Academic journal article Multinational Business Review

What Matters Most? A Review of MNE Literature, 1990-2000

Academic journal article Multinational Business Review

What Matters Most? A Review of MNE Literature, 1990-2000

Article excerpt


Based on a review of over 450 articles on multinational enterprises published in leading management journals from 1990-2000, we identified eighteen issues that had engaged the attention of academic scholarship and evaluated their topical relevance. Ironically, very few of them addressed two of the most pressing issues facing business and society at the turn of the last millennium: terrorism and socio-economic inequality. These glaring omissions suggest a gap between academic scholarship that focuses on "what is," and research that speculates as to "what could be." Suggestions are offered on how to close this important gap in the field of international business.


The final decade of the 20th century was a watershed in the history of management thought. Powerful political and technological forces brought about revolutionary changes in global competitive landscape in the 1990s. The dissolution of the erstwhile Soviet Bloc, normalization of the West's relations with China and the emergence of newly industrialized economies opened markets and initiated a race for commercial opportunities. This change was facilitated by the policies of economic liberalization embraced by an increasingly large number of nationstates. The race for geographical expansion was paralleled by rapid changes in technology, particularly in the converging fields of computing, communications, and the Internet (Doz and Hamel, 1998). The bipolar international system based on the Cold War evolved into a new world order based on globalization and trade. "Globalization involves the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before - in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is also producing a powerful backlash from those brutalized or left behind by this new system" (Friedman, 2000). As the products and propellers of the new phenomenon, global companies occupy a central place in the new world order.

The last decade of the 20th century witnessed a dramatic increase in the role of multinational enterprises in international trade. Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) account for about two-thirds of world trade, and the 63,000 MNEs with their 800,000 foreign affiliates shape global trade patterns. The total assets owned abroad by the MNEs tripled since the year 1990, reaching a staggering $2.11 trillion in the year 2000. Sales of foreign affiliates also nearly tripled from $0.55 trillion at the beginning of the last decade to $1.57 trillion in 2000. The number of persons employed by MNEs almost doubled over the decade from 23.7 million to 45.6 million (UNCTAD, 2001). Multinational enterprises have become increasingly important in recent years because their activities have significant longrun welfare implications for home and host nations in terms of the levels and distribution of resources, and the ability of nations to attain their socio-economic objectives. It is, therefore, not surprising that issues concerning MNEs have been the subject matter of wide-ranging research both in the United States and elsewhere. This study was undertaken on the assumption that it would be instructive to know what issues engaged the attention of academic scholarship at the onset of the new millennium.

Globalization had also presented new challenges to public policy makers. As eloquently articulated by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, humanity is indivisible. "The world had entered the 21st century through a 'gate of fire' that did not recognize borders or nationalities" (Annan, 2001). Issues such as distribution of global wealth, preservation of the natural environment, and human rights have emerged high on the political agenda of nations. While governments, non-profit groups and international organizations sought to address these issues through constructive global networking, we now painfully realize that global networks could also be established and nurtured for anti-social purposes. …

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