The success of the Port of Rotterdam is dependent on how firms in the port do business

In discussions about the Port of Rotterdam’s competitiveness, the emphasis very often is on infrastructure and space, and seldom on the strategies and actions of companies in the port. However, the success of the port of Rotterdam is also dependent on how the firms in the port do business. In his PhD thesis entitled Leader Firms: The value of companies for the competitiveness of the Rotterdam seaport cluster, Michiel Nijdam looks at the port from the company perspective. He sees that the leader firms in the Port of Rotterdam have an important role to play when it comes to the competitiveness of the port. Understanding the way these leader firms act, will increase the possibilities to strengthen the port cluster.

In this dissertation, two issues specifically have practical relevance: a) the relation between leader firms and their suppliers in the region and b) the ownership of the leader firms.

What companies can learn from the thesis regarding the relation with their suppliers is that they should pay close attention to the local effects of their actions. The way an individual firm organises its production and knowledge network has a considerable effect on the local business cluster. When firms cooperate with local suppliers to create new products, they create positive effects in the cluster, and as such the whole cluster benefits from this investment. In the long run, this will also be very beneficial for the firm making the investment; being part of a strong cluster effectively makes a firm more competitive so investing in the cluster pays off.

The second point, the ownership, is important to both policy makers and businesses. Foreign owned companies tend to create less positive effects because they have fewer connections in the cluster on a corporate level. Policy initiatives should increase the involvement and connections of foreign firms in the cluster. Foreign firms should maintain enough decision power and management capabilities in the cluster to create leader firm effects and thus increase both their own competitiveness and that of the whole cluster.

Nijdam defended his dissertation on November 18, at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His promoter was Rob van Tulder, Professor of International Business-Society Management. Other members of the Doctoral Committee were Prof. Leo van den Berg, Prof. Peter de Langen and Prof. Steef van de Velde.

About Michiel Nijdam

Since 2001, Michiel Nijdam works as a researcher in port and transport economics with the Erasmus School of Economics. He is active in applied research and teaching. He specializes in port economics and studied various aspects of ports and maritime transport. Since 2006 he is also business director of RHV bv, a subsidiary company of the Erasmus University that specializes in research on regional, port and transport economics for a variety of clients.

He is the (co)author of several papers and books on port economics and management. Most of his research is related to the economic development of seaport regions, with specific attention to the role of companies. With regard to contract research, he participated in research on seaport strategies, entrepreneurship in maritime industries, European policies and regulations in seaports and economic impact studies.

Abstract of 'Leader Firms'

The Port of Rotterdam is the largest seaport in Europe and a huge industrial complex. This seaport has been the focal point of several studies that merely view the port as a transport node. This neglects the fact that it is also a collection of thousands of related businesses that together form the Rotterdam seaport cluster. This PhD thesis deals with the companies in the Rotterdam seaport cluster and their value for the competitiveness of the port. Companies active in many sectors, such as stevedoring, transport, logistics, off-shore and shipbuilding.

The competitiveness of the Port of Rotterdam is dependent on the behaviour of the firms located in the port cluster. Some firms create substantially more positive effects than others and are called ‘leader firms’. The characteristics and the behaviour of these leader firms are analysed in this study. The Rotterdam port cluster is defined and the business structure is researched to select the leader firms. Nine forms of leader firm behaviour are identified in the fields of innovation, internationalization and cluster governance. With the use of a qualitative comparative analysis it is researched which firm characteristics foster leader firm behaviour.

Conclusions are drawn about the role of leader firms in clusters and the stimulus and obstacles for leader firm behaviour. Recommendations are formulated for the business community, government and the leader firms.