Crab from the Swedish west coast, Sweden.
Text & Photo © Pixabay Ylvers-337353, JE Nilsson & CM Cordeiro 2019

As I began reading more literature on marine and fisheries management, I observed how management concepts in the field of natural resources management were framed differently than those found in international business (IB) studies.

Most IB management theories focused on the efficiency of the processes of the manufacturing sector and firm internationalization strategies [1, 2], whereas natural resources management had the ecological dimension factored into their management models and strategies even if their processes included global manufacturing [3, 4]. I would today reason that IB studies also encompasses an ecological dimension, but they are framed predominantly from the perspective of human resources management or organizational culture and behaviour.

With increasing uncertainty present in the global business environment, political transformations and the seeming global value chain (GVC) fractures, industry and scholars have begun debating if globalization and multinationals are in retreat [5-7]. Organizations and governance operate today in an increasingly polycentric world order with multiple power centres [8-10].

I think there are many parallel management strategies from the two seemingly distinct disciplines of natural resources management and IB. One characteristic that is broadly present in both is the need to facilitate different working agendas towards a common goal, engaging with multiple actors and stakeholders in a strategy of bi-lateral learning programmes.

Havstenssund, west coast Sweden.

Natural resources co-management

Co-management or the joint management of the commons is characterised as a distributed responsibility and decision-making system between the four main actors and stakeholders of (i) central government, (ii) local government, (iii) commercial private sector and (iv) civil society and local communities [11]. It is often viewed as a type of management strategy that facilitates continuous problem solving and the assuaging of differences. A good example of this from Sweden is the Koster-Väderö Fjord model [12]. The Koster-Väderö Fjord is located close to the border to Norway, along west coast of Sweden. It has exceptionally deep waters with a rich ecosystem of more than 6,000 marine species, 200 of which are unique to the waters of the fjord. The closest town is Strömstad [13].

Although the area was already marked for environmental conservation in the 1980s, it was not until 2000 that the Koster-Väderö Agreement was signed. The main economic activity of the region was fishing and tourism, and it was understood by the fishermen at the time, that an imposition of regulations for marine conservation would hamper their livelihood [12]. Bi-lateral training programmes were implemented to facilitate stakeholder understandings and create a foundation of shared knowledge between stakeholders. A course on ecology management was designed for fishermen by the University of Gothenburg to educate them on ecological challenges towards regenerative and sustainable fishing practices. In reciprocal manner, a course was designed by the fishermen for government managers, scientists and civil society to educate them on the challenges of the fishery industry.

The Swedish management style

From my own empirical data collected in the form of semi-structured interviews when I was investigating Swedish top managers working in Swedish founded or owned subsidiaries headquartered in Singapore, bi-lateral learning was also present between top managers and frontline employees. The different between the Swedish management style in an IB context and the natural resources co-management was that bi-lateral learning was an implicit organizational process, woven into the fabric of organization culture.

Swedish managers would often describe how they helped transform the Singapore organization culture into one that reflected more Swedish values, such as a lateral organization hierarchy that encouraged decentralized decision making. There was also greater delegation of responsibility that empowered employees to be creative on the job and take their own initiatives, thus finding their purpose within the organization. Part of the Swedish management concept is also to improve feedback and implement open communication practices between top managers and frontline employees and between different working groups within the organization. Operating in a more authoritarian business context of Asia and Southeast-Asia, Swedish managers are often known to give broad allowances for mistakes to be made, because how else can the organization learn?

In short, I think there are potentially many more parallels to be drawn between natural resources co-management and IB management theories. With many economies experiencing shifting GVCs and increasing polycentricity, perhaps there will be a future point of convergence where a broad best-practice management approach will be derived, towards a problem-solving management process and system.

[1] J. Johanson, “The Internationalization Process of the Firm-A Model of Knowledge Development and Increasing Foreign Market Commitments Author ( s ): Jan Johanson and Jan-Erik Vahlne Reviewed work ( s ): Published by : Palgrave Macmillan Journals Stable URL : http://www.,” J. Int. Bus. Stud., vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 23–32, 2012.
[2] J. E. Vahlne and J. Johanson, “The Uppsala model on evolution of the multinational business enterprise – from internalization to coordination of networks,” Int. Mark. Rev., vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 189–210, 2013.
[3] C. Folke et al., “Regime Shifts, Resilience, and Biodiversity in Ecosystem Management,” Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 557–581, Dec. 2004.
[4] E. K. Pikitch, E. A. Santora, and A. Babcock, “ECOLOGY: Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management,” Science (80-. )., vol. 305, no. 5682, pp. 346–347, Jul. 2004.
[5] The Economist, “Multinationals – The retreat of the global company | Briefing | The Economist,” The Economist, 28-Jan-2017.
[6] J. E. Vahlne, I. Ivarsson, and C. G. Alvstam, “Are multinational enterprises in retreat?,” Multinatl. Bus. Rev., vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 94–110, 2018.
[7] J. Jimenez, A. Liveris, B. Winters, and S. Lund, “Is globalization in retreat? Three global CEOs share their insights | McKinsey,” McKinsey & Company, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 02-Dec-2019].
[8] D. Wolfish and G. Smith, “Governance and policy in a multicentric world,” Can. Public Policy, vol. 26, no. SUPP, 2000.
[9] P. Reilly, “Managing across borders and cultures,” Strateg. HR Rev., vol. 14, no. 1/2, pp. 36–41, Apr. 2015.
[10] K. P. Andersson and E. Ostrom, “Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective,” Policy Sci., vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 71–93, Mar. 2008.
[11] L. Carlsson, “Co-management: concepts and methodological implications,” J. Environ. Manage., vol. 75, no. 1, pp. 65–76, 2005.
[12] S. Berggren, “The Koster-Väderöfjord,” Western Sweden, 2017.
[13] FishSec, “Sweden gets its first National Marine Park – The Fisheries Secretariat,” FishSec, The Fisheries Secretariat, Sweden, 09-Sep-2009.