David Stark, Balázs Vedres

Paper #: 01-12-081

This study analyzes the restructuring of a national economy by identifying the career pathways of its enterprises. This analysis is conducted in a setting strategically chosen as a case of rapid and profound economic transformation: the postsocialist Hungarian economy between 1988-2000. The goal of this study is to chart the multiple pathways of property transformation. Property pathways are conceptualized as the patterned sequences of change that firms undergo (1) in the composition of their ownership structure and (2) in their position within network structures of ties to other enterprises. These career pathways are neither unidirectional nor plotted in advance. The landscape and topography of the socioeconomic field are given shape and repeatedly transformed by the interaction of the multiple strategies of firms attempting to survive in the face of variable political, institutional, and market uncertainties. These different types of uncertainties will have different temporalities, and the study explores whether and how they increase or diminish in various periods. We develop and test specific hypotheses about how enterprise pathways along the compositional and positional property dimensions are related to the shifting contexts of these types of uncertainty. The core dataset for this study includes the complete ownership histories of approximately 1,800 of the largest enterprises in Hungary for a twelve-year period, starting with the collapse of communism in 1989, recording each change in a company’s top 25 owners on a monthly basis. Monthly entries for each enterprise also include changes in top management, boards of directors, major lines of product activity, raising or lowering of capital, and location of establishments and branch offices, as well as the dates of founding, mergers, bankruptcy, etc. Data on revenues, number of employees, and operating profit will be compiled from annual balance sheets. These rich data make it possible to map the life cycles of the business groups that are formed by network ties among enterprises, identifying not only when they arise, merge, or dissipate, but also the changing shapes of their network properties. To identify patterns of change, the study draws on sequence analysis, a research tool that makes possible the study of historical processes in an eventful way similar to historiography while retaining social scientific abstraction. Whereas sequence analysis has given us a perspective on careers as historical processes but has not been applied to business organizations, network analysis has been applied to business organizations but has not been done historically. The methodological innovation at the heart of this study is to combine the tools of sequence analysis and network analysis to yield a sequence analysis of changing network positions.