Heterarchy and the Subaltern of Subsidiary Strategy : Deconstructing subsidiary managers' stories

Griffin, Ray (2007) Heterarchy and the Subaltern of Subsidiary Strategy : Deconstructing subsidiary managers' stories. PhD thesis, Waterford Institute of Technology.

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Abstract

It is now twenty years since Gunnar Hedlund’s seminal contribution ‘The Hypermodern MNC – A Heterarchy?‘ in which he identified an emerging form of organising the multinational corporation (MNC); one associated with multi‐centred, differentiated internal structures, strategic roles for foreign subsidiaries, integration achieved primarily through normative control and flexibility in organisational tasks and governance mechanisms. On the back of this contribution, an academic discourse on subsidiary strategy has encouraged subsidiary managers to create and protect their subsidiary’s futures, to strategise. But subsidiary strategy‐making is rarely an overt process, and as a result does not lend itself to being easily researched. Much of what constitutes subsidiary strategy is privately held by the subsidiary management team and can only be evidenced by its outcomes‐ be they positive (for example gaining a new activity) or negative (such as suffering a divestment). Compounding this difficulty is the ongoing repositioning of strategy away from strategic planning, with its established methods of research, towards more nebulous definitions of strategy, which serves to complicate the research process. In response to these challenges, and the ground‐breaking contribution of Hedlund’s concept of the heterarchical MNC; this dissertation reports on the deconstruction of the stories some subsidiary managers told about their businesses, in doing so it reveals insights into strategising in subsidiaries and ultimately the efficacy of the concept of the heterarchical MNC. Eight stories about subsidiary management were elicited from managers of eight different subsidiaries. These stories, artefacts of thick description, are essentially a form of microstoria analysis that allows for a consideration of the strategic sensemaking activities of subsidiary managers. These voices and personal stories are then deconstructed to unpack latent hierarchical categories and themes. A secondary contribution of this research process is the substantiating and specification of the storytelling method, an emergent method of studying organisations. The idiosyncratic, arbitrary and inchoate deconstruction ultimately speaks compellingly to the issue of heterarchy. A reflection on narrative voice and focalisation highlights the loci of interest of the subsidiary managers, which unsurprisingly was found to be resolutely subsidiary focused. This is well understood within the traditional discourse on the management of MNCs, evidenced by the voluminous literature on control and its prescribed solution to this ‘problem’, suggested from agency theory‐ supervision and normative control. This is also prescribed as the most desirable method for achieving integration in Hedlund’s heterarchical MNC. The second lens points up the stories as retrospective sensemaking narratives that the subsidiary managers have told many times before. Through their successive retelling these stories become abridged and as a result start to more closely resemble fictionalised accounts, becoming coherent narratives with a beginning, middle and end, and a well fettled plot, all at a cost of their naïvety, rawness and perhaps authenticity. The third lens, drawing on the idea of intertextuality, unpacks the role that the literature on subsidiary strategy plays in the subsidiaries managers’ sensemaking about their own context. Through a nexus of interactions between managers, academics, and consultants a model, a one best way of subsidiary management has become reified as a panacea for subsidiary management. The model overpowers the stories of the subsidiary managers, silencing more contextual, individualised sensemakings as they attempt to find a path to fortify their subsidiaries. The outcomes for the various subsidiaries suggest that at times the subsidiaries are well served by the dominant model, but at other times are less so. Mandate expansion has become a classic narrative in the mould of the hero’s quest, with the mandate as a throwaway mcguffan, a plot device that legitimises the story of the chase. The final lens unpacks the partial metaphor of MNC as a hierarchical family; an uncomfortable exercise in revealing how little has changed. The metaphor laid bare suggests that subsidiaries still have the potential to be powerless, subservient, continually chasing the acceptance of their HQs in the continual contest for survival in the harsh social world of the MNC. Subsidiary managers still obsess about their relationship with their headquarters, for the sword of Damocles is forever above their heads. But of course all this is reflected in the real and somewhat forgotten etymology of the term subsidiary, which originates in the notion to serve. For many a subsidiary manager, we are still along way from realisation of heterarchy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Subsidiary Corporations
Departments or Groups: *NONE OF THESE*
Divisions: School of Business > Department of Management and Organization
Depositing User: e- Thesis
Date Deposited: 23 May 2008 16:53
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2016 10:25
URI: http://repository.wit.ie/id/eprint/970

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