Why research foreign executives in local organisations (FELOs)?

Research on cross-cultural workplaces has seldom involved the specific organisational context. However, the differences between local versus foreign-owned organisations matter (see e.g. Selmer, Lauring, Normann and Kubovcikova, 2015). Individual-level relationships should not be perceived to occur in a vacuum. Rather, expatriate workplace relationships are affected by the social and institutional context.

The bulk of expatriate and cross-cultural management research has examined workplaces in the subsidiaries of foreign multinational firms. In contrast, the FELO research project is particularly interested in the few individuals that successfully bridge cultural distance in exceptional circumstances rather than the many individuals representing median (or mediocre) cross-cultural management. This focus on a rare phenomenon has implications for the research approach and the applicable research methodology.

If we want to understand what management styles and behavioural strategies are effective in cross-cultural interactions, we must investigate exceptional behavioural strategies rather than median management styles. In the absence of well-developed theory about such exceptional strategies, qualitative research methods are more likely to yield insight than large-scale quantitative methods. Research of the FELO phenomenon helps explain, for example, that cross-cultural effectiveness involves occasional incongruence with expected ‘culturally endorsed’ management styles (e.g. the CLTs in the GLOBE study series).

Research Publications

For academic literature on, relevant to, and loosely associated with the FELO phenomenon, please see ‘Further Reading’

The FELO phenomenon was first systematically investigated, and the FELO acronym first used, in a 2009 field study conducted in Malaysia. Further data have since been collected in Korea, Vietnam and China, where the FELO phenomenon has recently taken on an entirely new dimension. Significant differences to various forms of expatriation were found and documented (see publications). The FELO acronym was developed to distinguish this phenomenon from other international workplace phenomena such as inpatriation (i.e. the relocation of existing employees or managers from subsidiaries to the headquarter country of global multinational organisations, MNOs), transpatriation (i.e. transfers from one MNO subsidiary to another), and expatriation (i.e. the relocation from MNO headquarters to a foreign subsidiary).

In contrast, the FELO phenomenon involves newly appointed / hired executives. The local organisations hiring FELOs are typically not globalised MNOs (although many aspire to be). Indeed, some of these local organisations have no foreign subsidiaries at all or exclusively focus on their domestic market.

There are also significant differences to various types of self-initiated expatriates (SIEs). Indeed, the FELO acronym introduced in 2009 has led to the introduction of the very similar acronym SIELO for self-initiated expatriates that work in local organisations rather than in the subsidiaries of foreign multinational firms (Selmer et al., 2015). Please see specific research on differences between FELOs (specific) and SIELOs (general) in the readings section or here.


Selmer, J., Lauring, J., Normann, J., & Kubovcikova, A. (2015). Context matters: Acculturation and work-related outcomes of self-initiated expatriates employed by foreign vs. local organizations. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, in press. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2015.05.004


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If you are a management researcher, have access to FELO data or cases, are interested in further research, or wish to discuss your research in this field, please write to:    FELO research @ (without the spaces)