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Martine Benhaim

DBA Graduate - 1997

Thesis title

Interfirm relationships within the construction industry, towards the emergence of networks: a comparative study between France and the UK


Jean-Jacques Chanaron-Externe
This study develops an overview of interfirm relationships in the French and U.K. construction industry, with a primary focus on partnering. Using three different theoretical approaches to networks— sociological, industrial economics, and strategic management—this thesis explores the relevance of network theories to an analysis of partnering agreements. The current state of the construction industry is the result of a strategy pursued by the main contractors. In particular, the industry’s fragmentation, merchandizing, power relations, and changing market conditions created vicious circles that damaged production conditions. Multiple dysfunctions resulted from the disappearance of traditional regulation procedures, which discredited the construction industry, together with spiraling costs and client dissatisfaction. In both France and the United Kingdom, similar developments have appeared in their respective national industries, with some variations related to the players’influence and structural roles. Major contractors have pursued various integrative techniques, such as project, production, and quality management, which attempt to reform interfirm relationships without targeting them as problematic. Partnering as an organizational form, which was adopted by isolated French construction companies in the 1980s and a few U.K. pioneers starting in 1994, provides a basis for an overall reassessment of relationships among clients, designers, engineers, contractors, and subcontractors. Therefore, this thesis uses case studies to explore the determinants of partnering and its outcomes. The qualitative research relies on longitudinal field research methods and highlights some main features of project partnering. It also retraces the seemingly logical path toward long-term partnering (i.e., networks) followed by some British firms and reveals the conditions for network diffusion in the construction industry.