This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
spacer gif
You are in: Learning English > General & Business English > Handy Guide
Learning English
spacer gif
The Handy Guide to the Gurus of Management
Charles Handy was, for many years, a professor at the London Business School. He is now an independent writer and broadcaster. He describes himself, these days, as a social philosopher.

United Nations
Episode 12: Michael Porter
  Listen to the radio programme in full
  Download the complete script (pdf)
    (Can't read pdf file? Get free Acrobat Reader)


Porter suggested that there were just three generic strategies for managers to choose from if they wanted to gain competitive advantage, something that he believed was the underlying purpose of every business.

You could make things as cheaply as possible and become the lowest cost producer in a market.

Alternatively you could offer something special or different which would allow you to command a premium price.

Or, thirdly, you could choose to be what he called a focused producer, looking to dominate in a niche market, so that others would find it too difficult to challenge you.

To help you choose which strategy to adopt, Porter says you need to decide which of five types of industry you are in:


Then, he says, you need to examine the five forces of competition:

the threat of substitute products
the threat of new entrants
the bargaining power of suppliers
the bargaining power of buyers
the state of rivalry among existing companies

Always try to do things in ways that are hard for other companies to copy. Finding that unique position isn't always obvious, in the end, says Porter, it comes down to creativity and insight - and strong leadership, the willingness to make hard choices and to take a stand against the conventional wisdom of the industry.

In 'The Competitive Advantage of Nations', published in 1990, Porter moved his attention from the problems of competition in business to the issues of competing nations. Globalisation, it seems, does not mean that everything is the same everywhere. National differences still matter.

There are four factors, Porter suggested, that help to make a nation competitive:

tough domestic rivalry
country resources
country infrastructure (including the educational quality of its workforce)
the cluster phenomenon

A cluster is a critical mass, in one geographical space, of similar businesses, all supported by their specialist suppliers and services that are tied to that industry. You can stay small, in other words, and still have the advantage of being big.

In my next and final talk we'll meet Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner.

Read Michael Porter's biography

Some useful business words:

proposed, put forward for consideration

gain competitive advantage
succeed over the competition

underlying purpose
hidden intention

command a premium price
to deserve and receive a high price for something

niche market
special place in the market occupied by one company

to challenge
to fight, to try and take over from


plan of future action

new entrants
new companies who enter a market

bargaining power
strength of one person or group when discussing prices

to take a stand
to declare what your definite position is

a cluster
a number of things of the same kind grouped closely together

BBC World Business
Business Words in the News
Other gurus
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us