Cognition, agency theory, and organizational failure : a Saskatchewan Wheat Pool case study
Lang, Katherine Alice
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The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool went from being the largest grain handler in western Canada in the mid 1990s to undertaking a $405 million debt restructuring in January 2003. Provincial grain handling market share had been over 60 percent for two decades prior to the Pool becoming publicly traded in 1996. With the share conversion, the Pool began a capital expenditure program in an effort to adapt to industry deregulation and to compete with the multinationals that were entering western Canada. This program was not successful. SWP’s long-term debt increased five fold over the period 1996–1999 and consecutive multi-million dollar net losses were incurred followed by the debt restructuring.This thesis uses dominant logic theory and the principal-agent problem to analyze what went wrong at SWP. Theory suggests organizations faced with major industry change may have difficulty revising their dominant logic, which leads to organizational failure. Not only is there a tendency to hold on to established beliefs, but the creation of new beliefs is prone to error because of bounded rationality. The existence of a principal-agent problem can worsen an organization’s ability to revise its dominant logic. Information asymmetry and the principal’s trust of the agent can lead to inaccurate beliefs and ineffective strategies being approved. The results of personal interviews with twenty-one past management and elected Saskatchewan Wheat Pool personnel and grain industry affiliates are presented and analyzed in a case study format. The results suggest that deregulation of the grain handling industry and the anticipated arrival of multinational competitors pressured the Pool to respond quickly to major industry change. The Pool had difficulty revising its dominant logic; it retained outdated beliefs and accepted inaccurate new beliefs. Interviewees described how some investments were built on erroneous beliefs and lacked complete due diligence. Evidence suggests the principal-agent problem was also at play. The need for confidentiality after the share conversion increased information asymmetry, and management took advantage of the board’s lack of experience as investments extended beyond the farm gate. The principal-agent problem in conjunction with an inaccurate revised dominant logic is a reasonable explanation for the Pool’s failure.
DegreeMaster of Agriculture (M.Agr.)
SupervisorFulton, Murray E.
CommitteeRosaasen, Kenneth; McCreary, Ian; Gray, Richard S.
Copyright DateNovember 2006
Saskatchewan Wheat Pool