Research and teaching
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Alicia Barroso, Marco Giarratana, Samira Reis and Olav Sorenson

The performance of firms depends not just on the structure of the industries in which they compete but also on their relative positioning within those industries, in terms of operating within particular niches. We propose that demand for these niches depends endogenously on the historical ecology of the products offered: Niches become saturated – reduced in their ability to support products – as a large number of previous offerings allows the audience to satisfy its desire for products of a particular type. Analyzing the survival rates of television series aired in the United States from 1946 to 2003, we found that the survival rates of future entrants fell with the extensiveness of recent offerings in the niche, and that the negative association between crowding and survival also weakened with this saturation.

Strategic Management Journal, 24 (2015): forthcoming

Inna Galperin and Olav Sorenson

Existing research on categories has only examined indirectly the value associated with being a member of a category relative to the value of the set of attributes that determine membership in that category. This study uses survey data to analyze consumers’ preferences for the “organic” label versus for the attributes underlying that label. We found that consumers generally preferred products with the category label to those with the attributes required for the organic label but without the label. We also found that the value accorded to the organic label increased with the number of attributes that an individual associated with the category. Category membership nevertheless still had greater value than even that of the sum of the attributes associated with it.

PLoS One, 9 (2014): e103002

Olav Sorenson and Michelle Rogan

Interorganizational relationships connect people affiliated with organizations rather than corporate actors themselves. The managers and owners of organizations therefore do not always control these connections and consequently often cannot profit from them. We discuss the circumstances under which individuals (versus organizations) “own” these relationships (and therefore also the social capital generated by them). Three factors increase the odds of individual ownership: (i) the extent to which the resources valued by alters belong to the individual (rather than the organization), (ii) the degree to which alters feel greater indebtedness to the individual than the organization, and (iii) the extent to which relationships involve emotional attachment. We discuss the implications of the locus of ownership, argue that these distinctions can help to explain many results that appear inconsistent on the surface, and call for future research to pay closer attention to these issues.

Annual Review of Sociology, 40 (2014): 261-280

Michael S. Dahl and Olav Sorenson

Studies have consistently found that entrepreneurs who enter industries in which they have prior experience as employees perform better than others. We nevertheless know relatively little about what accounts for these differences. The presumed explanation has generally been that these entrepreneurs benefit from the knowledge that they gained in their former jobs. But they might also differ from other entrepreneurs on a variety of other dimensions: Preferential access to resources or differing motivations, for example, may account for their decisions to enter known industries instead of new ones. Combining novel data from a representative survey of entrepreneurs in Denmark with a matched employer-employee database of all residents in Denmark, we examined how entrepreneurs with prior industry experience differed from those without and the extent to which these differences could account for the performance premium associated with prior industry experience. We found that those with industry experience came from younger, smaller and more profitable firms, and that they recruited more experienced employees, worked harder and placed less value on having flexible hours. The recruitment of more experienced employees and the greater effort exerted appeared to account for at least some of the performance advantage associated with prior industry experience.

Industrial and Corporate Change, 23 (2014): 661-688

Michelle Rogan and Olav Sorenson

Numerous studies have found that mergers and acquisitions destroy value. What might account for these poor decisions? Using comprehensive data from the advertising industry, we found that the probability of being acquired rose but that the performance of merged entities declined – both losing clients and selling less to the clients retained – with the number of common clients (indirect ties) connecting the target to the acquirer. Two potential mechanisms could account for this pattern of results. Either managers hold (positively) biased beliefs about those connected to them through common clients, or they restrict their searches for potential acquisition partners to those they already know, despite the disadvantages of doing so.

Administrative Science Quarterly, 59 (2014): 301-329

Olav Sorenson

Status and reputation have often been treated as synonyms. These concepts, however, arise from disconnected literatures in which they had quite distinct connotations. This article explores the similarities and differences between these theoretical constructs, discusses the extent to which research in the management literature has captured one versus the other, and proposes a path for moving forward our understanding of these concepts.

Strategic Organization, 12 (2014): 62-69

Gabriel Natividad and Olav Sorenson

Many streams of literature have recognized that firms with broader scope frequently underperform those with greater focus and a variety of mechanisms have been proposed to explain this effect. Here, we examine the extent to which resource constraints, such as limited managerial attention, might contribute to the poor performance of firms that engage multiple markets. We use fine-grained data on the film industry to identify cases in which a distributor opens a film in theaters and concurrently releases an older title to home video. Our results demonstrate that being exposed to unexpected volatility – a competitive threat – during a theatrical opening leads the distributor to suffer a loss in sales on the concurrent home video release. Further analysis revealed that managers responded to these competitive threats by intensifying the advertising and promotion of their films in theaters, suggesting that they diverted resources and attention away from home video.

Markus Reitzig and Olav Sorenson

We propose that the failure to adopt an idea or innovation can arise from an in-group bias among employees within an organizational subunit that leads the subunit’s members to undervalue systematically ideas associated with members of the organization outside their subunit. Such biases in internal selection processes can stymie organizational adaptation and therefore depress the performance of the firm. Analyzing data on innovation proposals inside a large, multinational consumer goods firm, we find that evaluators are biased in favor of ideas submitted by individuals that work in the same division and facility as they do, particularly when they belong to small or high-status subunits.

Strategic Management Journal, 22 (2013): 782-799

Samira Reis, Giacomo Negro, Olav Sorenson, Fabrizio Perretti and Alessandro Lomi

The theory of resource partitioning proposes that competition among generalists in the center of a market can trigger a process of resource release that engenders a proliferation of specialist producers outside the center. Previous research has generally examined the relationship between this proliferation and market concentration – a correlate of competitive intensity in the center of the market. In this paper, we extend the theory by arguing that resource release also occurs as the degree of competitive overlap among producers in the center intensifies, even when concentration or other structural features do not vary; we expand its implications by demonstrating that increased competitive overlap in the market center should enhance the viability of producers positioned near the center more than those in the periphery; and we enrich and complete it by specifying the additional assumptions needed to extend the theory of resource partitioning to entry processes. Consistent with our expectations, an empirical examination of the Italian broadcast television industry, from 1992 to 2003, finds that the failure rates of both near-center and peripheral organizations decline in response to increasing competitive overlap in the programming of the national broadcasters, with the failure rates of the near-center organizations falling more than those of peripheral organizations. Increasing competitive overlap similarly stimulates the entry of near-center organizations more than peripheral ones.

Industrial and Corporate Change, 22 (2013): 459-487

Michael S. Dahl and Olav Sorenson

Entrepreneurs, even more than employees, tend to locate in regions in which they have deep roots. Here, we examine the performance implications of these choices. Whereas one might expect entrepreneurs with deep roots to perform better because of their richer endowments of social capital, they might also perform worse if their location choices rather reflect a preference for spending time with family and friends. We examine this question using comprehensive data on the Danish population. Entrepreneurs’ ventures perform better – survive longer and generate greater cash flows and cumulative profits – when they locate in regions in which they have deep roots (“home” regions). This effect appears substantial, similar in magnitude to the value of having prior experience in the industry entered (i.e. specific human capital).

Management Science, 58 (2012):1059-1071