Learning from age difference : Interorganizational learning and survival in Japanese foreign subsidiaries

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-745
Journal / PublicationJournal of International Business Studies
Issue number8
Online published13 Sep 2012
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


This paper extends research on experiential learning of foreign subsidiaries by exploring the temporal conditions under which a foreign subsidiary can benefit from the experience of its sister subsidiaries. Building upon organizational evolution and learning literature, we propose that differences in entry timing among sister subsidiaries provide structural conditions that bound the opportunities for inter-subsidiary learning. We argue that different entry cohorts of sister subsidiaries are beneficial to a focal subsidiary, as they provide non-redundant, complementary experience from their different operational stages, and ignite the motivation to learn. Our empirical analysis of Japanese foreign subsidiaries provides strong evidence that survival is enhanced by the experience of different entry cohorts of sister subsidiaries, but not by that of similar cohorts. Qualitative evidence also shows that multiple channels of experience exchange across sister subsidiaries lead to actual learning. We further show that the survival benefit derived from different cohorts is contingent on the level of environmental change, as well as on the level of experience of the focal subsidiary and its parent firm. Our research highlights the importance of temporal heterogeneity in the internationalization process, and offers implications for the temporal strategy of multinational companies.

Research Area(s)

  • complementarity, Foreign subsidiary, inter-subsidiary learning, organizational aging, sister subsidiaries