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Stream B: Strategic Management

via the MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation

Stream B primarily employs an interpretive approach to understand strategy. This means that we look at strategy not simply as an outcome of a rational planning process, or as the primary explanation for firm success or failure, but also as a sociological phenomenon in its own right. How managers go about their jobs, how they understand their industries or institutional fields, why they adopt particular strategic tools, deploy technologies, decide to engage in mergers or acquisitions, ritualise organisational processes beyond their functional use, or assume certain identities in order to fit particular categories are all questions of interest to us (among numerous others). We employ both rigorous qualitative and mixed methods to understand strategic management in organisations - for-profit business, NGOs, not-for-profits, state enterprises and hybrids. These might include grounded theory, case studies, ethnography discourse analysis, and other methodological techniques. The recommended foundation year for this stream is the MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation, an interdisciplinary foundation that exposes students to important organisational and strategy theories and studies.

What is strategic management?

To us, strategic management is all about making strategic decisions that affect the organisation as a whole, creating the appropriate resources and capabilities to implement these decisions and managing stakeholder relationships to create and sustain competitive advantage and maximise long-term performance of the organisation. Performance is not restricted to the traditional measures of profits, return on investment, and shareholder value but also includes environmental (ecological) and social objectives. 

The field of strategic management has grown to include broader questions about the process through which strategies are formulated, the mindsets and institutional frameworks that shape managerial and firm-level decision making, the rituals that dominate organisational processes, the discourse through which particular strategies are justified and framed, the emergence of markets, institutions and organisational forms, institutional entrepreneurship (social engineering of a sector or field), categorical imperatives that firms need to follow to avoid being penalised by analysts and other stakeholders, the role of celebrity CEOs and several others.

What are faculty research interests?

Faculty affiliated to Stream B of Strategic Management publish extensively in leading international academic journals, serve as associate editors and editorial board members of top journals and are featured regularly in the press media around the world. Their research interests are broad and span a range of topics some of which are mentioned above.

They investigate these important questions by employing a variety of rigorous research design approaches including in-depth case studies, participant observation, ethnographies, discourse analysis and mixed methods - combining these methods. 

The focus is on the factors that govern the formation and evolution of strategies at the group, functional, business, corporate, and field levels of analysis. The area draws on diverse theories including institutional theory, social movements, bounded rationality, power/politics, organisational learning, socio-cognitive theory, and many others. Research streams encompass a broad range of phenomena, including strategic decision-making, strategy implementation, strategic change, the role of chance events consensus, politics and power in strategy-making, the role of organisational actors in strategy-making and a variety of field or industry level phenomena such as the emergence of markets, institutions and understandings.

The emphasis is on a multi-dimensional view of firm strategy, its antecedents, boundaries, roles, and values, and its diverse forms of impact and performance. Students can choose any topic they like, but we encourage them to select areas that are connected to the work faculty are already doing. For example, a short selection of topics/questions might include:

  • Digital revolution: What is the role of digital media and new technologies in the evolution of organisations and industries? How is competitive advantage developed on the back of new technologies?
  • Defining performance: How can we define and analyse performance and value creation in business, in particular in organisations (e.g. not-for-profit organisations, creative and arts organisations) where multiple and sometimes, contradictory performance indicators co-exist? 
  • Corporate social responsibility: What is the role of organisations in addressing fundamental global social challenges of poverty, climate change, health inequalities and chronic disease? In particular, how is inequality created and/or institutionalised in organisations and fields? 
  • Institutional strategies: How do institutional entrepreneurs create new markets and legitimise new technologies, products or services? How does power operate in markets and industries?
  • How do industry structures arise? What role do institutional entrepreneurs play in this?
  • How do new markets emerge, especially those which require significant shifts in meaning?
  • How do new categories (e.g. impact investing) arise? How do these impact firm level strategies?
  • Emerging markets: What distinguishes businesses in emerging markets from those in developed markets in terms of organisation, diversification, expansion etc.?
  • How do firms attempting to satisfy a plurality of stakeholder interests compete and/or cooperate effectively with like-minded firms as well as with traditional competitors? 
  • What factors might explain the varying ability of management teams to fruitfully engage the firm's stakeholders to everyone's advantage and to change their firm's strategies, operations and culture to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability? 
  • How do external strategy stakeholders (such as consultants, government agencies, professional societies) influence strategy practice?
  • How does the macro environment and the institutional context impact strategy and vice versa?

What you can expect from the PhD pathway in Strategic Management (Stream B)

There are several distinguishing features that make the PhD at Cambridge Judge Business School unique. Stream B has been designed to prepare students to independently conduct high-calibre qualitative or mixed methods research in strategic management and to pursue an academic career as a faculty at a major university. Previous students are now faculty at a range of universities including London Business School and HEC (Montreal).

  • Rigorous academic training: We work with you to develop an integrated and coherent programme of study that includes intensive seminars and workshops. Students receive funds to attend cutting-edge and highly specialised qualitative or mixed research methods workshops offered by renowned scholars at other institutions. Stream B of the Strategic Management pathway trains you in the latest qualitative research methods and emerging thinking in strategic management.
  • Close research collaborations: The core feature of the programme is the close collaboration between our faculty and our doctoral students. You will work with faculty on joint research projects for presentation at top international conferences and for publication in leading academic journals. Our faculty maintain research collaborations with students long after they have graduated. 
  • Highly selective and global: The programme is highly selective. You will interact closely with outstanding fellow PhD students representing a wide variety of professional experiences, nationalities and ethnicities.
  • Connections with renowned scholars and schools around the world: Through our active research seminars and renowned visiting scholar programmes you can interact closely and collaborate with leading strategy scholars from around the world. The School also has student exchange programmes that will allow you to spend part of your PhD time at a strategic management department at a top school of your choice around the world. Our students have visited top schools such as MIT, UC-Berkeley, Stanford, Columbia, Wharton, Darden and Michigan as a part of the PhD programme. 
  • Deep engagement approach: The hallmark of the PhD programme at Cambridge Judge is its combination of high standards of academic rigour with strong practical relevance to the business world. We help you engage with organisations directly to gain access to unique data and rich insights on key strategy problems facing organisations. This engagement will help you shed new light on ongoing academic debates. This synergy of rigour and relevance is what makes the PhD at Cambridge Judge Business School unique.
  • State-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure: You will have access to comprehensive research databases, latest software and computer equipment and a fully equipped behavioural lab.

What we expect from our PhD students

Stream B of Strategic Management is highly selective and globally diverse. We welcome outstanding applicants with degrees from a variety of disciplines including business, sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, engineering, the physical sciences and humanities.

Applicants will have earned a bachelor's degree (and in some cases a master's degree) from a highly regarded university and performed within the top five per cent of their class. Please see the MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation or Master of Research (MRes) academic requirements for further details. We expect our students to demonstrate a high level of commitment to an academic career in a business school as well as a desire to engage with organisations.

We will need to see evidence of excellent writing skills. Some practical management experience is welcomed but not essential.

The Strategy & International Business group boasts expertise on a wide variety of topics ranging from business strategy and organisation theory to regional clusters and national competitiveness.

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