Specializing in generality: firm strategies when intermediate markets work

Raffaele Conti, Alfonso Gambardella, Elena Novelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This paper studies the relationship between two decisions shaping the organizational configuration of a firm: whether to make the upstream resources more general and deployable to more markets (versus keeping them tailored to a few markets) and whether to trade with downstream firms as an upstream supplier of intermediate products and services (versus directly entering downstream markets). Although the literature has looked at these two decisions separately, we argue that they depend on each other. This has the important implication that they can generate organizational complementarities, inducing firms to implement them jointly. We are motivated in particular by the observation that an increasing number of firms invest in general upstream resources and exploit them as upstream suppliers of intermediate services or products-a strategy that we refer to as specialization in generality. Interestingly, prior literature has mostly highlighted the use of general upstream resources to enter new downstream markets.We identify the supply and demand conditions under which specialization in generality is instead more likely to emerge: lack of prior downstream assets on the supply side and a roughly equal distribution of buyers across intermediate markets (a "broad" demand) on the demand side.We test our predictions using a sample of firms in the U.S. laser industry between 1993 and 2001.Aregulatory shock that increases the value of trading relative to downstream entry provides the setting for a quasi-natural experiment, which corroborates our theoretical predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-150
Number of pages25
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Downstream entry
  • Intermediate markets
  • Technology generality
  • Technology trading


Dive into the research topics of 'Specializing in generality: firm strategies when intermediate markets work'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this