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Of bears, bumble-bees, and spiders: the role of expatriates in controlling foreign subsidiaries


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  • Harzing, Anne-Wil
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    This article investigates the role of expatriate managers in multinational companies. We discuss three key organizational functions of expatriation: position filling, management development, and organization development. In the last function, organization development, international transfers are used as an informal coordination and control strategy through socialization and the building of informal communication networks. The article explores this role of international transfers in greater detail, but also discusses a more formal way in which expatriates can control subsidiaries. The following metaphors for these different control functions of expatriation are introduced: "bear" (formal direct control), "bumble-bee" (socialization), and "spider" (informal communication). A large-scale mail survey offers empirical evidence for the bear, bumble-bee and spider roles and shows under which circumstances they are most effective. Being aware of the different control functions of expatriation and the circumstances under which they are most effective can help managers to use expatriate assignments as a more strategic tool.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of World Business.

    Volume (Year): 36 (2001)
    Issue (Month): 4 (January)
    Pages: 366-379

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:worbus:v:36:y:2001:i:4:p:366-379

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    1. Anne-Wil Harzing, 2000. "An Empirical Analysis and Extension of the Bartlett and Ghoshal Typology of Multinational Companies," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 31(1), pages 101-120, March.
    2. Brooklyn Derr, C. & Oddou, Gary, 1993. "Internationalizing managers: Speeding up the process," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 435-442, December.
    3. Jon I Martinez & J Carlos Jarillo, 1989. "The Evolution of Research on Coordination Mechanisms in Multinational Corporations," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 20(3), pages 489-514, September.
    4. Daniel Ondrack, 1985. "International Transfers of Managers in North American and European MNEs," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 16(3), pages 1-19, September.
    5. Jon I Martinez & J Carlos Jarillo, 1991. "Coordination Demands of International Strategies," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 22(3), pages 429-444, September.
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    Cited by:
    1. Elenkov, Detelin S. & Manev, Ivan M., 2009. "Senior expatriate leadership's effects on innovation and the role of cultural intelligence," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 357-369, October.
    2. Paik, Yongsun & Sohn, Junghoon Derick, 2004. "Expatriate managers and MNC's ability to control international subsidiaries: the case of Japanese MNCs," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 61-71, February.
    3. Fee, Anthony & Gray, Sidney J., 2013. "Transformational learning experiences of international development volunteers in the Asia-Pacific: The case of a multinational NGO," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 196-208.
    4. Collings, David G., 2014. "Integrating global mobility and global talent management: Exploring the challenges and strategic opportunities," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 253-261.
    5. Jun, Sunkyu & Gentry, James W., 2005. "An exploratory investigation of the relative importance of cultural similarity and personal fit in the selection and performance of expatriates," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 1-8, February.
    6. Arp, Frithjof, 2013. "Typologies: What types of foreign executives are appointed by local organisations and what types of organisations appoint them?," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 167-194.
    7. Sharpe, Diana Rosemary, 2006. "Shop floor practices under changing forms of managerial control: A comparative ethnographic study of micro-politics, control and resistance within a Japanese multinational," Journal of International Management, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 318-339, September.
    8. Tsai, Ming-Tien & Huang, Yen-Chih & Ma, Rong, 2009. "Antecedents and consequences of global responsiveness: An empirical examination of MNCs in the global sourcing context," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 617-629, December.
    9. Dutta, Dev K. & Beamish, Paul W., 2013. "Expatriate Managers, Product Relatedness, and IJV Performance: A Resource and Knowledge-based Perspective," Journal of International Management, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 152-162.
    10. Johnson, Karen L. & Duxbury, Linda, 2010. "The view from the field: A case study of the expatriate boundary-spanning role," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 29-40, January.
    11. Goodall, Keith & Roberts, John, 2003. "Only connect: teamwork in the multinational," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 150-164, May.
    12. Peterson, Richard B., 2003. "The use of expatriates and inpatriates in Central and Eastern Europe since the Wall came down," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 55-69, February.
    13. Maddy Janssens & Chris Steyaert, 2012. "Towards an Ethical Research Agenda for International HRM: The Possibilities of a Plural Cosmopolitan Framework," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 111(1), pages 61-72, November.
    14. Collings, David G. & Morley, Michael J. & Gunnigle, Patrick, 2008. "Composing the top management team in the international subsidiary: Qualitative evidence on international staffing in U.S. MNCs in the Republic of Ireland," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 197-212, March.
    15. Edwards, Tony & Tempel, Anne, 2010. "Explaining variation in reverse diffusion of HR practices: Evidence from the German and British subsidiaries of American multinationals," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 19-28, January.
    16. Ravasi, Claudio & Salamin, Xavier & Davoine, Eric, 2013. "The challenge of dual career expatriate management in a specific host national environment: An exploratory study of expatriate and spouse adjustment in Switzerland based MNCs," FSES Working Papers 447, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, University of Freiburg/Fribourg Switzerland.
    17. Li, Xiaoying & Wang, Jue & Liu, Xiaming, 2013. "Can locally-recruited R&D personnel significantly contribute to multinational subsidiary innovation in an emerging economy?," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 639-651.
    18. Lazarova, Mila & Tarique, Ibraiz, 2005. "Knowledge transfer upon repatriation," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 361-373, November.
    19. Abdellatif, Mahamat & Amann, Bruno & Jaussaud, Jacques, 2010. "Family versus nonfamily business: A comparison of international strategies," Journal of Family Business Strategy, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 108-116, June.
    20. Harzing, Anne-Wil & Köster, Kathrin & Magner, Ulrike, 2011. "Babel in business: The language barrier and its solutions in the HQ-subsidiary relationship," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 279-287, July.
    21. Florence Duvivier & Carine Peeters, 2011. "The use of expatriates in the offshoring of services - Framework and research propositions," Working Papers CEB 11-059, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    22. Wang, Xiaoyun & Nayir, Dilek Zamantili, 2006. "How and when is social networking important? Comparing European expatriate adjustment in China and Turkey," Journal of International Management, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 449-472, December.
    23. Collings, David G. & Scullion, Hugh & Morley, Michael J., 2007. "Changing patterns of global staffing in the multinational enterprise: Challenges to the conventional expatriate assignment and emerging alternatives," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 198-213, June.


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