Explaining the Utilization of Managerial Expatriates from the Perspectives of Resource-Based, Agency, and Transaction Costs Theories

Danchi Tan, Joseph T. Mahoney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper develops an integrative framework explaining multinational firms' managerial staffing decisions in initial foreign-entry situations from resource-based theory, agency theory, and transaction-costs theory, and it offers a set of theoretically grounded, testable propositions concerning these staffing decisions. In particular, we maintain that managerial staffing decisions are influenced by: (1) the value that managerial expatriates and local hires could potentially add to the firm; and (2) the relative contractual risks associated with the use of managerial expatriates and local managers.

This paper indicates that the use of managerial expatriates can improve contractual efficiencies in at least four ways. First, the use of expatriates helps align the economic incentives between the headquarters and the foreign subsidiaries. Second, the headquarters knows better the characteristics of expatriates relative to local hires. The use of expatriates reduces the uncertainty of the headquarters in recruiting managers and mitigates the incomplete contracting problem. Third, expatriates are better equipped with firm-specific capabilities than local hires, reducing contractual (small-numbers) problems. Fourth, expatriates have committed greater sunk cost investments in the multinational firm than local hires. These investments support their cooperative relationships with the firm and mitigate potential bargaining problems in employment contracting. However, although managerial expatriates can potentially improve contractual efficiency and may relieve a firm's concern over its limited control on managers, expatriates may not have adequate abilities in managing local idiosyncrasy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-205
Number of pages27
JournalAdvances in International Management
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management

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