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Getting all motives right: a holistic approach to internationalization motives of companies

Rob van Tulder (Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Multinational Business Review

ISSN: 1525-383X

Article publication date: 20 April 2015




This paper presents a framework for an improved understanding of actual internationalization motives. Answers to a key question in IB studies – why companies internationalize – contain considerable flaws. There are theoretical, disciplinary and methodological reasons for this state of affairs. In practice, the lacking attention for motivational constellations has serious repercussions for the theoretical sophistication of IB studies, lowering its managerial relevance.


Managers are confronted with many internationalization considerations simultaneously and, therefore, often have difficulty in recognizing themselves in extant approaches. The abstractions that many textbooks and academic papers present on the why question of corporate internationalization defy reality in case the various motivational trade-offs that managers face are not adequately addressed. This contribution presents a framework that is based on the identification of a number of motivational tensions that define the outcome of the actual internationalization strategies of companies: between intrinsic and extrinsic motives, between strategic intent and realization and between tactical and strategic considerations.


Dealing with these tensions at the same time provides a strong ground for explaining particular outcomes of the internationalization process in degrees of international coordination and integration.

Practical implications

The practical implication of the approach is a new conceptual framework that help scholars and managers understand complex configurations of internationalization motives better and thus come up with more realistic descriptions of what has actually influenced companies to adopt a particular internationalization strategy.


The paper presents a completely new combination of models to document the motivations and consequently the internationalization trajectories of companies. It is, however, also well founded in the literature, but it presents a fundamental account of some serious flaws in IB theory and practice.



van Tulder, R. (2015), "Getting all motives right: a holistic approach to internationalization motives of companies", Multinational Business Review, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 36-56.



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