Business relationships in the automotive and component industries in Portugal
Partnering has been the most commonly used term to describe collaboration between a buyer and its direct supplier. The automotive industry has been the basis for the development of most studies on the subject. Despite the many studies on partnering, some people share the view that largely missing from the literature is a clear definition of this concept and of how it operates within dyadic (i.e. between a buyer and its direct suppliers), network and firm contexts. This is found to be particularly important if automotive companies geographically spread in the globe are to be properly managed. The purpose of the research presented in this thesis was to explore inter-firm collaboration and partnering between a subsidiary of a motor vehicle manufacturer and its direct suppliers, taking into account the ownership ties of firms, such as those of multinational corporations (MNCs). The objective was to generate new knowledge on how inter-firm collaboration and partnering operate and on the factors that influence the business relationships that are established between the referred companies. The researcher followed a single case study research strategy in order to develop a new and empirically grounded understanding, while favouring contextualisation and complexity. The researcher adopted a triangulated research design in which quantitative and qualitative data were gathered in two stages, through a self-administered mailed questionnaire and in-depth interviews, respectively. The findings suggest that: (a) relationships can be characterised by several dimensions, (i.e. commitment, trust, win-win, long-term orientation, co-ordination, joint problem solving, flexibility, mutual dependence) each of which is a mix of collaborative and non-collaborative elements; (b) a diversified scenario of relationships can be explained by the different combinations of several contextual factors (i.e. organisational, relational, spatial and network); the importance of each needs to be weighted and hierarchised; (c) the network affects both to enable and constrain the freedom of action at the level of the customer supplier dyad; and (d) partnering is contingent on the position, role and influence at different points in the network. The research argues that relationship management can be enhanced through the application of analytical tools to the assessment of business relationships. New frameworks for analysis are presented as significant contributions to knowledge, among a series of theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions. The researcher suggests directions for research which will further enhance the understanding of inter-firm collaboration and partnering and business relationships within a multinational network context.