Institutional diversity characterizing state-owned enterprises (SOEs) from emerging economies holds critical but under-examined implications for their internationalization activities. Different types of SOEs can exhibit distinct motivations, strategic resources, and adaptive capabilities for penetrating foreign markets. To understand how such idiosyncratic differences emerge, we conceptualize the heterogeneity of SOEs as an outcome of multiple institutional reform processes – administrative and fiscal decentralization, industrial restructuring, and market liberalization – which create diversity between SOEs affiliated with central and local levels of government. Building on the idea of “institutions-as-configurations”, we elucidate how such reforms reconfigure SOEs’ constellation of resources, capabilities, and priorities which shape the parameters of their ability to negotiate for home and host country institutional legitimacy. Specifically, we propose that the restructuring of central SOEs into “national champions” exposes them to stronger institutional pressures from home and host country governments while local SOEs which have fewer obligations to serve national strategic prerogatives display greater managerial autonomy and market orientation, but lower levels of monopolistic behavior. We discuss how such contrasting attributes contribute to variations in SOEs’ international business diversification patterns, foreign subsidiary establishment and ownership modes, and overseas location preferences. Recognition of SOEs’ organizational diversity holds important implications for theories on state-owned multinationals.
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