CONGLOMERATE DIVERSIFICATION - Strategic Management

Conglomerate diversification occurs when a firm diversifies into areas that are unrelated to its current line of business. Synergy may result through the application of management expertise or financial resources, but the primary purpose of conglomerate diversification is improved profitability of the acquiring firm. Little, if any, concern is given to achieving marketing or production synergy with conglomerate diversification.

One of the most common reasons for pursuing a conglomerate growth strategy is that opportunities in a firm's current line of business are limited. Finding an attractive investment opportunity requires the firm to consider alternatives in other types of business. Philip Morris's acquisition of Miller Brewing was a conglomerate move. Products, markets, and production technologies of the brewery were quite different from those required to produce cigarettes.

Firms may also pursue a conglomerate diversification strategy as a means of increasing the firm's growth rate. As discussed earlier, growth in sales may make the company more attractive to investors. Growth may also increase the power and prestige of the firm's executives. Conglomerate growth may be effective if the new area has growth opportunities greater than those available in the existing line of business.

Probably the biggest disadvantage of a conglomerate diversification strategy is the increase in administrative problems associated with operating unrelated businesses. Managers from different divisions may have different backgrounds and may be unable to work together effectively. Competition between strategic business units for resources may entail shifting resources away from one division to another. Such a move may create rivalry and administrative problems between the units.

Caution must also be exercised in entering businesses with seemingly promising opportunities, especially if the management team lacks experience or skill in the new line of business. Without some knowledge of the new industry, a firm may be unable to accurately evaluate the industry's potential. Even if the new business is initially successful, problems will eventually occur. Executives from the conglomerate will have to become involved in the operations of the new enterprise at some point. Without adequate experience or skills (Management Synergy) the new business may become a poor performer.

Without some form of strategic fit, the combined performance of the individual units will probably not exceed the performance of the units operating independently. In fact, combined performance may deteriorate because of controls placed on the individual units by the parent conglomerate. Decision-making may become slower due to longer review periods and complicated reporting systems.

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