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By Dean Andy Boynton

Ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, our Carroll School finance department benefits greatly from the fact that Boston anchors one end of a coastal corridor,  stretching north from New York City, that is rich with vibrant asset management institutions. When I imagine fostering the region’s current advantage, I look for guidance to AnnaLee Saxenian’s  Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 (Harvard University Press, 1994).

In Regional Advantage, Saxenian examines the electronics and technology industries in Silicon Valley and along Route 128 in Massachusetts, and asks why these businesses flourished in the former location and faded in the latter. She concludes that regions excel through the exercise of competition that celebrates collaboration and mutual advancement.

Saxenian quotes Silicon Valley’s Tom Perkins, a leading venture capitalist and former Hewlett-Packard executive: “You can’t really call us a cabal because sometimes we work together and sometimes we compete.” Underscoring this phenomenon, the author writes, “Even under relentless competitive pressure, an underlying loyalty and shared commitment to technological excellence unified members of this industrial community.”

While the New York-Boston Corridor is today fortunate to be home to many of the world’s leading asset management firms and specialized vendors of industry-related services, this regional strength needs to be fostered appropriately if we hope to see it sustained over the long term.

Educational institutions can help not simply by training the executives and technologists who make these businesses thrive, but by facilitating rich conversations among experts from business, academe, and government. In this regard, I’ve often thought that a Boston-centered “Institute for Asset Management” similar to Silicon Valley’s Joint Venture, would be very helpful in fostering cooperative endeavors within our region’s dense network of independent institutions and professionals.

Such an energetic network could serve to configure and reconfigure the asset management industry to keep pace with rapidly changing market and economic trends in areas such as wealth management, retirement planning, alternative asset creation, and global capital flows.

Regional advantage is a well-known and well-studied phenomenon. The New York-Boston Corridor has itself held regional advantages in the past, and lost them. If we value the asset management industry as we should, we ought to aim to do for it what Joint Venture has undertaken to do for Silicon Valley: “To build a comparative advantage … by building a collaborative advantage.”

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