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Moving early to address each structural change is as important in global competition as it is in domestic competition, if not more so. The ultimate leaders in many global industries often are among the first firms to perceive a new strategy and implement it globally. For example, Boeing was the first global competitor in aircraft, Honda in motorcycles, IBM in computers, and Kodak in film. American and British firms persist as leaders in a wide range of consumer packaged goods in no small part because they pioneered global strategies.


Benefits to moving early are extended by global competition. Early movers reap the additional benefit of being the first to establish a worldwide network. This, in turn, can lead to reputation, scale, and learning advantages. Positions resting on such advantages can be held for decades if not longer. In tobacco, whiskey, and bone china, for example, British firms have sustained leadership for over a century despite the general decline in British industry. Similar examples of long-lived international leadership can be found in Germany (printing presses, chemicals), America (soft drinks, movies, computers), and virtually all other advanced nations.

The reasons for shifts in international competitive position are no different from the more general ones I discussed earlier. Established international leaders lose position if they stand still while industry structural change provides the opportunity for new firms to leapfrog to a new generation of products or process technology. The international scale economies, reputations, and relationships with distribution channels of established leaders are thereby nullified. For example, traditional leaders have lost out to Japanese competitors in a number of industries that were transformed by electronics (such as machine tools) or where mass-production techniques superseded traditional batch production (such as cameras or forklift trucks). Entrenched leaders are also overcome if new firms perceive and exploit new market segments that have been ignored. Italian companies saw the opportunity in domestic appliances, for example, to produce compact, standardized models using mass-production methods and to sell them to the emerging retail chains in Europe under the retailers' private labels. By aggressively developing this rapidly growing new segment, Italian appliance companies became the European leaders. Firms that move first to capitalize on the structural changes often become the new leaders because they reap the next round of early mover advantages. There are strong national influences on the ability of firms to do so, and firms from one or two nations frequently emerge as global leaders in an industry, as I have discussed earlier.

The ability to sustain leadership gained from past strategy is sometimes the result of the good fortune that there is little industry change. More Rely, however, it results from constant innovation to adapt to changing circumstances. In subsequent chapters, I will explore in detail the national characteristics that cause this to happen. The forces that propel a nation's firms to sustain their positions once achieved are at the heart of national competitive advantage.