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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Spending the inheritance : undifferentiated production and the competitive dynamics of the post-war forest industry: the case of British Columbia forest products and MacMillan Bloedel 1945-1979 Kennedy, Graham E.


The continued production of undifferentiated products in the B.C. forest industry has fascinated and divided provincial historians. The causes of this orientation of production are varied and complex. The provincial government and British Columbia's forest companies have each played a role in determining the orientation of production. The undifferentiated end products of these firms were the consequence of conscious government and business decisions made in British Columbia in the post-war period (1945 - 1979). B.C. forest resources were (and remain) owned and administrated by the government. Private access to these assets was (and is) determined by provincial statute. The government was instrumental in orienting the undifferentiated production undertaken by MacMillan Bloedel and B.C.F.P. in two fashions: by systematically subtracting value from the resource in order to attract capital to the industry; and, by adopting a variety of other policy initiatives that promoted the establishment of large-scale enterprises. Professor Michael E. Porter, in his book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations, argues that a firm's end products are the result of its competitive advantages and disadvantages. The two firms examined in this essay possessed two competitive advantages that promoted undifferentiated production: a high degree of productive integration from supply through to marketing: and large-scale production. Competitive disadvantages can allow a firm's products to become less advanced over time, or can preclude the advance to more differentiated production. Four competitive disadvantages prevented the development of differentiated products by Macmillan Bloedel and B.C.F.P. First, a super abundance of timber perpetuated undifferentiated production. With the continued supply of excellent quality timber protected by the government, competitive supply pressures were eliminated, and the resource was not evaluated or utilized to its maximum potential. Second, the integration of downstream supply networks by M.B. and B.C.F.P. impoverished lower levels of the industry. While this provided cost advantages to the producers, it limited the number of suppliers. Third, managerial incompetence at MacMillan Bloedel , and a narrowness of focus at B.C.F.P., limited the productive opportunities of these two firms. Finally, the collaboration of the two firms in marketing their undifferentiated products also diminished competitive pressures needed to promote differentiated production. Thus, contrary to some previous analytic approaches, the production orientation of these two firms can be explained with an historical analysis of their competitive advantages and disadvantages in the post-war period.

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