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Keywords:

  • resource-based view;
  • relational view;
  • knowledge transfer;
  • alliance;
  • spillover;
  • competitive advantage

Abstract

We compare resource-based and relational perspectives to examine competitive advantages within the context of vertical learning alliances. Previous research has shown that through such alliances suppliers acquire knowledge to forge new capabilities and attain performance improvements. We ask whether such improvements are exclusive to the learning partnership, or are available in other average partnerships of this supplier. We posit that the extent to which such performance improvements are partnership exclusive depends on whether the newly forged capabilities lie entirely within the supplier firm's boundaries, or at the learning dyad level. As such, we untie two forms of performance improvements arising from learning dyads. While the resource-based view helps explain the performance gains learning suppliers deploy across average partners, the relational view reveals the additional performance edge that remains exclusive to the learning partnership. Based on empirical evidence from a survey of 253 suppliers to the equipment industry, we find that partnership exclusive performance (i.e., ‘relational performance’), the true source of learning dyads' competitive advantage, is a function of suppliers acquiring know-how within the dyad, developing dyad-specific assets and capabilities, and structuring buyer-supplier relational governance mechanisms. We discuss implications for research and practice. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.