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Rethinking the Case Study in International Business and Management Research

Edited by Rebecca Piekkari and Catherine Welch

This important and original book critically evaluates case study practices and calls for a more pluralistic future for case research in international business (IB) and international management (IM).
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Chapter 21: Fleas on the Backs of Elephants: Researching the Multinational Company

Asta Salmi


Tony Edwards, Phil Almond and Trevor Colling* INTRODUCTION Multinational companies (MNCs) are key players in the process of globalization. The United Nations estimates that there are close to 800,000 subsidiaries in the world belonging to MNCs which collectively are valued at close to US$12 trillion. The geographical spread of the investments made by MNCs has increased in recent years, with developing nations accounting for a growing proportion of the total (United Nations 2007). The growing size and spread of MNCs are factors in the growing recognition in the research community that we need innovative ways of shedding light on how such companies operate – and therein lies the very substantial challenge. So vast are many of these companies, and so multidimensional, that the experience is akin to that of a flea on the back of an elephant: even if you know what you are dealing with, it is difficult to see the whole picture, to keep track of its limbs or even its direction of travel. One way of carrying out such research is to establish an internationally coordinated project consisting of partners in multiple countries. Yet, the literature provides only a few examples of case studies that examine several research sites of the same firm in this way. This can be attributed to the challenges involved in such research, particularly the access and resources required. Nevertheless, the benefits of research of this nature are considerable. In this chapter we address three particular issues concerning case studies of MNCs...

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