Of bears, bumble-bees, and spiders: The role of expatriates in controlling foreign subsidiaries

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362 Citations (Scopus)


This article investigates the role of expatriate managers in multinational companies. We discuss three key organizational functions of expatriation: position filling, management development, and organization development. In the last function, organization development, international transfers are used as an informal coordination and control strategy through socialization and the building of informal communication networks. The article explores this role of international transfers in greater detail, but also discusses a more formal way in which expatriates can control subsidiaries. The following metaphors for these different control functions of expatriation are introduced: “bear” (formal direct control), “bumble-bee” (socialization), and “spider” (informal communication). A large-scale mail survey offers empirical evidence for the bear, bumble-bee and spider roles and shows under which circumstances they are most effective. Being aware of the different control functions of expatriation and the circumstances under which they are most effective can help managers to use expatriate assignments as a more strategic tool.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-379
JournalJournal of World Business
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes




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