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Keywords:

  • corporate restructuring;
  • organizational learning;
  • absorptive capacity;
  • organizational improvisation;
  • spin-off;
  • divestiture

Abstract

This paper examines the role of learning in corporate restructuring. Drawing from two viewpoints of organizational learning, absorptive capacity and organizational improvisation, we examine whether experience with corporate restructuring modes (sell-offs, spin-offs) influences subsequent restructuring and financial performance. Consistent with an absorptive capacity view, cumulative and repetitive experience with sell-offs was related to the adoption of an ensuing sell-off and to higher performance. Conversely, and consistent with an organizational improvisation view, short-term and contemporaneous experience with spin-offs was related to the subsequent use of spin-offs and to increases in financial performance. The findings contribute to a dynamic explanation of corporate restructuring and its influence on financial performance, illustrate differences between learning in a repetitive situation and learning when repetition is rare, and indicate when absorptive capacity and organizational improvisational views are most profitable. Overall, these findings show that different kinds of restructuring experiences were associated with different modes of restructuring and performance records. Considered collectively, the organizational learning perspective offers insights into why some corporate restructuring strategies appear as intentional and deliberate actions while others resemble more spontaneous and simultaneous responses. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.