Towards a People-centric Perspective on the Geography of Technological Renewal in the Multinational Corporation
This paper develops a people-centric perspective on the geographical dispersion of technological renewal in the multinational corporation (MNC). We contend that a large proportion of all foreign technological advancements can be attributed to a handful of individual inventors, suggesting a blockbuster effect of subsidiary technological development. This suggests that analyses carried out at the subsidiary or firm level disguise significant yet largely unexplored variation in the technological contributions made by individual members of these foreign units. To support this proposition, the paper draws upon an original data set that comprises all of the advanced foreign subsidiaries of 21 Swedish MNCs between 1893 and 2008, and follows their patenting activity in order to document the distribution of inventive activity, both across and within individual subsidiaries. The findings at the subsidiary level show that the distribution of technological activity and contribution to the overall multinational group is significantly skewed; the paper then empirically explores the assumption that a similar distribution also applies at the level of individual inventors. The results point to a pattern whereby most inventors make only occasional and limited technological contributions and, instead, more significant numbers of new technological discoveries are attributable to a select group of exceptionally inventive individuals. In the light of the results, we suggest the fruitfulness of applying a people-centric perspective on the sources of sustained competitive advantage of the MNC, the management of geographically dispersed capabilities in the multinational network, and the geographical sources of technological renewal in the MNC.
Research Policy, 2014, Vol 43, Issue 4, p. 669-682