26 Jan 2009  Working Papers

The Decentering of the Global Firm

Executive Summary — Firms such as Caterpillar are typically considered American companies by virtue of history while Honda, for example, is regarded as a Japanese company. However, the archetypal multinational firm with a particular national identity and a corporate headquarters fixed in one country is becoming obsolete as firms continue to maximize the opportunities created by global markets. The defining characteristics of what makes a firm belong to a country—where it is incorporated, where it is listed, the nationality of its investor base, the location of its headquarters functions—are no longer bound to one country. Why are these changes taking place, and what are their consequences? This paper places the increasing mobility of corporate identities within the broader setting of transformations to the "shape" of global firms over the last half century. Key concepts include:

  • Responding strategically to these changes requires a reconceptualization of what a corporate home is.
  • Managers will make conscious choices about how to unbundle activities that have traditionally been centered in a home country headquarters.
  • Policymakers in countries around the world need to understand how to create attractive homes for firms, and researchers need to devise ways to incorporate these changes in their empirical and theoretical work.


Author Abstract

This paper describes recent changes in the relationship between firms and nation states. Firms are typically linked to the nation in which they began and are considered to have fixed national identities. While firms have reallocated various activities around the world in response to value creation opportunities, they have largely retained their national identities and their headquarter activities remained bundled in their home countries. This characterization is increasingly tenuous. Firms are redefining their homes by unbundling their headquarters functions and reallocating them opportunistically across nations. A firm's legal home, its financial home and its homes for managerial talent no longer need to be colocated and, consequently, the idea of firms as national actors rooted in their home countries is rapidly becoming outdated. The implications for policy makers and researchers are outlined.

Paper Information