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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

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Harzing, Anne-Wil, 2001. "Of bears, bumble-bees, and spiders: the role of expatriates in controlling foreign subsidiaries," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 366-379, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:worbus:v:36:y:2001:i:4:p:366-379
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Daniel Ondrack, 1985. "International Transfers of Managers in North American and European MNEs," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 16(3), pages 1-19, September.
    2. 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;Academy of International Business, vol. 31(1), pages 101-120, March.
    3. Jon I Martinez & J Carlos Jarillo, 1991. "Coordination Demands of International Strategies," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 22(3), pages 429-444, September.
    4. Jon I Martinez & J Carlos Jarillo, 1989. "The Evolution of Research on Coordination Mechanisms in Multinational Corporations," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 20(3), pages 489-514, September.
    5. Brooklyn Derr, C. & Oddou, Gary, 1993. "Internationalizing managers: Speeding up the process," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 435-442, December.
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