The Journal of Technology Transfer

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 97–131 | Cite as

Dynamic effects of learning on the innovative outputs and productivity in Spanish multinational enterprises

  • Francisco J. Santos-Arteaga
  • Celia Torrecillas
  • Madjid TavanaEmail author


Empirical studies have consistently illustrated the existence of a relationship between the level of productivity and the international commitment of firms. Few studies have considered the effects of learning by foreign direct investment (FDI). We use a sample of Spanish manufacturing firms to analyze the effect that the multinational enterprise status of a firm has on its ex-post innovative performance and productivity. Our findings reveal dynamic positive effects of FDI on the technological performance of firms, with increments in patents and product innovation taking place before subsequent increments in productivity occur.


Learning by FDI Firm heterogeneity Knowledge flows Productivity Innovative performance 

JEL Classification

O33 F23 O31 L25 



Francisco J. Santos-Arteaga and Celia Torrecillas acknowledge the support provided by the Research Project Ref. ECO2010-16609 funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The authors would like to thank Isabel Alvarez Gonzalez for her valuable contribution to the initial research giving place to the current manuscript. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their insightful comments and suggestions.


  1. Almodóvar, P., López, J. E. N., & Riveros, P. H. (2009). La tipología estratégica como factor determinante de la empresa conjunta internacional. Investigaciones económicas, 33, 407–438.Google Scholar
  2. Almodóvar, P., & Rugman, A. M. (2013). The M curve and the performance of spanish international new ventures. British Journal of Management (Online publication). doi: 10.1111/1467-8551.12022.
  3. Álvarez, I. (2003). Empresas extranjeras y efectos de derrame tecnológico. Madrid: Tesis Doctoral. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.Google Scholar
  4. Alvarez, I., Marín, R., & Santos-Arteaga, F. J. (2015). FDI entry modes, development and technological spillovers. The Manchester School, 83(5), 568–603.Google Scholar
  5. Alvarez, I., & Molero, J. (2005). Technology and the generation of international knowledge spillovers: An application to Spanish manufacturing firms. Research Policy, 34(9), 1440–1452.Google Scholar
  6. Ambos, T. C., Ambos, B., & Schlegelmilch, B. B. (2006). Learning from foreign subsidiaries: An empirical investigation of headquarters’ benefits from reverse knowledge transfers. International Business Review, 15(3), 294–312.Google Scholar
  7. Arellano, M., & Bond, S. (1991). Some tests of specification for panel data: Monte Carlo evidence and an application to employment equations. The Review of Economic Studies, 58(2), 277–297.Google Scholar
  8. Arellano, M., & Bover, O. (1995). Another look at the instrumental variable estimation of error-components models. Journal of Econometrics, 68(1), 29–51.Google Scholar
  9. Arnold, J. M., & Hussinger, K. (2005). Export behavior and firm productivity in German manufacturing: a firm-level analysis. Review of World Economics, 141(2), 219–243.Google Scholar
  10. Aw, B. Y., Chung, S., & Roberts, M. J. (2000). Productivity and turnover in the export market: Micro-level evidence from the Republic of Korea and Taiwan (China). The World Bank Economic Review, 14(1), 65–90.Google Scholar
  11. Aw, B. Y., Roberts, M. J., & Winston, T. (2007). Export market participation, investments in R&D and worker training, and the evolution of firm productivity. The World Economy, 30(1), 83–104.Google Scholar
  12. Belderbos, R. (2003). Entry mode, organizational learning, and R&D in foreign affiliates: Evidence from Japanese firms. Strategic Management Journal, 24(3), 235–259.Google Scholar
  13. Belderbos, R., van Roy, V., & Duvivier, F. (2013). International and domestic technology transfers and productivity growth: Firm level evidence. Industrial and Corporate Change, 22(1), 1–32.Google Scholar
  14. Bernard, A. B., & Bradford Jensen, J. (1999). Exceptional exporter performance: Cause, effect, or both? Journal of International Economics, 47(1), 1–25.Google Scholar
  15. Brainard, S. L. (1997). An empirical assessment of the proximity-concentration trade-off between multinational sales and trade. The American Economic Review, 87(4), 520–544.Google Scholar
  16. Buckley, P. J., & Carter, M. J. (1996). The economics of business process design: Motivation, information and coordination within the firm. International Journal of the Economics of Business, 3(1), 5–24.Google Scholar
  17. Cantwell, J., & Mudambi, R. (2005). MNE competence-creating subsidiary mandates. Strategic Management Journal, 26(12), 1109–1128.Google Scholar
  18. Cassiman, B., & Golovko, E. (2010). Innovation and internationalization through exports. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(1), 56–75.Google Scholar
  19. Castellacci, F. (2008). Technology clubs, technology gaps and growth trajectories. Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 19(4), 301–314.Google Scholar
  20. Castellacci, F. (2011). Service innovation and the proximity-concentration trade-off model of trade and FDI. MPRA Working Paper.Google Scholar
  21. Castellani, D., & Zanfei, A. (2007). Internationalisation, innovation and productivity: How do firms differ in Italy? The World Economy, 30(1), 156–176.Google Scholar
  22. Choi, J., & Yeniyurt, S. (2015). Contingency distance factors and international research and development (R&D), marketing, and manufacturing alliance formations. International Business Review, 24(6), 1061–1071.Google Scholar
  23. Coe, D. T., & Helpman, E. (1995). International R&D spillovers. European Economic Review, 39(5), 859–887.Google Scholar
  24. Cohen, W. M., & Levinthal, D. A. (1990). Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35(1), 128–152.Google Scholar
  25. Cyert, R. M., & March, J. (1963). A behavioral theory of the firm. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship.Google Scholar
  26. Damijan, J. P., Kostevc, Č., & Polanec, S. (2010). From innovation to exporting or vice versa? The World Economy, 33(3), 374–398.Google Scholar
  27. Delgado, M. A., Farinas, J. C., & Ruano, S. (2002). Firm productivity and export markets: A non-parametric approach. Journal of International Economics, 57(2), 397–422.Google Scholar
  28. Dosi, G. (1988). Sources, procedures and microeconomic effects of innovation. Journal of Economic Literature, 26(3), 120–171.Google Scholar
  29. Dosi, G. (1992). Fuentes, métodos y efectos microeconómicos de la innovación Ekonomiaz, 22, 269–332.Google Scholar
  30. Dunning, J. H. (1988). Multinationals, technology, and competitiveness. London: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  31. Dunning, J. H., & Narula, R. (1995). The R&D activities of foreign firms in the United States. International Studies of Management & Organization, 25(1/2), 39–74.Google Scholar
  32. Engel, D., & Procher, V. (2012). Export, FDI and firm productivity. Applied Economics, 44(15), 1931–1940.Google Scholar
  33. Eriksson, K., Johanson, J., Majkgard, A., & Sharma, D. D. (1997). Experiential knowledge and cost in the internationalization process. Journal of International Business Studies, 28(2), 337–360.Google Scholar
  34. Esteve-Pérez, S., & Rodríguez, D. (2013). The dynamics of exports and R&D in SMEs. Small Business Economics, 41(1), 219–240.Google Scholar
  35. Forsgren, M. (2002). The concept of learning in the Uppsala internationalization process model: A critical review. International Business Review, 11(3), 257–277.Google Scholar
  36. García, F., Jin, B., & Salomon, R. (2012). Does inward foreign direct investment improve the innovative performance of local firms? Research Policy, 42(1), 231–244.Google Scholar
  37. Girma, S., Kneller, R., & Pisu, M. (2005). Exports versus FDI: An empirical test. Review of World Economics, 141(2), 193–218.Google Scholar
  38. Golovko, E., & Valentini, G. (2011). Exploring the complementarity between innovation and export for SMEs’ growth. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(3), 362–380.Google Scholar
  39. Gomes, L., & Ramaswamy, K. (1999). An empirical examination of the form of the relationship between multinationality and performance. Journal of International Business Studies, 30(1), 173–187.Google Scholar
  40. Greenaway, D., Gullstrand, J., & Kneller, R. (2005). Exporting may not always boost firm productivity. Review of World Economics, 141(4), 561–582.Google Scholar
  41. Greenaway, D., & Kneller, R. (2007). Firm heterogeneity, exporting and foreign direct investment. The Economic Journal, 117(517), F134–F161.Google Scholar
  42. Griffith, R., Huergo, E., Mairesse, J., & Peters, B. (2006). Innovation and productivity across four European countries. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 22(4), 483–498.Google Scholar
  43. Guillén, M. F., & García-Canal, E. (2010). The new multinationals: Spanish firms in a global context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Håkanson, L., & Nobel, R. (2001). Organizational characteristics and reverse technology transfer (pp. 395–420). MIR: Management International Review.Google Scholar
  45. Head, K., & Ries, J. (2003). Heterogeneity and the FDI versus export decision of Japanese manufacturers. Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, 17(4), 448–467.Google Scholar
  46. Helpman, E., Melitz, M. J., & Yeaple, S. R. (2004). Export versus FDI with heterogeneous firms. American Economic Review, 8(1), 300–316.Google Scholar
  47. Hitt, M. A., Hoskisson, R. E., & Kim, H. (1997). International diversification: Effects on innovation and firm performance in product-diversified firms. Academy of Management Journal, 40(4), 767–798.Google Scholar
  48. Johanson, J., & Vahlne, J. (1977). The internationalization process of the firm-a model of knowledge development and increasing foreign market commitments. Journal of International Business Studies, 8, 23–32.Google Scholar
  49. Johanson, J., & Wiedersheim-Paul, F. (1975). The Internationalization of the Firm- Four Swedish Cases. Journal of Management Studies, 12(3), 305–322.Google Scholar
  50. Jonsson, A., & Foss, N. J. (2011). International expansion through flexible replication: Learning from the internationalization experience of IKEA. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(9), 1079–1102.Google Scholar
  51. Kafouros, M. I., Buckley, P. J., & Clegg, J. (2012). The effects of global knowledge reservoirs on the productivity of multinational enterprises: The role of international depth and breadth. Research Policy, 41(5), 848–861.Google Scholar
  52. Kafouros, M. I., Buckley, P. J., Sharp, J. A., & Wang, C. (2008). The role of internationalization in explaining innovation performance. Technovation, 28(1), 63–74.Google Scholar
  53. Kimura, F., & Kiyota, K. (2006). Exports, FDI, and productivity: Dynamic evidence from Japanese firms. Review of World Economics, 142(4), 695–719.Google Scholar
  54. Kotabe, M., Srinivasan, S. S., & Aulakh, P. S. (2002). Multinationality and firm performance: The moderating role of R&D and marketing capabilities. Journal of International Business Studies, 33(1), 79–97.Google Scholar
  55. Liu, X., & Buck, T. (2007). Innovation performance and channels for international technology spillovers: Evidence from Chinese high-tech industries. Research Policy, 36(3), 355–366.Google Scholar
  56. Love, J. H., & Ganotakis, P. (2013). Learning by exporting: Lessons from high-technology SMEs. International Business Review, 22(1), 1–17.Google Scholar
  57. Luo, Y., & Tung, R. L. (2007). International expansion of emerging market enterprises: A springboard perspective. Journal of International Business Studies, 38(4), 481–498.Google Scholar
  58. Marin, R., & Alvarez, I. (2009). Technological effects of M&As in Spanish manufacturing. Industrial and Corporate Change, 18(4), 761–784.Google Scholar
  59. Mathews, J. A. (2002). Competitive advantages of the latecomer firm: A resource-based account of industrial catch-up strategies. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 19(4), 467–488.Google Scholar
  60. Mathews, J. A. (2006). Dragon multinationals: New players in 21st century globalization. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 23(1), 5–27.Google Scholar
  61. Melitz, M. J. (2003). The impact of trade on intra-industry reallocations and aggregate industry. Econometrica, 71(6), 1695–1725.Google Scholar
  62. Melitz, M. J., & Ottaviano, G. (2008). Market size, trade, and productivity. Review of Economic Studies, 75(1), 295–316.Google Scholar
  63. Molero, J., Buesa, M., & Casado, M. (1995). Technological strategies of MNCs in intermediate countries: The case of Spain. In J. Molero (Ed.), Technological innovation, multinational corporations and new international competitiveness. The case of intermediate countries (pp. 265–291). Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  64. Monreal-Pérez, J., Aragón-Sánchez, A., & Sánchez-Marín, G. (2011). A longitudinal study of the relationship between export activity and innovation in the Spanish firm: The moderating role of productivity. International Business Review, 21(5), 862–877.Google Scholar
  65. Mudambi, R. (2002). Knowledge management in multinational firms. Journal of International Management, 8(1), 1–9.Google Scholar
  66. Mudambi, R., & Navarra, P. (2004). Is knowledge power? Knowledge flows, subsidiary power and rent-seeking within MNCs. Journal of International Business Studies, 35(5), 385–406.Google Scholar
  67. Mudambi, R., Piscitello, L., & Rabbiosi, L. (2013). Reverse knowledge transfer in MNEs: Subsidiary innovativeness and entry modes. Long Range Planning. doi: 10.1016/j.lrp.2013.08.013.Google Scholar
  68. Neary, J. P. (2009). Trade costs and foreign direct investment. International Review of Economics & Finance, 18(2), 207–218.Google Scholar
  69. Nocke, V., & Yeaple, S. (2007). Cross-border mergers and acquisitions vs. greenfield foreign direct investment: The role of firm heterogeneity. Journal of International Economics, 72(2), 336–365.Google Scholar
  70. Petersen, B., Pedersen, T., & Lyles, M. A. (2008). Closing knowledge gaps in foreign markets. Journal of International Business Studies, 39(7), 1097–1113.Google Scholar
  71. Rabbiosi, L. (2011). Subsidiary roles and reverse knowledge transfer: An investigation of the effects of coordination mechanisms. Journal of International Management, 17(2), 97–113.Google Scholar
  72. Raff, H., Ryan, M., & Stähler, F. (2009). The choice of market entry mode: Greenfield investment, M&A and joint venture. International Review of Economics & Finance, 18(1), 3–10.Google Scholar
  73. Rodríguez, D. (2010). Las empresas industriales en 2009. Madrid: Ministerio de Industria, Turismo y Comercio.Google Scholar
  74. Roodman, D. (2006). How to do xtabond2: An introduction to difference and system GMM in Stata. Center for Global Development Working Paper (103).Google Scholar
  75. Roodman, D. (2009). A note on the theme of too many instruments. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 71(1), 135–158.Google Scholar
  76. Roodman, D. (2012). XTABOND2: Stata module to extend xtabond dynamic panel data estimator. Washington, DC: Statistical Software Components, Centre for Global Development.Google Scholar
  77. Salomon, R., & Jin, B. (2007). Does knowledge spill to leaders or laggards? Exploring industry heterogeneity in learning by exporting. Journal of International Business Studies, 39(1), 132–150.Google Scholar
  78. Salomon, R. M., & Shaver, J. M. (2005). Learning by exporting: new insights from examining firm innovation. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, 14(2), 431–460.Google Scholar
  79. Sanna-Randaccio, F., & Veugelers, R. (2007). Multinational knowledge spillovers with decentralised R&D: A game-theoretic approach. Journal of International Business Studies, 38(1), 47–63.Google Scholar
  80. Silva, A., Afonso, O., & Africano, A. P. (2012). Learning-by-exporting: what we know and what we would like to know. The International Trade Journal, 26(3), 255–288.Google Scholar
  81. Tomiura, E. (2007). Foreign outsourcing, exporting, and FDI: A productivity comparison at the firm level. Journal of International Economics, 72(1), 113–127.Google Scholar
  82. Triguero, Á., & Córcoles, D. (2012). Understanding innovation: An analysis of persistence for Spanish manufacturing firms. Research Policy, 42(2), 340–352.Google Scholar
  83. Vernon, R. (1966). International investment and international trade in the product cycle. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 80(2), 190–207.Google Scholar
  84. Wagner, J. (2006). Exports, foreign direct investment, and productivity: Evidence from German firm level data. Applied Economics Letters, 13(6), 347–349.Google Scholar
  85. Wagner, J. (2007). Exports and productivity: A survey of the evidence from firm-level data. The World Economy, 30(1), 60–82.Google Scholar
  86. Yamin, M., & Otto, J. (2004). Patterns of knowledge flows and MNE innovative performance. Journal of International Management, 10(2), 239–258.Google Scholar
  87. Yang, Q., Mudambi, R., & Meyer, K. E. (2008). Conventional and reverse knowledge flows in multinational corporations†. Journal of Management, 34(5), 882–902.Google Scholar
  88. Yeaple, S. R. (2009). Firm heterogeneity and the structure of US multinational activity. Journal of International Economics, 78(2), 206–215.Google Scholar
  89. Yeoh, P. (2004). International learning: antecedents and performance implications among newly internationalizing companies in an exporting context. International Marketing Review, 21(4/5), 511–535.Google Scholar
  90. Zheng, N., Wei, Y., Zhang, Y., & Yang, J. (2016). In search of strategic assets through cross-border merger and acquisitions: Evidence from Chinese multinational enterprises in developed economies. International Business Review, 25(1A), 177–186.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco J. Santos-Arteaga
    • 1
  • Celia Torrecillas
    • 2
    • 3
  • Madjid Tavana
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Faculty of Economics and ManagementFree University of BolzanoBolzanoItaly
  2. 2.Departamento de Economía y FinanzasUniversidad Europea de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Instituto Complutense de Estudios InternacionalesUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  4. 4.Business Systems and Analytics Department, Distinguished Chair of Business AnalyticsLa Salle UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Business Information Systems Department, Faculty of Business Administration and EconomicsUniversity of PaderbornPaderbornGermany

Personalised recommendations