The formation of an MNE identity over the course of internationalization

Abstract

Organizational identity describes how members of an organization think about ‘who we are.’ But how exactly does a multinational enterprise (MNE) form an identity revolving around its key feature – that it is a globally operating organization with subsidiaries across several countries? Tracing the evolution of AutoCorp, a German MNE, over almost 30 years, I develop theory on how an MNE identity is formed over the course of internationalization. Focusing on the relational evolvement of the pair comprising headquarters and the first major foreign subsidiary, my data reveal how the formation process of an MNE identity involves awareness, aspiration, and assimilation as key steps, and sensemaking, storytelling, and standardizing as process mechanisms. I unpack how the process of MNE identity formation unfolds along a set of discrete events, which constitute inflection points marking the transition from one stage to the next: from multiple identities via identity reflection and identity envisioning to an MNE identity. By introducing the notion of an MNE identity, this paper enriches the way international business scholars think about classic questions around the coordination and organization of MNEs.

Résumé

L’identité organisationnelle décrit la façon dont les membres d’une organisation pensent à “qui nous sommes”. Mais comment une entreprise multinationale (EMN) se forge-t-elle une identité autour de sa caractéristique principale, à savoir le fait qu’il s’agisse d’une organisation opérant à l’échelle mondiale et possédant des filiales dans plusieurs pays ? En retraçant l’évolution d’AutoCorp, une EMN allemande, sur près de trente ans, je développe une théorie sur la façon dont l’identité d’une EMN se forme au cours de l’internationalisation. En me concentrant sur l’évolution relationnelle de la paire composée du siège social et de la première grande filiale étrangère, mes données révèlent comment le processus de formation de l’identité d’une EMN implique la prise de conscience, l’aspiration et l’assimilation en tant qu’étapes clés, ainsi que l’élaboration de sens, la narration et la normalisation en tant que mécanismes processuels. Je décris comment le processus de formation de l’identité d’une EMN se déroule au cours d’un ensemble d’événements discrets qui constituent des points d’inflexion marquant la transition d’une étape à l’autre : d’identités multiples à une identité d’EMN en passant par la réflexion et la vision de l’identité. En introduisant la notion d’identité d’EMN, cet article enrichit la manière dont les chercheurs de l’international business réfléchissent aux questions classiques de la coordination et de l’organisation des EMN.

Resumen

La identidad organizacional describe que piensan los miembros de una organización sobre “quienes somos”. Pero ¿cómo exactamente una empresa multinacional forma una identidad girando en torno a su característica clave: que es una organización que opera globalmente con filiales en diferentes países? Siguiendo la evolución de AutoCorp, una multinacional alemana, por cerca de treinta años, desarrollo teoría sobre cómo una identidad de una multinacional es formada en el transcurso de su internacionalización. Enfocándome en la evolución relacional de la pareja comprendida por la casa matriz y la primera gran filial, mis datos revelan cómo el proceso de formación de la identidad de las empresas multinacionales implica conciencia, aspiración y asimilación cómo los pasos clave, y proporcionar sentido, narración, y estandarización como mecanismos de procesos. Desentraño cómo el proceso de formación de identidad de las multinacionales se despliega a lo largo de un conjunto de eventos discretos, los cuales constituyen puntos de inflexión marcando la transición de una etapa a la siguiente: de identidades múltiples a través de la reflexión de la identidad y de la visión de identidad a una identidad de las multinacionales. Al presentar la noción de una identidad de las multinacionales, este artículo enriquece la manera en la cual los académicos de negocios internacionales piensan sobre preguntas clave de la coordinación y la organización de las empresas multinacionales.

Resumo

Identidade organizacional descreve como membros de uma organização pensam sobre “quem somos”. as como exatamente uma empresa multinacional (MNE) forma uma identidade que gira em torno de sua característica principal - que é uma organização que opera globalmente com subsidiárias em vários países? Acompanhando a evolução da AutoCorp, uma MNE alemã, ao longo de quase trinta anos, desenvolvo teoria sobre como uma identidade de MNE é formada ao longo da internacionalização. Com foco na evolução relacional do par que compreende a sede e a primeira grande subsidiária estrangeira, meus dados revelam como o processo de formação de uma identidade de MNE envolve consciência, aspiração e assimilação como etapas chave, e construção de sentido, narrativa e padronização como mecanismos de processo. Eu analiso como o processo de formação da identidade de MNE se desdobra ao longo de um conjunto de eventos distintos, que constituem pontos de inflexão que marcam a transição de um estágio para o próximo: de identidades múltiplas via reflexão de identidade e visão de identidade para uma identidade de MNE. Ao introduzir a noção de identidade de uma MNE, este artigo enriquece a maneira pela qual acadêmicos de negócios internacionais pensam sobre questões clássicas de coordenação e organização de MNEs.

摘要

组织身份描述了组织成员如何思考“我们是谁”。但跨国企业(MNE)如何准确地围绕它是一个在多国设有子公司的全球运营组织这个主要特征形成一个身份?追溯近三十年来AutoCorp这家德国MNE的发展历程, 我提出了国际化历程中MNE身份如何形成的理论。我的数据集中于总部和第一家主要外国子公司之间这对关系的演变, 揭示了MNE身份的形成过程是如何将意识、抱负和同化作为关键步骤, 以及如何将意义建构、讲故事和标准化作为过程机制。我解开MNE身份形成过程是如何沿着一系列离散事件进行的, 这些事件构成拐点, 标志着从一个阶段到下一个阶段的过渡: 通过身份映射和身份构想从多种身份到MNE身份。通过提出MNE身份的概念, 本文丰富了国际商务学者对MNE的协调与组织的经典问题的思考方式。

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Mary Teagarden for her editorial guidance and the three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and constructive comments, which have helped improve the paper. Funding for this research was provided by two separate grants from the German Research Foundation (DFG), under grant numbers GRK 1012 and FO 1024/1-1. I am grateful to the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina for having hosted me, and to Charlotte Cloutier, Michael Etter, Gabriela Gutierrez Huerter O, Aimee Hamilton, Ahmed Hassan, Arne Keller, Michael Pratt, Juliane Reinecke, Thomas Roulet, and Luda Svystunova for their feedback. The paper has also benefited from comments I received during a workshop at Griffith University in 2017, the ‘Cognition in the Rough’ workshop of the Managerial and Organizational Cognition Division of the Academy of Management in 2018, and presentations at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in 2019 and Newcastle University Business School in 2020.

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Accepted by Mary Teagarden, 15 November 2020. This article has been with the author for two revisions.

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Fortwengel, J. The formation of an MNE identity over the course of internationalization. J Int Bus Stud (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-020-00397-9

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Keywords

  • organizational identity
  • multinational enterprise (MNE)
  • internationalization
  • headquarters–subsidiary relationship
  • qualitative research