Does imitation reduce the liability of foreignness? Linking distance, isomorphism, and performance

Zheying Wu, R. Salomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Research summary: Research demonstrates that foreign firms from institutionally distant countries imitate the practices of domestic firms (i.e., adopt an isomorphism strategy). The conjecture has been that pursuing such a strategy can help foreign firms counteract the deleterious performance consequences associated with institutional distance; yet there is scant evidence of such. This study treats isomorphism as an endogenously selected strategy influenced by institutional distance to examine its performance consequences. Using a dataset of 80 foreign banks from 25 countries operating in the United States, we find that foreign firms from institutionally distant home countries benefit initially from selecting an isomorphism strategy. However, the benefits diminish with experience.

Managerial summary: Multinational companies experience great difficulty in managing institutional distance, and research suggests that one way to overcome distance-related constraints is to imitate the strategies of local companies. Unfortunately, we do not know enough about the performance-related consequences of engaging in such imitative behavior. This study examines whether imitating local firms improves performance for multinational companies from institutionally distant markets. We find that imitation improves a firm's performance at first; however, with experience those same strategies result in performance decrements. Managers of multinationals should therefore be careful not to get locked into imitative strategies that provide performance benefits upon entry, but that fail to provide benefits over time. Copyright (C) 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2441-2462
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • isomorphism
  • institutional distance
  • liability of foreignness
  • foreign subsidiary performance
  • endogeneity


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