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Project Assignment

 In consultation with the professor, you are to choose two companies in the same industry and prepare an analysis/comparison of the them based on the criteria below. (No two students may choose the same companies.) To the extent possible, use the comparison to illuminate effective vs. ineffective ways to run a company.  Please read and reread these requirements.

The project report is to be double spaced typed/printed, 12-18 pages in length, with normal-sized type (not courier -- use Times or similar) and margins. It is better to turn in a tight and coherent 12 page paper than a rambling and padded 16 page one.

Best results come with companies that are similar but have clear and interesting differences. For example, one big and diversified and one small and focused, one privately held and one publicly traded, one established and one new, one low cost and one full service, etc. It is not necessary for the two firms to be the major competitors of each other, but they should overlap substantially in their industries. If you know, or can find, people who work for at least one of the companies then this may make for a more insightful treatment. Also, remember that many well known brands (Burger King, Pillsbury, Old Navy, etc) are just small parts of larger diversified corporations -- it is fine to focus more on one particular division, but you will have to talk about the firm as a whole and it does make it harder to isolate its performance. Finally, you'll be able to find more hard information on publicly traded companies because of disclosure requirements.

When grading, attention will be paid to each of the main areas listed below. While you will focus on some more than others, try to cover each one. If you want to change the focus of the assignment to omit certain areas then you must clear this with me at the planning stages.

  1. A history of the companies and the industry of which they are part. When and why did they come into existence? Did changing technology play a role? How did they enter the businesses in which they currently operate? How did they compete with established firms, and what threats have they faced from newer entrants.
  2. Current strategic position of the companies. Remember the three basic questions: what business are we in? What are our capabilities? How do our capabilities match our position ("fit" in Porter's terms)? Also, do the companies occupy sustainable niches or are they subject to imitation? What, if anything, does each do better than other firms in the same industry? What tradeoffs has the company made -- what does it choose not to do? (That may be the most important question of all).
  3. Corporate culture and leadership. How are these companies organized and led? What are their cultures (try to get actual evidence, from press reports or even interviews rather than just quoting from glossy promotional materials)? Do their cultures fit with their strategies? What techniques do they use to motivate employees?
  4. Operations and Execution. How well do they execute the the strategies? How have they fared against each other and against other competitors (and why)? Have they used production and/or marketing for strategic purposes?
  5. Computer and information systems. Have they been effective at using computer and information systems to improve efficiency or for strategic purposes? Has their use of information technology departed from standard practice in their industry?
  6. International situation. What international opportunities or threats do they face? How important is this to them and what have they done to take advantage/ protect themselves? Has the international situation affected their US business?
  7. Ethics and social responsibility. Have they faced any important ethical issues and, if so, how have they dealt with them? Has social responsibility been a concern or an opportunity--and what have they done? (Think more than charity work and pollution -- treatment of layoffs, gender and race discrimination, poor treatment of suppliers, that kind of thing).
  8. Comparison. In a conclusion, compare the two companies in terms of the above issues. What can we learn about effective ways to manage a company from this comparison? (This may suggest that it would be wise to choose companies with significant differences in terms of their organization, strategy, marketing, etc.)

Presentation is important, so write grammatically and clearly. Think of this as a major report to your boss. Your written project should include a bibliography and full references in the text. That is, wherever information is provided, there should be a note in the text to give its source. This includes, but is not limited to, direct quotes. (Direct quotes should always be introduced--never thrown in to stand on their own.) The format of the noting is up to you; just be certain that it is clear and consistent. Do not rely heavily on material from the corporate homepages; rather, seek out books as well as articles in major newspapers and magazines. Ignoring this is the surest way to get a bad grade.

A caveat: Many companies will provide you with material that makes them look like "The best thing since sliced bread," saying, for example, that they are the innovators in their industry or the market leaders. Some of this hype is for their own internal consumption and for marketing purposes. Their competitors may be saying exactly the same things about themselves, so beware, be careful, and be critical.

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Thomas Haigh -- email tdhaigh@colby.edu.    Home: www.tomandmaria.com/tom. Updated 04/27/2002.