Strategic Theory: SAS’ Takeoff for a Sustained Competitive Advantage

Mathias Skar-Gislinge & Thomas Grønne

Student thesis: Master thesis


The main purpose of this thesis is to give the reader a better understanding of how strategic theories can be integrated to help create a sustained competitive advantage, through an examination of SAS. This is done through a thorough analysis of three different strategic perspectives, the critiques and discussions presented by other scholars on the theories and finally by summarizing and comparing the presented findings and discussion. A presentation of the Scandinavian and European airline markets, SAS and their history shows that the airline market have been through much turmoil over the last 20 years, where SAS has been challenged by deregulation, increased competition and a financial crisis, which are some of the factors that have caused a paradigm shift in the industry. The PEST and Five Forces analyzes are used to uncover the underlying factors and in the macro environment and airline industry, such as the consequence of the deregulation, the high bargaining power of consumers and the highly competitive nature of the industry. This furthermore forms a foundation for further analysis through the three different strategic viewpoints. Through the years numerous strategic theories and thoughts have been proposed, who each offer their view on the subject of business strategy. This thesis draws on the resource based view, the activity based view and positioning strategies. They each contribute a unique viewpoint on SAS and uncover different aspects of the company and their strategic options. The resourced based VRIO analysis shows that SAS cannot rely on their internal resources for creating a sustained competitive advantage at the moment, as only two resources are found as possible sources for that. Dierickx and Cool offers a suggestion to how the imitability of resources can be lowered. Besides their suggestion a key finding is that the VRIO framework does not offer a solution to how resources can be made into sources for sustained competitive advantage. On the contrary Porter’s generic strategies offer a direction for SAS to move from being stuck in the middle to a position that can create a competitive advantage. Following Porter’s notion SAS should seek a differentiation strategy, this does however dismiss what the analysis finds to be SAS’ most important opportunity. That opportunity is to use the acquisition of Cimber to seek a cost leadership strategy in a part of SAS Group while the other part seeks a differentiation strategy. It is only when Bowman’s critique of Porter’s theory is acknowledged that this becomes a viable option and SAS are able to respond to the threats in the market. Through the value chain analysis it is made clear that SAS operations are a vital part of their value chain, and can through the creation of uniqueness in some areas help build a sustainable competitive advantage for SAS. It is also found that the value chain analysis is very comprehensive to apply to a real world setting, and as Porter acknowledges it is found external researchers cannot examine all underlying activities in depth. Based on this analytical framework the thesis proposes that each analysis contains a vital dimension for understanding the strategic options and capabilities of SAS. It is thus made clear that using the three different perspectives in conjunction adds greater complexity when building a sustained competitive advantage at SAS than they could have done on their own.

EducationsCand.merc.smc Strategic Market Creation, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages133