Academic journal article Journal of International Business Research

Thailand: Southeast Asian Tiger or Historical Underachiever

Academic journal article Journal of International Business Research

Thailand: Southeast Asian Tiger or Historical Underachiever

Article excerpt


We examine the historical cultural development and work attitudes of the people of Thailand in order to understand the country's current competitive position. Specifically, Porter's (1990) framework of the Competitive Advantage of Nations (CAN) and Hofstede's (1983) cultural indices are integrated into an historical analysis. This study reveals that significant Thai cultural values, such as a less-competitive mindset, loosely structured social systems, and fatalism are key factors, which demonstrate the current absence of sustained competitive advantage in Thailand. For the nation to join the ranks of the Asian "tiger" economies of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, the business leaders of Thailand must understand their cultural heritage and capitalize on the opportunities that will come to a people who proudly call their country the "Land of the Free."


Analysts have recognized competitive differences among nations for hundreds of years; however, Michael Porter's (1990) work, "The Competitive Advantage of Nations (CAN)," highlighted the concept of competitive advantage among nations and expanded upon his earlier works, which recognized firm and industry level differences. Whereas Porter (1990) analyzed economic aspects of successful industrialized nations such as the United States, Japan, Germany, and Japan, he did not focus on the less successful nations, such as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Additionally, like other macro economists, Porter (1990) overlooked the important element of human capital and failed to elaborate the historical and cultural contexts of nations as important factors giving rise to these competitive advantages.

While Porter (1990) did not focus on these cultural differences, Geert Hofstede did contribute not only to the field of international management, but also to an understanding of what constitutes differences in competitiveness among international firms (Hofstede, 1983, 1984, 1994). Continuing in this stream of study, using both Western and Eastern perspectives, Franke, Hofstede, and Bond (1991) collected survey data from 20 countries to analyze cultural values. Their findings support the thesis that differences in cultural values, rather than in material and structural conditions, are the ultimate determinants of human organization and behavior and, thus, economic growth.

Hill (1995) likewise considered cultural values and historical contexts in understanding a nation's competitive position. He explored informal constraint as an element of Japan's national uniqueness that gives Japanese manufacturing enterprises a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Instead of analyzing the present characteristics of Japan's social and economic structures, Hill delved deeper into Japan's Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Thus, he successfully depicted the most important characteristics of the Japanese (i.e., collective responsibility, reciprocal obligations, and honesty), which gave rise to Japan's status as a leading industrial nation today (Hill, 1995).

According to Hill (1995), Hofstede (1983, 1984, & 1994), and Franke et al. (1991), an understanding of the cultural and historical development of nations is necessary to specify the roots of a nation's competitive advantage and, perhaps, to predict its economic future. The idea of "continued attempts to disclose the past to better understand the present" is consistent with what scholars in the field of management history have long suggested (Wren, 1994). As one scholar wrote "present management applications are quite literally what the past--as received and interpreted by the present--have made them" (Bedeian, 1998).

Whereas researchers have applied economic factors, cultural factors, and historical contexts to understanding differences in national competitiveness, no scholar has attempted to integrate these three important elements into a framework that portrays the current competitiveness of nations. …

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