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Special Issue of the Journal of Management Studies

Divide and rule? The emergence and implications of increasingly disaggregated and dispersed headquarters activities in contemporary firms

Special Issue Editors

  • Phillip C. Nell (Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria and Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, [log in to unmask])
  • Philip Kappen (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, [log in to unmask])
  • Tomi Laamanen (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, [log in to unmask])

Deadline for submission:  June 30, 2015




Headquarters (HQ) activities have long been a subject of research in management, strategy, and international business. This research focuses on activities such as control and coordination of subunits, resource allocation, conflict resolution, the orchestration of innovations, and many more sometimes subsumed under the term “parenting” activities.

Interestingly, recent empirical evidence suggests that firms seem to use increasingly fine-grained and complex approaches to organize their HQ activities and they increasingly locate these activities abroad. For example, Desai (2009: 1284) formulates that we are now witnessing firms that are “Bermuda-incorporated, Paris-headquartered (...), listed on the NYSE [New York Stock Exchange] with US-style investor protections and disclosure rules, a chief information officer in Bangalore, a chief finance officer in Brussels and a chief operating officer in Beijing”. What seems to emerge is a picture where not only regular value chain activities are increasingly “disaggregated” and “dispersed” (cf. Contractor, Kumar, Kundu, and Pedersen, Journal of Management Studies Special Issue, 2010) but where this applies also to HQ activities.

Although much is known of individual HQ units (e.g. corporate HQs) and individual HQ activities, we believe that these recent trends have not been focused upon sufficiently in extant research. Furthermore, extant research is relatively silent regarding the overall structuring of HQ activities. In fact, much of the empirical and theoretical work in the past has used a relatively simple concept of the HQ frequently viewing it as a single, identifiable unit at the apex of the organization at one particular location. This work has produced very valuable insights but the assumption of the HQ as a single, identifiable unit located at one particular location seems to be increasingly at odds with reality.
What is the impact of relaxing this assumption for our theories that explain vertical relationships within firms, the way how hierarchy functions, and the way how responsibilities are distributed between headquarters and subunits? Given the trend towards more disaggregated and dispersed HQ activities we may suffer from a reductive fallacy that impairs our understanding of the way contemporary firms are managed.

The objective of this special issue is to address the lack of attention to such complex HQ configurations. The contributions we envision would have to explicitly break with the dominant literature viewing the HQ as a single, identifiable unit located at one specific location. We call for contributions to the special issue that could significantly enhance our understanding around the nature and the consequences of complex HQ configurations, building on the notion of increasing disaggregation and dispersion that we borrow from the extensive work on value chain activities.
While we are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the phenomenon we are also interested in receiving manuscripts that make substantial theoretical contributions. That is, we think that many theories could benefit from being exposed to the complexity of contemporary HQ configurations which allows for testing, verifying, and fine-tuning of these theories.
Note that we do not favor any particular epistemological or theoretical perspective and we wish to attract a diverse range of papers. We anticipate submissions focusing on a variety of analysis levels. We also think that the Special Issue topic is conducive to multi-level methodologies. Thus, investigations could focus on and combine HQ activity levels such as corporate HQs, divisional HQs, executive teams, individual HQ or subunit managers, or the entire HQ system. Questions that papers might explore include, but are not limited to:

Determinants and nature of complex configurations of HQ activities

  • What are the circumstances under which complex HQ configurations occur more frequently?
  • Are there institutional or industry-specific pressures for particular types of configurations?
  • How and why do HQ configurations evolve over time?
  • How are complex HQ configurations linked to a firm’s boundary decisions?

Value-creation (or destruction) by complex HQ configurations

  • How are value-adding functions, including coordination, control, and entrepreneurial roles, influenced?
  • How do geographically distant divisional headquarters activities complement corporate-level headquarters activities and how is this coordinated?
  • How do dispersed executive teams coordinate their work to influence their businesses? How are potential drawbacks of such configurations kept at bay?
  • What is the role played by temporarily assigned headquarters-roles to specific subunits such as centers of excellence?
  • What are the potential parenting advantages and disadvantages of complex HQ configurations?
  • How does the changing configuration of HQ activities shape corporate vs. decentralized strategic initiatives and attention-processes?
  • How are interdependencies between dispersed HQ activities managed?

Consequences of complex HQ configurations

  • How does the level of complexity of the HQ configuration influence HQ-subsidiary relationships in multinational companies?
  • How are internal dynamics in the firm, such as resource allocation or internal bargaining processes, affected?
  • What is the effect of institutional distances between HQ activities on the legitimacy of the headquarters both within and outside the firm? How does this influence modes of control or the adoption of corporate practices?
  • How are information asymmetries, principal-agent relationships, or parenting capabilities affected by disaggregation and dispersion of HQ activities?



The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2015

Manuscript Development Workshop

  • The guest editors of this special issue are planning to hold a manuscript development workshop on January 28-29, 2016 in Vienna, Austria.
  • Those authors who receive an invitation for an R&R will be invited to attend this workshop.
  • Please note that the participation at the workshop does not guarantee acceptance of the paper in the special issue. Furthermore, attendance is also not a prerequisite for publication.