Multinational Firm Knowledge, Use of Expatriates, and Foreign Subsidiary Performance


Yulin Fang, College of Business, City University of Hong Kong, 83 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong (


The impact of knowledge transfer on foreign subsidiary performance has been a major focus of research on knowledge management in multinational enterprises (MNEs). By integrating the knowledge-based view and the expatriation literature, this study examines the relationship between a multinational firm's knowledge (i.e. marketing and technological knowledge), its use of expatriates, and the performance of its foreign subsidiaries. We conceptualize that expatriates play a contingent role in facilitating the transfer and redeployment of a parent firm's knowledge to its subsidiary, depending on the location specificity of the organizational knowledge being transferred and the time of transfer. Our analysis of 1660 foreign subsidiaries of Japanese firms over a 15-year period indicates that the number of expatriates relative to the total number of subsidiary employees (1) strengthened the effect of a parent firm's technological knowledge (with low location specificity) on subsidiary performance in the short term, but (2) weakened the impact of the parent firm's marketing knowledge (with high location specificity) on subsidiary performance in the long term. We also found that the expatriates' influence on knowledge transfer eventually disappeared. The implications for knowledge transfer research and the expatriate management literature are discussed.