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In the post reviewing Samsung’s Capital Structure I noted that its component divisions have historically taken 90% of capital investments and that the overall capital intensity for Samsung Electronics has increased in proportion to its component revenues.
In another post regarding the capital structures of other technology companies with different business models I noted that Apple has changed its capital structure to a significant degree over the previous three years.
In the following graph I combined these observations to show how capital expenditure patterns may be used to discern the underlying business model.
I would group “cloud” or “platform” based companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft as a cohort which, although spending significant amounts on capital equipment, do so mainly to support services. Their primary employment of capital is to sustain the infrastructure of data centers necessary to deliver the services underpinning their business models.
Having described the Revenue, Operating Margin and cost structure for Samsung Electronics it’s time to review their investment strategy.
The Economist summarized it well:
[Samsung's] businesses look remarkably disparate, but they share a need for big capital investments and the capacity to scale manufacture up very quickly, talents the company has exploited methodically in the past.
Samsung’s successes come from spotting areas that are small but growing fast. Ideally the area should also be capital-intensive, making it harder for rivals to keep up. Samsung tiptoes into the technology to get familiar with it, then waits for its moment. It was when liquid-crystal displays grew to 40 inches in 2001 that Samsung took the dive and turned them into televisions. In flash memory, Samsung piled in when new technology made it possible to put a whole gigabyte on a chip.
When it pounces, the company floods the sector with cash. Moving into very high volume production as fast as possible not only gives it a price advantage over established firms, but also makes it a key customer for equipment makers. Those relationships help it stay on the leading edge from then on.
The strategy is shrewd. By buying technology rather than building it, Samsung assumes execution risk not innovation risk. It wins as a “fast follower”, slipstreaming in the wake of pioneers at a much larger scale of production. The heavy investment has in the past played to its ability to tap cheap financing from a banking sector that is friendly to big companies, thanks to implicit government guarantees much complained about by rivals elsewhere.
Can we find evidence of this capital intensity?
To answer, I reviewed Samsung Electronics CapEx as reported in their quarterly cash flow statements. The following graph illustrates the data:
Note that during 2006 and 2007 the company specified expenditures on an operating divisional level. Since 2008 it has reported only a total. For the years where divisional detail is available, the percent split looks as follows.
[The following is a post written by James Allworth.
James is the co-author of How Will You Measure Your Life?. He has worked as a Fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation at Harvard Business School, at Apple, and Booz & Company. It follows and builds on a discussion we had on the 56th Critical Path podcast.
You can connect directly with James on Twitter at @jamesallworth -ed]
A lot of ink has been spilled in the wake of the recent Apple Samsung patent disputes, and the legal wars see no sign of abating any time soon. The rise of Samsung’s phone business has been meteoric, and Apple is right to be concerned. But the real threat that Samsung poses to Apple has very little to do with the copying (or not) of Apple’s designs. The lawsuits have simply been a convenient (if expensive and risky) way to attempt to quash a threat that is of Apple’s own making. While there’s no doubt that Google has played a key role in Samsung’s success by handing out a free mobile operating system to pretty much anyone who wants to build one — it is actually Apple, more than any other company, that is responsible for Samsung’s present success.
How? By outsourcing as much work to Samsung as they have. And it’s impossible not to wonder whether Tim Cook’s announcement yesterday on bringing back Apple’s manufacturing to the USA is the beginnings of an attempt to rectify the problem.
Let’s face it, we’re heading into the worst time of year for getting work done. Everyone is getting ready for Festivus.
It seems like Janice is always out of the office. Bob’s coming in late every day. And if Kelly sings Cartman’s version of “Oh Holy Night” one more time, you’re going to go insane. But you can’t work from home – your shared drive is locked down and your VPN is just. so. slow.
This holiday season, ask your boss for a cloud-based collaboration platform. You’ll be able to securely work from home and your coworkers will love the built-in social tools. They can share updates about what they’re working on, and you can ignore the cat videos. Your boss will love your increased productivity.
‘Tis the season for an intranet you’ll actually like.
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