Sharing Competences in Strategic Alliances: A Case Study of the Cosan and Shell Biofuel Venture

Revista de Administração da USP, V. 48, N. 2, p.359-374, Abr./Maio/Jun, 2013

16 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2013

Date Written: October 1, 2012


In a competitive world, the way a firm establishes its organizational arrangements may determine the enhancement of its core competences and the possibility of reaching new markets. Firms that find their skills to be applicable in just one type of market encounter constraints in expanding their markets, and through alliances may find a competitive form of value capture. Hybrid forms of organization appear primarily as an alternative to capturing value and managing joint assets when the market and hierarchy modes do not present any yields for the firm’s competitiveness. As a result, this form may present other challenging issues, such as the allocation of rights and principal-agent problems. The biofuel market has presented a strong pattern of changes over the last 10 years. New intra-firm arrangements have appeared as a path to participate or survive among global competition. Given the need for capital to achieve better results, there has been a consistent movement of mergers and acquisitions in the Biofuel sector, especially since the 2008 financial crisis. In 2011 there were five major groups in Brazil with a grinding capacity of more than 15 million tons per year: Raízen (joint venture formed by Cosan and Shell), Louis Dreyfus, Tereos Petrobras, ETH, and Bunge. Major oil companies have implemented the strategy of diversification as a hedge against the rising cost of oil. Using the alliance of Cosan and Shell in the Brazilian biofuel market as a case study, this paper analyses the governance mode and challenging issues raised by strategic alliances when firms aim to reach new markets through the sharing of core competences with local firms. The article is based on documentary research and interviews with Cosan’s Investor Relations staff, and examines the main questions involving hybrid forms through the lens of the Transaction Cost Economics (TCE), Agency Theory, Resource Based View (RBV), and dynamic capabilities theoretical approaches. One focal point is knowledge “appropriability” and the specific assets originated by the joint venture. Once the alliance is formed, it is expected that competences will be shared and new capabilities will expand the limits of the firm. In the case studied, Cosan and Shell shared a number of strategic assets related to their competences. Raízen was formed with economizing incentives, as well to continue marshalling internal resources to enhance the company’s presence in the world energy sector. Therefore, some challenges might be related to the control and monitoring agents’ behavior, considering the two-part organism formed by distinctive organizational culture, tacit knowledge, and long-term incentives. The case study analyzed illustrates the hybrid arrangement as a middle form for organizing the transaction: neither in the market nor in the hierarchy mode, but rather a more flexible commitment agreement with a strategic companies in the joint ventures is far more complex. These characteristics have led to an organism with bilateral dependence, offering favorable conditions for developing dynamic capabilities. However, these conditions might rely on the partners’ long-term interest in the joint venture.

Keywords: biofuel, joint venture, governance, hybrids forms

JEL Classification: Q13, Q30, D23

Suggested Citation

Almeida, Luciana Florencio and Pinheiro Machado Filho, Cláudio Antonio, Sharing Competences in Strategic Alliances: A Case Study of the Cosan and Shell Biofuel Venture (October 1, 2012). Revista de Administração da USP, V. 48, N. 2, p.359-374, Abr./Maio/Jun, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Luciana Florencio Almeida (Contact Author)

ESPM SP Business School ( email )

Rua Alvaro Alvim,123
Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo

Cláudio Antonio Pinheiro Machado Filho

University of São Paulo (USP) ( email )

Rua Luciano Gualberto, 315
São Paulo, São Paulo 14800-901

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