Monday 8 December 2008
Section A – This ONE question is compulsory and MUST be attempted
1 The scientists in the research laboratories of Swan Hill Company (SHC, a public listed company) recently made a very
important discovery about the process that manufactured its major product. The scientific director, Dr Sonja Rainbow,
informed the board that the breakthrough was called the ‘sink method’. She explained that the sink method would
enable SHC to produce its major product at a lower unit cost and in much higher volumes than the current process.
It would also produce lower unit environmental emissions and would substantially improve product quality compared
to its current process and indeed compared to all of the other competitors in the industry.
SHC currently has 30% of the global market with its nearest competitor having 25% and the other twelve producers
sharing the remainder. The company, based in the town of Swan Hill, has a paternalistic management approach and
has always valued its relationship with the local community. Its website says that SHC has always sought to maximise
the benefit to the workforce and community in all of its business decisions and feels a great sense of loyalty to the
Swan Hill locality which is where it started in 1900 and has been based ever since.
As the board considered the implications of the discovery of the sink method, chief executive Nelson Cobar asked
whether Sonja Rainbow was certain that SHC was the only company in the industry that had made the discovery and
she said that she was. She also said that she was certain that the competitors were ‘some years’ behind SHC in their
It quickly became clear that the discovery of the sink method was so important and far reaching that it had the
potential to give SHC an unassailable competitive advantage in its industry. Chief executive Nelson Cobar told board
colleagues that they should clearly understand that the discovery had the potential to put all of SHC’s competitors out
of business and make SHC the single global supplier. He said that as the board considered the options, members
should bear in mind the seriousness of the implications upon the rest of the industry.
Mr Cobar said there were two strategic options. Option one was to press ahead with the huge investment of new plant
necessary to introduce the sink method into the factory whilst, as far as possible, keeping the nature of the sink
technology secret from competitors (the ‘secrecy option’). A patent disclosing the nature of the technology would not
be filed so as to keep the technology secret within SHC. Option two was to file a patent and then offer the use of the
discovery to competitors under a licensing arrangement where SHC would receive substantial royalties for the twenty-
year legal lifetime of the patent (the ‘licensing option’). This would also involve new investment but at a slower pace
in line with competitors. The licence contract would, Mr Cobar explained, include an ‘improvement sharing’
requirement where licensees would be required to inform SHC of any improvements discovered that made the sink
method more efficient or effective.
(a) Assess the secrecy option using Tucker’s model for decision-making. (10 marks)
(b) Distinguish between strategic and operational risks, and explain why the secrecy option would be a source
of strategic risk. (10 marks)
(c) Mr Cobar, the chief executive of SHC, has decided to draft two alternative statements to explain both possible
outcomes of the secrecy/licensing decision to shareholders. Once the board has decided which one to pursue,
the relevant draft will be included in a voluntary section of the next corporate annual report.
(i) Draft a statement in the event that the board chooses the secrecy option. It should make a convincing
business case and put forward ethical arguments for the secrecy option. The ethical arguments should
be made from the stockholder (or pristine capitalist) perspective. (8 marks)