Do managerial ties in China always produce value? Competition, uncertainty, and domestic vs. foreign firms



While most advocate that foreign firms should utilize managerial ties to conduct business in China, recent literature cautions that such ties may offer only conditional value. This study examines three sources of heterogeneity that may condition the value of ties: firm ownership (foreign vs. domestic), competition, and structural uncertainty. Results from a survey of 280 firms in China indicate that though foreign and domestic firms utilize ties at a similar level, their performance gains from tie utilization differ. Managerial ties have a monotonic, positive effect on performance for domestic firms, whereas the effect is curvilinear (i.e., inverted U-shaped) for foreign firms. Therefore, compared with domestic firms, foreign firms have a competitive disadvantage from tie utilization. Furthermore, managerial ties are less effective for fostering performance when competition becomes more intense. However, ties lead to higher levels of firm performance when structural uncertainty increases. Overall, these results support the contingency view of managerial ties and caution companies about the unconditional use of ties as the market becomes more heterogeneous. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.