Research in strategic management has shown that the timing of firm participation in a merger wave matters, as early movers have been shown to outperform later ones. However, while the consequences of the timing of action within a merger wave have been assessed, the causes that drive these timing effects remain unknown. We draw on the competitive dynamics perspective to investigate firm-level factors that influence the large-scale strategic behavior of leading or following within industry merger waves. We develop hypotheses based on the competitive dynamics argument that the awareness-motivation-capability of firms will influence the timing of competitive action. Consistent with this perspective, we show that a firm's strategic orientation, its structure, and its resource base influence the timing of firm entry in merger waves. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.