Ecosystem Orchestration for Firm Growth: A Longitudinal Case Study
This thesis theorises an unexplored yet significant phenomenon, ecosystem-driven corporate growth, by cross-fertilising the theory of the growth of the firm (TGF) and the ecosystem-as-coevolution view. It theoretically explains firm growth with the firm’s ecosystem resource base, and empirically examines the managerial process (i.e. ecosystem orchestration, or EO) to achieve the growth. A theoretical analogy is drawn between that a resource can render multiple services and that an ecosystem can support multiple business models (BMs). The EO, therefore, is expected to create firm growth by facilitating the virtuous cycle between a firm’s ecosystem and BMs. Moreover, several ecosystem features that may be missed by the one-way analogy, notably actor heterogeneity and environmental constraints, are considered and used to motivate the theory development. An embedded longitudinal case study of JD Group, China’s largest online retailer and its biggest overall retailer, is conducted to verify and elaborate on this emergent theory. It reveals a double-loop model of ecosystem-based corporate growth. The micro/internal loop consists of the process of ecosystem leverage (from ‘ecosystem’ to ‘BM’) and that of ecosystem accumulation (from ‘BM’ to ‘ecosystem’). However, it is premised on a macro/external loop of ecosystem resource combination and ecosystem resource mobilisation through which a BM can be established in environmental constraints. This integrative framework reflects how an underlying actor-oriented logic is related to and differentiated from the resource-based logic. It also suggests a managerial role of ecosystem orchestrator fusing Teecian asset orchestration and Penrosian resource accumulation. Moreover, this study delves into the ecosystem ontology, revealing how ecosystem structural attributes (inbound relational pluralism and outbound relational pluralism) can enable ecosystem mechanisms (ecosystem affordance and ecosystem envelopment). The EO, in turn, can be understood as managerial behaviours taking advantage of such mechanisms to create growth. The EO framework contributes to the TGF, the dynamic relational view, and the dynamic resource-based view by infusing ecosystem mechanisms into their basic principles, thereafter, helping establish the ecosystem concept in dynamic theories of strategic management. Practical implications for ecosystem and BM managers are systematically discussed.