Overcoming distrust: How state-owned enterprises adapt their foreign entries to institutional pressures abroad

Abstract

State-owned (SO) enterprises are subject to more complex institutional pressures in host countries than private firms. These institutional pressures arise from a weak legitimacy of “state ownership” in some countries, which arises from a combination of ideological conflicts, perceived threats to national security, and claimed unfair competitive advantage due to support by the home country government. These institutional pressures directed specifically at SO firms induce them to adapt their foreign entry strategies to reduce potential conflicts and to enhance their legitimacy. Testing hypotheses derived from this theoretical argument for subsidiaries of listed Chinese firms, we find that SO firms adapt mode and control decisions differently from private firms to the conditions in host countries, and these differences are larger where pressures for legitimacy on SO firms are stronger. These findings not only extend institutional theory to better explain differential effects on different entrants to an organizational field, but demonstrate how foreign investors of idiosyncratic origins may proactively build legitimacy in host societies.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    According to the UNCTAD FDI database, Chinese outward FDI flows increased to US$84.2 billion in 2012, accounting for more than a quarter of FDI from Asian emerging economies (i.e., Asia excluding Japan). Of the Chinese outward FDI, according to the estimates by the Heritage Foundation, 96% of the dollar value from 2005 to the middle of 2012 came from SOEs (Scissors, 2012).

  2. 2.

    For instance, additional screening and approval by the government are needed in Canada only when foreign SO investors attempt to take controlling interests (“acquisition of control”) in Canadian firms (Investment Canada Act, 2013).

  3. 3.

    In the Euronext market, a shareholder of a listed company wanting to increase its equity stake beyond 30% must make a public bid for all outstanding shares, while Hong Kong Stock Exchange requires controlling shareholders to make a public bid for all outstanding shares if the floating shares go below 25% of total issued shares.

  4. 4.

    Following international accounting standards, these are reported as subsidiaries (IAS 27, §13), joint control (IAS31, §7), and significant influence (IAS28, §§6–7). “Significant influence” is associated with ownership levels of 20% or more and thus still meets the definition of FDI commonly used in the IB literature.

  5. 5.

    Since 2007, China Security Regulatory Commission have required all the listed companies to disclosure in their annual reports the controlling chain and the identity of the ultimate controller of the listed entities, which makes our distinction of SO vs PO quite reliable.

  6. 6.

    We thank the action editor for this suggestion.

  7. 7.

    For example, when a listed parent company holds 80% ownership in a son company and this son company in turn holds 80% ownership in an overseas subsidiary, the parent firm’s voting right in the overseas subsidiary is 80% and cash flow right is 64%.

  8. 8.

    The descriptive statistics for the subsamples used in Tables 5 and 6 are available from the authors upon request.

  9. 9.

    Note that in Column (8) of Table 5 the interaction between host technology and state is not significant. We examined VIF values of the variables included in this column and found that host technology and rule of law have VIF values of well above 10, suggesting high correlations between the two variables, which might lead to the insignificance of the interaction term. Thus estimating the two interaction effects in separate models, as in columns 3 and 5, is appropriate.

  10. 10.

    We thank a reviewer for suggesting this. Geographical distance was computed based on the latitude and longitude of the city where the Chinese firm is located and the capital city of the host country. It was measured as the log of geographic distance in kilometers. The information is from the CEPII.

  11. 11.

    In 2004–2005, German machine tool manufacturers Wohlenberg, Schiess, Waldrich Coburg, Kelch, and Grosse Jacquard, all of which were undergoing insolvency procedures at the time, were acquired by, respectively, Shanghai Electric Group, Shanyang Machine Tool Group, Beijing No. 1 Machine Tool Plant, Harbin Measuring and Cutting Tool Group, and Hisun Group, all of which were SO firms (Jungbluth, 2013, Table 1). Similarly, Dürkopp Adler was facing financial challenges but not insolvency at the time of its takeover by the SO MNE ShangGong Group, and has since been successfully restructured while maintaining key operations in Europe (Klöckner, 2013).

  12. 12.

    We thank the special issue editor’s guidance on this matter.

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Acknowledgements

We thank JIBS Special Issue Editors and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. We also appreciate the helpful comments on earlier versions of this work from Lin Cui and Larissa Rabbiosi, seminar participants at Copenhagen Business School, University of St. Gallen, George Mason University and HEC Lausanne as well as conference participants at COST workshop “The Impact of Emerging Multinationals on Global Development” (May 2013, Milan), 7th China Goes Global Conference (September 2013, Bremen), and Conference on “Governments as Owners: Globalizing State Owned Enterprises” (September 2013, Boston). Financial support is gratefully appreciated by Yuan Ding from the CEIBS Research Center on Globalization of Chinese Firms, by Klaus Meyer from CEIBS Research Centre for Emerging Market Studies, and by Jing Li from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and from the National Science Foundation of China (project 71132002). The research assistance of Ellen Jiang Xiaochu (Ophelia) Yu is greatly appreciated.

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Accepted by Aldo Musacchio, Guest Editor, 20 February 2014. This paper has been with the authors for three revisions.

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Meyer, K., Ding, Y., Li, J. et al. Overcoming distrust: How state-owned enterprises adapt their foreign entries to institutional pressures abroad. J Int Bus Stud 45, 1005–1028 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/jibs.2014.15

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Keywords

  • state-owned enterprises
  • institutional theory
  • foreign market entry
  • establishment mode
  • control mode
  • Chinese multinationals