"Kasva tai kuole" – Oy Arabia Ab:n muotoilujohtamisen kehittyminen ja strateginen ambideksterisyys 1960-luvulta 1980-luvun loppuun

Translated title of the contribution: ”Grow or Die” – Design management and strategic ambidexterity in Oy Arabia Ab from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The study examines the changing, shaping and emergence of the Oy Arabia Ab strategy at the end of the 1960s towards the end of the 1980s, i.e., after the golden age of Finnish design. This period is characterised by the opening up of the international economy and the tightening of the competition due to increasing imports. I study how the company strives strategically to solve the challenges of productivity and internationalisation and how decision-making related to organisation, management and ownership is linked to strategic planning. In addition, I examine how Arabia integrates design management and leadership into its strategy thus responding to the new requirements of consumers and the challenges of the business environment. During the research period, the relationship with the parent company Oy Wärtsilä Ab frames Arabia's strategy.
I approach strategic management and planning in the context of business history, which focuses on the long-term strategic planning, change, and construction of a new strategy. I use ambidexterity as an analytical tool. Thus, the research focuses on the company's ability to utilise existing resources (exploitation) and to innovate new strategic objectives and practices (exploration).
The research material consists of three datasets related to the strategic management and planning of the studied company: 1) archive material, 2) customer, personnel and other stakeholder magazines, and 3) other printed sources (e.g. annual reports, articles in the press). I approach the company’s strategy narratively, on the basis of which I create three strategic narratives: ownership and organisation, productivity and internationalisation.
The narrative of ownership and organisation frames the construction of the company’s strategy in terms of the need to create a strong internationalising Nordic design company, the need to modernise the organisational structure, as well as the tensions ensuing from the parent company Wärtsilä, which simultaneously provides opportunities for innovation. The productivity-strategic narrative is structured as a transition from technical quality to designed overall quality, and from trademark policy to brand management. In order to meet customer needs, the sales policy transforms towards the development of the product range, product innovations and business networks. The narrative of internationalisation is based on the expansion of the domestic market to the Nordic countries, the pursuit of new markets in countries appreciating the Scandinavian design taste, and the creation of sales channels, ownership, forms of cooperation and networks.
During the research period, Oy Arabia Ab develops into a company that strengthens systematic strategic management under the protection of the parent company. The company transforms from a manufacturing and selling strategy towards design management, combining aesthetic product design, innovativeness, brand construction and market dynamics. This strategic change enables Arabia to rely ambidextrously on existing strengths and skills and at the same time seek a new, innovative direction for business. The ambidextrous strategy based on exploitation and exploration is path-dependent. I suggest that the company’s strategy also leans on path-creativity instead of mere path-dependency. I argue that the design management approach strengthens the organisation's ambidextrous capabilities together with the simultaneity of exploitation and exploration. This lays the foundation for path-creativity.
Translated title of the contribution”Grow or Die” – Design management and strategic ambidexterity in Oy Arabia Ab from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s
Original languageFinnish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta
Award date9 Oct 2020
Print ISBNs9789515163059
Electronic ISBNs9789515163066
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


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