The roles of the assigned expatriate manager in multinational companies: reviewing the application of existing theoretical frameworks to the operationalisation of expatriate functions in foreign subsidiaries




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the functions that assigned expatriate (AE) managers perform within the foreign subsidiaries of multinational companies (MNCs). Its primary objectives are to explore the extent to which existing theoretical frameworks on expatriate functions adequately capture and explain the way in which managers’ roles are operationalised while on assignment. To do this, a qualitative research design was used to identify the roles performed, the motivation behind these, and the inter-relatedness and operationalisation of these roles at a local subsidiary level. A matched case study approach was undertaken to identify potential organisational and institutional-level influences, which might have helped to shape the use of international management assignments. Four MNCs, two originating from the US and two from Spain, made up the main case study organisations, while eighteen MNCs from a range of countries, (E.g. France, India, Germany, Japan, Denmark) were utilised as minor case studies to further inform the findings from the major case study organisations. In total, fifty-one semi-structured interviews were gained from AE managers, and the global mobility managers (GMMs) and human resource directors (HRDs) who organised international assignments within the chosen MNCs. The results of the multiple case study approach confirmed that the primary reasons for assigning managers to foreign subsidiaries were knowledge transfer, management development, coordination and control as stated by Edstrom and Galbraith’s (1977). In addition to this, it also confirmed the multifaceted and messy nature of these assignments, with AE managers performing several functions at once to fulfil varying individual-, business- and organisation-level (Hocking et al., 2004) objectives and priorities. Each individual assignment was found to be unique, with varying combinations of the three expatriate functions outlined by Edstrom and Galbraith pursued within any single management assignment. The combination of functions performed was found to be shaped by varying environmental-, organisational- and individual-level motivations and objectives. At the organisational level, the formation of regional structures was identified as a key factor influencing increased horizontal movement of AE managers between specific subsidiary units, particularly for the purposes of knowledge transfer and coordination purposes. Finally, regarding how AE managers fulfilled their functions within the local subsidiary, this study has identified several micro-level activities, or ‘role processes’ (Hocking et al., 2004), based on an analysis of the data. Based on the past literature and the findings of this current study, several role processes have been identified and include translator, mentor, apprentice, investigator, internal negotiator, fire-fighter, ambassador, and networker.





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