Sub-theme 11: (SWG) Change in Multinational Firms: Expatriate Managers, Institutions and Sector Specific Issues

Mike Geppert
University of Surrey Business School, UK
Ursula Mense-Petermann
University of Bielefed, Germany
Kathleen Park
MIT Sloan School of Management, USA

Call for Papers

Like no other type of organization, multinational corporations (MNCs) operate at a crossroads of influences. They are subject to effects arising in their country of origin, and some have two or more countries of origin. They undergo an effect arising in different countries of localization, where they have subsidiaries, get inputs and serve markets. They are also embedded in transnational networks of organizations up or down the supply chain or sideways; arguably, a number of sectors or industries have become internationalized to such an extent that communities of practice, business models, formats or 'industry recipes' have themselves become internationalized. Last but not least, MNCs are subject to supranational regulation in addition to national regulation.

Whilst the role of agency has attracted increasing attention, to explain how actors unravel and integrate the influences of all these effects – notably in the present SWG – this line of inquiry also should be extended to the balance of these influences:

  • To what extent are these influences independent from one another, or inter-related, leading to interaction effects?
  • Have there been shifts over time, towards increasing importance of particular influences?
  • Are such shifts specific to particular periods or social contexts?

In a review of article themes in Organizations Studies over the last decades, Üsdiken (2010) suggested that there has been a shift from articles on societal effects, business systems or varieties of capitalism, to (neo-)institutionalist and other themes developed in more universalistic perspectives. But already in the 1990s, authors such as Mueller (1994) argued that societal effects should not be over-rated, that they would be overlaid or reduced in importance by effects of MNC strategies and policies and by sector effects that cross-cut societies or national business systems. So it may be that the balance of effects has shifted in the 'real world' and not only in the scholarly world.

Whilst such a debate has been intensive in other SWGs at EGOS, focussed on issues arising from the old 'convergence versus divergence' debate, it is in the research on MNCs where we find the sharpest test of countervailing hypotheses. This research features all the conceivable effects of an intimate confrontation: Nowhere do enterprise, home country, country of localization, community of practice, value chain and knowledge/learning-related effects come as closely and possibly conflictually together as in MNCs. Here, work done on agency and on micropolitics may be useful, by suggesting the different effects are balanced, given functional or legitimatory resources, socially constructed and mobilized by classes of actors in a particular situation (industrial, enterprise-specific, occupational, market-related, etc.).

In short, we are interested not only in studies on how different effects are balanced or whether they are complementary, but also on how they are related to social agency. Although this notion has been little explored, the societal effects literature has been actor-centric from its inception. Additionally, much of the work on business systems, and interactionist authors (Czarniawska & Sevon, 2005), have insisted on the 'translation' of practice from one context to another, rather than 'transfer' of practices, to express what happens when meaning and function changes as practices spread, not only internationally but also from one local 'province of meaning' to another. This would suggest that more aggregate accounts of the balance of effects have to be tied into the analysis dealing with agency and actors.

In line with these concerns, our subtheme seeks to go beyond common typologies of external effects on MNCs, their internationalization strategies and institutional change. Rather, we are calling for papers that:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of social agency and social constitution in MNCs
  • Explore the balance of the myriad international and local societal effects on MNCs, and whether/how they are complementary or conflicting
  • Examine whether/how these factors vary by industry sector, and what is the role of actors

To provide a couple of examples of related research topics:

  • Airlines exist largely in a very international and internationally regulated market and apply well-known international business models. At the same time, capital ownership and control over traffic rights are primarily national or regional (such as in the EU). These MNCs depend heavily on internationally available, flowing functional and legitimatory resources, but have locally idiosyncratic markets that persist in their specificity. How do they balance these different effects and what is the role of the various actors in the MNC?
  • In the food retail sector, we find hard discounter formats, such as Lidl and Aldi, as well as hypermarket formats, such as Carrefour and Tesco, both of which are increasingly applied by internationalising grocery retailers, influencing local patterns of social agency, organization and institutional change. How do internationalising companies transfer dominant business models and how are these locally translated by the various involved actors?

Authors of high quality papers to our sub-theme will be invited to consider a submission of a revised version of their papers to an upcoming Special Issue in Competition and Change (submissions of manuscripts would be due November 4, 2013). 



Czarniawska, B. & G. Sevon (2005): Global Ideas: How Ideas, Objects and Practices Travel in the Global Economy. Copenhagen: Liber & Copenhagen Business School Press.
Mueller, F. (1994): 'Societal Effect, Organizational Effect and Globalization.' Organization Studies, 15 (3), 407–428.
Üsdiken, B. (2010): 'Between Contending Perspectives and Logics: Organizational Studies in Europe.' Organization Studies, 31 (6), 715–735.


Mike Geppert is Professor of Comparative International Management and Organization Studies at the University of Surrey. His recent research focuses on socio-political issues in and around multinational companies, and on comparative studies of management, organisation and employment relations of internationally operating grocery retailers and airlines. His work has appeared in leading academic journals, including 'British Journal of Management', 'Human Relations', 'International Journal of Human Resource Management', 'Journal of International Management', 'Journal of Management Inquiry', 'Journal of Management Studies', 'Management International Review', and 'Organization Studies'. His latest book is on "Power and Politics in the MNC" (2011, co-edited with Christoph Dörrenbächer).
Ursula Mense-Petermann is Full Professor for Economic Sociology and the Sociology of Work at the Department of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany. Her participation in EGOS dates from 2004 and she has in the intervening years presented her research several times in various subthemes on power and politics in international business and in MNCs. Her research interests are in the areas of globalization of the economy, in particular the shift toward transnationalization in global business strategies, the globalization of small and medium-sized enterprises and globalization processes in management. A further research focus is on work and mobility, with her present research projects especially examining expatriate managers, their dispositions, everyday practices and networks.
Kathleen Park is Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Organization Studies and International Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. She recently received her PhD in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research interests include cross-border corporate configurations, international strategic alliances, global leadership, corporate governance, and executive careers. She has presently been pursuing her investigations in global business strategy and leadership as an International Faculty Fellow at the Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait, and she is the author of the forthcoming "Wheel of Fortune: Leadership Triumphs and Tribulations in the Acquisitions Game" (LAP Lambert Academic Press, 2011). Her doctoral research has been published in 'Competition and Change', the 'International Journal of Business and Economics Research', and the 'Academy of Management Best Papers Proceedings'.