The complex internationalization process unfolded : The case of Atlas Copco’s entry into the Chinese mid-market

Abstract: Despite its contemporary relevance, we still have limited empirical knowledge about the forces underlying complex internationalization processes as when multinational corporations (MNCs) seek to enter new growing markets. Based on a real-time process study comprising ninety interviews and two hundred hours of observation made between 2009 and 2012, Atlas Copco’s entry into the Chinese mid-market was investigated. The intra-organizational analysis showed that three inter-related processes were underlying Atlas’ market entry and the results suggest that multiple interrelated motors may drive many contemporary internationalization processes. The processes identified are a sequential strategy process, an evolutionary process which shows that routines changed, and a political process. A somewhat surprising finding is that the main driver of internationalization according to received theory, the firm’s accumulated experiences, not only can drive internationalization, but may also hamper MNC managers’ possibilities to enter many of today’s new and growing markets. The findings add to our knowledge of the internationalization process in an increasingly complex international business setting, and especially highlight the need to distinguish between the sequential strategy process – more in line with received theory – and the other processes, in order to get a more full-fledged picture of what internationalization in large MNCs is all about.