strategic move such as acquiring the well-support division of John Wood Group PLC, only the relevant division (in this case, Energy) needs to be involved in integrating the new unit into GE’s hierarchy. In contrast, if GE was organized using a functional structure, the transition would be much slower because all the divisions in the company would need to be involved. A multidivisional structure also helps an organization to better serve customers’ needs. In the summer of 2011, for example, GE’s Capital division started to make real-estate loans after exiting that market during the financial crisis of the late 2000s (Jacobius, 2011). Because one division of GE handles all the firm’s loans, the wisdom and skill needed to decide when to reenter real-estate lending was easily accessible.
Of course, empowering divisions to act quickly can backfire if people in those divisions take actions that do not fit with the company’s overall strategy. McDonald’s experienced this kind of situation in 2002. In particular, the French division of McDonald’s ran a surprising advertisement in a magazine called Femme Actuelle. The ad included a quote from a nutritionist that asserted children should not eat at a McDonald’s more than once per week. Executives at McDonald’s headquarters in suburban Chicago were concerned about the message sent to their customers, of course, and they made it clear that they strongly disagreed with the nutritionist.
Problems can be created when delegating lots of authority to local divisions. McDonald’s top executives were angered when an ad by
their French division suggested that children should only eat at their restaurants once a week.
Alfonsina Blyde – Everything to see you smile – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Another downside of multidivisional structures is that they tend to be more costly to operate than functional structures. While a functional structure offers the opportunity to gain efficiency by having just one department handle all activities in an area, such as marketing, a firm using a multidivisional structure needs to have marketing units within each of its divisions. In GE’s case, for example, each of its seven divisions must develop marketing skills. Absorbing the extra expenses that are created reduces a firm’s profit margin.