"Strategic Alliances in the Energy Sector"
: Understanding performance from the perspective of process theories of change

  • Joaquin Rafael Figueroa Gallardo

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Economic, technological, informational, social and political factors are driving organisations to pursue different forms to enable them to respond more quickly to a dynamic and changing environment. The relationship between business organisations and stakeholders has been evolving. The internationalisation of firms requires the development of skills and knowledge to enable them to compete through cooperation in the form of strategic alliances.

    The energy industry is high profile in many countries as natural resources are considered to be of national or public interest. The development of activities in this sector are highly influenced by economic, political and social factors. In the energy sector, which is different from other industries, the formation of strategic alliances has been normal practice. In order to face the challenges of an industry where cooperation is essential, the expectation is that their relevance as part of business practice will only increase.

    Despite their popularity, strategic alliances have a high failure rate. Consequently, there is a need to understand how and why strategic alliances succeed or fail in order to enhance the understanding of their performance. Research in the field is extensive but fragmented and there is insufficient literature on strategic alliances which takes a process theory approach. Conventional processes for the development of strategic alliances fail to integrate the wider elements which influence the alliance’s performance. Therefore, the research aim is to gain an in-depth understanding of the performance of strategic alliances in the energy sector. This is achieved through a qualitative study conducting comprehensive, semi-structured interviews with those with experience in strategic alliance development.

    Findings and literature show that each strategic alliance is unique - there is no a single definition. There are different types of strategic alliance and this could contribute to viewing strategic alliances as complex. In a dynamic and uncertain environment there is a need for flexibility and the capacity to adapt and accommodate change. The selection of the type of strategic alliance influences the degree of freedom to manage them. This highlights the degree of influence of the individual over the organisation and suggests considering this in the light of institutional theory, and around agency theory.

    Performance measurement is complex and requires a multi-perspective approach which includes softer metrics and taking stakeholders’ preferences into consideration. Partnering is complex; managing more that one organisation is difficult as they have different cultures and ways of working. The sense of equity of rewards for each partner impacts performance. Change is natural and complex, expectations, interests and objectives shift and failure could be merely a perception.

    Managers in alliances are constrained by the structure selected. In addition, they can face a dilemma over a conflict loyalty to the parent organisation and have some concerns about the future of their career. Furthermore, they expect endorsement from executives who influence the alliance through their decisions on structure and selection of management. The skills of managers are, therefore, important in enhancing performance within each alliance. The likelihood is that strategic alliances, and the rationale for implanting them, is going to continue to be relevant. The increasing participation of communities in these complex business decisions is also an important factor for consideration.

    My contribution to theory lies in developing a holistic dynamic multi-perspective process model of strategic alliances, integrating different theoretical approaches, the literature review, the findings of this research, and, finally, my personal experience in the field. The model created in this thesis utilises the explicated data themes to provide a framework in which strategic alliances can be analysed and performance understood. This framework also has practical implications which assists in the prevention of problems and poses possible solutions to make strategic alliances in the energy sector work more effectively.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsPetróleos Mexicano
    SupervisorGraeme Martin (Supervisor) & Ian Robson (Supervisor)


    • Strategic alliances
    • Energy
    • Process theory
    • Performance

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