How inpatriation supports subsidiary growth and performance

Introducing my paper with Heejin and Sebastian on how inpatriation contributes ot subsidiary capability building and evolution

One of the joys of working in academia is being able to choose who you work with. When Heejin Kim, who visited me at Middlesex University (see Sabbatical at Middlesex University London: a story of swans and unicorns) asked me to join on a paper on inpatriation I happily agreed. I also asked Sebastian Reiche, one of my former PhD students to join forces with us.

The whole collaboration was an absolute delight, combining the best of relationship-oriented and scholarly-professional rationales (see On academic life: collaborations and active engagement). Fortunately, this paper didn't just have nice co-authors, but also a great editor and brilliant reviewers (thank you whoever you are!). So our journey was a relatively smooth one. Heejin will be writing a longer blogpost about our paper soon, but I couldn't wait to share the good news today.


Intra-company knowledge transfer is a key source of competitive advantage for multinational companies (MNCs) and this knowledge is usually embedded in individuals. Drawing on organizational knowledge creation theory, we explore how inpatriation contributes to knowledge transfer and, in turn, subsidiary performance. Inpatriation involves the international assignment of employees from an MNC’s foreign subsidiary to its headquarters. Despite increasing attention to the role of inpatriation, we lack a clear understanding of whether and how inpatriates provide value to their subsidiaries after returning from headquarters.

Through a qualitative case study of Japanese MNCs, we demonstrate the process through which inpatriates’ knowledge transfer contributes to subsidiary capability building and subsidiary evolution over time, and explain why successive inpatriation is thus critical to enhance subsidiary performance. Our theoretical model highlights the value of inpatriates as knowledge agents, reveals the process through which inpatriates transfer knowledge between HQ and subsidiaries, and provides a more nuanced understanding of the micro-foundations of intra-MNC knowledge transfer processes. Based on these findings, we argue that inpatriation is not merely a staffing method that is complementary to expatriation, but a key practice in its own right to support subsidiaries’ growth and performance.

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