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The role of absorptive capacity in Chinese firms

Claudio Petti (Department of Engineering for Innovation, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy)
Shujun Zhang (Department of Business Administration, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China)

Measuring Business Excellence

ISSN: 1368-3047

Article publication date: 16 May 2016




This study aims to advance and test a multi-dimensional operationalization of absorptive capacity (ACAP) to ascertain its mediating role in the transformation of R&D expenses in actual performance.


This study departs from the conceptualization of ACAP as a reflective higher-order R&D-based construct, by specifying ACAP into its components and using an operationalization that encompasses both R&D and non-R&D measures to perform mediation analysis on a sample of 1,096 Chinese mainland firms.


This study's findings report evidence of positive but different roles of the components of ACAP, with specific reference to the positive but partial mediating role of realized ACAP between both R&D expenses and potential ACAP on a firm’s performance. Relevant research and practical implications for both management and policymaking are discussed.


The approach to ACAP conceptualization and measurement taken in this study provides empirical support to an often assumed and, incidentally, under-explored relationship. Moreover, it contributes with a multi-dimensional, non-exclusively R&D-based and process-oriented perspective to the analysis of the role played by ACAP in Chinese firms’ R&D effectiveness.



The research leading to these results has received funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013/under REA grant agreement no 610350, Project E.N.T.I.C.E. – Explaining the Nature of Technological Innovation in Chinese Enterprises.


Petti, C. and Zhang, S. (2016), "The role of absorptive capacity in Chinese firms", Measuring Business Excellence, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 1-12.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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