Date of Award

December 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Business Administration

First Advisor

Margaret A. Shaffer

Committee Members

Romila Singh, Mark A. Mone, Hong Ren, Sarah J. Freeman


Collaborative-Based Hr Configuration, Cultural Intelligence, Expatriate, Host Country National, Knowledge Transfer, Social Capital


One of the competitive advantages of multinational corporations (MNCs) is to successfully transfer knowledge among geographically dispersed and diverse locations (de Pablos, 2006; Kogut & Zander, 1993). During the process of knowledge transfer in MNCs, expatriates and host country nationals (HCNs) serve as boundary spanners, meaning that they generally serve as bridges for the transference of knowledge. However, because it might be more difficult for expatriates and HCNs to form positive relationships as they are from different cultural backgrounds, the transfer of knowledge may be impeded. This raises an intriguing question: How can expatriates and HCNs overcome the differences inherent between them and develop quality relationships instrumental for knowledge transfer? Existing research does not provide a good answer for this question. The knowledge transfer literature has focused on organizational vehicles and structural mechanisms, with little attention given to understanding how organizational processes and the individuals involved can facilitate knowledge transfer (e.g., Jensen & Szulanski, 2004; Riusala & Smale, 2007; S. Wang, Tong, Chen, & Kim, 2009). After all, it is people who have the knowledge that is applied and transferred (Itami, 1987).

To answer this research question, I have four major objectives. First, I identify the personal qualities, such as cultural intelligence and networking behaviors, of expatriates and HCNs that contribute to positive relationship qualities between them. Second, I clarify whether organizational practices (i.e., a collaborative-based HR configuration) enable positive expatriate-HCN relationships. Third, I examine whether relationship qualities between expatriates and HCNs mediate the influence of relationship enablers (i.e., personal qualities and organizational practices) on knowledge transfer. Finally, I consider the knowledge transfer process from the perspective of both expatriates and HCNs.

To assess the knowledge transfer between expatriates and HCNs, I collected data from 291 expatriates, originally from 32 countries and now working in 18 countries, and 67 HCNs. I used both SEM and multiple regression to analyze the single-source and multiple-source (i.e., 67 expatriate-HCN dyads) data. Results indicated that for both expatriates and HCNs, CQ is a relationship enabler. A collaborative-based HR configuration in host organizations also facilitates building positive relationship qualities. Moreover, with regard to the process of knowledge transfer from expatriates and the process of knowledge transfer from HCNs, there are some similarities and differences. The similarity is that CQ and collaborative-based HR configuration enable relationship qualities regardless of whether expatriates transfer knowledge to HCNs or HCNs transfer knowledge to expatriates. The difference lies in that when HCNs transfer knowledge to expatriates, frequency of interaction and shared vision facilitate knowledge transfer, but when expatriates transfer knowledge to HCNs, only frequency of interaction matters.

In summary, this dissertation contributes to the knowledge transfer and expatriate literatures. It goes beyond the existing research of knowledge transfer in three ways. First, existing knowledge transfer research generally takes a macro lens by focusing on organizational systems and processes. This dissertation goes beyond this tradition by understanding how the personal qualities and organizational practices enable the development of expatriate-HCN social capital that is instrumental to knowledge transfer. Second, studies that discuss relationships as an underlying mechanism that links personal qualities, organizational practices and knowledge transfer are scant. This dissertation fills this gap. Third, most knowledge transfer research focuses on unidirectional knowledge transfer from expatriates to HCNs. This dissertation goes beyond this tradition by considering knowledge transfer from both expatriates and HCNs. Furthermore, this dissertation also contributes to expatriate research in two ways. First, traditional expatriate research generally focuses on areas such as selection, adjustment, and training. This dissertation goes beyond this tradition by understanding a relatively less-researched but important issue, expatriate knowledge transfer. Second, traditional expatriate research is expatriate-centric in that it neglects the roles of HCNs. This dissertation fills this research gap by incorporating HCN perspectives in the process of knowledge transfer.