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Foreign executives in local organisations: An exploration of differences to other types of expatriates

Frithjof Arp (Department of Management, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Kate Hutchings (Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia)
Wendy A. Smith (Department of Management, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Global Mobility

ISSN: 2049-8799

Article publication date: 29 November 2013




The purpose of this paper is to investigate foreign executives appointed into cultural contexts distant from their country of origin and headquarters of organisations to which host-country nationals (HCNs) they supervise and HCN superiors they report to attribute a “local” national identity. Significant differences of these foreign executives in local organisations (FELOs) from other forms of expatriation, including assigned and self-initiated expatriates, are identified and discussed.


The research utilises a qualitative exploratory approach based on triangulated multiple data sources. Data are sourced from in-depth semi-structured interviews with foreign executives (n=46) from 13 countries and their host-country peers (n=25) in organisations founded and headquartered in Malaysia. Dyadic data from the two sample groups are used to triangulate findings, while non-dyadic and socio-biographical data add further insight.


The data analysis identifies issues surrounding allegiance, trust, and control, assumptions about income levels, and exposure to heightened local scrutiny as components of the distinct nature of the FELO experience.

Research limitations/implications

Implications for future research on new types of international cross-cultural workplaces are discussed. While construct definitions for self-initiated expatriation (SIE) in the wider mobility and migration literature are still in flux, international management research may be at risk of neglecting local workplaces and perspectives.

Practical implications

The FELO phenomenon differs significantly from expatriate assignments between headquarters and foreign subsidiaries of multinational corporations, and can be viewed as a rare and specific form of SIE. Its occurrence indicates an increasingly global market for individuals with career capital and global mobility.


The findings elucidate the situation of FELOs and provide comparisons to other types of expatriates. The research contributes to extant literature on global mobility as it explores a specific cross-cultural phenomenon that has not been systematically investigated in the academic literature, but is described in the media and executive search firm publications as “fairly new, highly visible, and sometimes controversial” with demand for FELOs “likely to continue”.



The contribution of anonymous reviewers to this paper is gratefully acknowledged. Their criticism encouraged a better contextualisation of the FELO concept against existing theoretical concepts such as SIE, migration and corporate expatriation, the incorporation of the latest SIE research, and a deepened analysis and discussion involving implications for future research.


Arp, F., Hutchings, K. and A. Smith, W. (2013), "Foreign executives in local organisations: An exploration of differences to other types of expatriates", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 312-335.



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