Shopping centre giant Westfield made two such announcements this week, with joint ventures signed in firstly, Brazil, and today, Italy.

As I wrote about in a book chapter on Westfield a few years ago, the firm has typically been reluctant to seek opportunities beyond the English-speaking world.  The firm entered the US way back in 1977, with a portfolio of properties slowly emerging over the coming two decades.

Westfield succeeded in the US by buying run-down malls that no one visited anymore and turning them around through innovative redevelopment projects.  Most competitors in the industry preferred building new malls.

By the late 1990s Westfield had emerged as the dominant player on the US scene, and continued to grow right through to the global financial crisis.

In the broader world, they have been more cautious.  As we argued in the chapter:

“Westfield’s internationalisation was never a story of extreme risk-taking.  Frank Lowy saw little value in acting as the pioneer in environments where the payoffs were too low.  As long as there were opportunities to be had in the US, then Europe, Asia and New Zealand could wait. Eventually in 1997 the group took over the management of ten St Luke shopping centres in New Zealand. In 2000 Westfield Trust and St Lukes Group merged and the New Zealand centres were re-branded as Westfield centres. Attempts to enter the UK market in the 1970s and 1980s were unsuccessful. Lowy expressed considerable frustration with the lack of dynamism in the UK investment houses and lack of planning enthusiasm (Margo, 2000). Not until early 2000 did Westfield finally obtain access with a 75 per cent stake in a centre at Broadmarsh, Nottingham. The firm has made considerable headway since, with seven centres on the books, and is set to open the largest centre in Greater London in early 2008. Westfield briefly entered Asia in 1998 with a ten per cent share of Suria Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia.  This investment was short-lived, however, with the company withdrawing in 2000 after the Asian currency crisis.”

So why has the firm moved now?

On the Brazil front, the firm is tapping into one of the most exciting and fast-growing large economies in the world.  The firm may see some useful urban similarities to Australia and tthe US (i.e. more ‘wide, open spaces’ in the ‘burbs), and Brazil may also be seen as far less challenging than China and India for example (with much less government intrusion likely).

At the same time the firm may see far fewer prospects in the moribund US economy and its close-to-saturated Aussie home.

Bringing a local, experienced joint venture partner is a very sensible move for a multinational with no experience in the market. While Westfield hasn’t typically hooked up with shopping centre management firms before (preferring instead to court construction firm and funds management partners – i.e. in essence, supply partners), local adaptation is clearly front of mind here. There should also be an appetite for knowledge acquisition on both sides of this equation.

The Italian move looks a little riskier, with patchier economic conditions and a reputation for bureaucratic randomness.  There may be an argument for very localised attractiveness here, as the firm is targeting one of the wealthier and more retail-savvy parts of the nation – Milan (also home to some of the oldest shopping arcades in the world). Indeed, this could also be a brand-building exercise in a city/region with no shortage of brand champions, especially in the luxury and masstige segments Westfield is keen to attract across its empire.

The final piece of this strategic puzzle might well rest on the role of individuals in both constraining and driving choices.

Firm founder Frank Lowy finally handed over the reins to his baby about five months ago (stepping down as Executive Chairman).  His sons appear to stamping their mark on the firm’s future with these two bold (but tentative) moves.

The rise and fall of globalisation

December 22, 2010

I just stumbled across a nifty new Google tool called the Google Labs Books Ngram Viewer, which allows users to compare the occurence of particular words or phrases over time within the enormous repository of scanned books with Google land.

I thought an International Business readership might be interested in the rise and fall of some of our most important terms over recent decades (click on the graphs for larger versions and the full search parameters).

Here’s globalisation:

And with the US spelling, and also capitalised (i.e. globalization, Globalization, Globalisation):

The latter graph is for a longer timeframe (right back to 1900). Both figures show the steep rise in the use of the term from the late 1980s (coinciding with a surge in foreign direct investment and increasing numbers of newly multinational firms).  A plateau and then decline in usage around 2003 is certainly noticeable.  I’m guessing the phenomenon has become much less discussion-worthy as the various features (greater connectedness, trade, investment etc) became more commonplace (or perhaps less controversial).

Here are the various single word versions of multinationals (since 1960):

It is quite surprising that the term rose considerably earlier, but did not grown along with globalisation. The two-word versions look very similar:

International business, global strategy, multinational strategy, transnational strategy all peaked around 1990 too. Global strategy had the most substantial dropoff, reflecting perhaps the splintering of terminology and concepts to more fine-grained conceptualisations of competitive advantage:

Foreign direct investment rose up through the literature from the early 1970s, shot up in the mid-1980s, but fell in this millenium:

What other terms should we look at?