The management and organization of firms have been changing to exploit new technologies. My research therefore analyzes how large high technology multinational companies (MNCs) in Japan and Europe (with particular emphasis on Germany) have tried to absorb new technologies from abroad, especially the United States, through the 1990s and identifies key determinants of MNCs’ ability to achieve this successfully. Defining such a capability as ‘absorptive capability (AC)’ of MNCs, the research questions addressed in the thesis are: 1) What capabilities comprise AC and influence the performance of a firm in the US market? 2) What organizational and managerial factors influence AC? 3) What are the effects of national environments on AC?
This study relies on multiple data sets such as interviews, patents, company reports and government and other public data as well as questionnaires (50-page questionnaires were answered by nearly forty major MNCs, in electronics, automotive, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, such as Sony, Toyota, Takeda, Siemens, DaimlerChrysler, Bayer, Novartis, Roche, etc.). Since the research subject, international R&D management, is an underdeveloped area, there was not much existing literature or public information to rely on. Therefore I conducted extensive fieldwork in the US, Europe and Japan to collect the data directly from the people or original sources.
The preliminary findings reveal clear company differences in the manner and the degree of absorption of U.S. technological knowledge as well as in organizational and managerial characteristics that enable exploration and exploitation of U.S. knowledge, i.e., control and coordination mechanisms, involvement of different functions, diversity and management of human resources, objectives of U.S. R&D, etc. The results also show significant national differences suggesting the important roles played by national environments. I believe this research provides useful perspectives about what capabilities MNCs need in order to absorb technologies from abroad and remain internationally competitive in high tech industries, which face fierce competition, globalization of market and emergence of new technologies.
Seiko Arai is DPhil student at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, on leave from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology. She graduated in law and in political science from the Tokyo University and went to Harvard University’s J.F. Kennedy School of Government to take her Master in Public Policy.