Large chemical firms in biotechnology : case studies on learning in radically new technologies.
The thesis analyses how large European chemical companies assimilated biotechnology
during the 1980s and what effect this had on the structure and organisation of their
innovative capabilities. Since their establishment in the early 1900s these companies have
grown, through a process of innovation and technological diversification, into very large
and successful multinational and multiproduct firms today world-wide leaders in their
sector. This was to a large extent made possible by their ability to develop internally their
own technology and master scientific and technological advance in synthetic chemistry.
The emergence of biotechnology (one of the most important and powerful generic
technologies of the 20th century) in an institutional and scientific setting largely external
to their core competences, posed them the problem of "learning" and "innovation" in new
terms. New strategies for "learning" had therefore to be developed and implemented.
Biotechnology was largely assimilated by these firms as an enabling technology rather
than a product technology and this had for them a number of implications for the
organisation of the R&D function and of searching procedures. Differences in strategic
behaviour and decision-making in the process of learning and capability building in the
new technology can be related both to structural differences in their own national system
of innovation (i. e. science system) and differences in corporate cultures (i. e. visions and
On a theoretical ground these case studies of learning in a radically new technology
question directly the concept of learning developed within an evolutionary approach to
the theory of the firm and of innovation, and provide some theoretical insights on the
links between organisational and technical change in a case of a very science based