Knowledge Transfer Strategy at a Family-Owned Multinational: The Case of Embal Inc.

Knowledge Transfer Strategy at a Family-Owned Multinational: The Case of Embal Inc.

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Abstract

The case, set in 2014, traces the history of the internationalisation process at Embal Inc. (hereafter Embal). In the previous decades, Embal experienced rapid growth and became a very successful player in the global market for packaging and bottling machinery. The company’s stunning gain in market share in that sector was enabled by rapid internationalisation. Embal established three representative offices and several subsidiaries worldwide. Its rising profits indicated that the decision to internationalise had been successful. Lately, however, tensions have emerged in the relationship between headquarters (HQ) and the subsidiaries. In particular, the strategy for knowledge management initially adopted by Embal turned out to be inadequate to deal with a growing international network of subunits. The information management system used in Embal prioritised control over information sharing at several levels. Moreover, information exchanges between the subsidiaries were severely restrained. Several events unfolded to reveal the system’s limitations. By 2014, the company seemed to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to balance the benefits of efficiency and coordination with the risks of losing control over sensitive data and information. Brothers Luca, Giovanni, and Matteo Bianchi, the family that led Embal, needed to identify what information to share, how much should be shared, and how freely and in what way the information should be allowed to flow, both between HQ and the foreign subsidiaries and among the units. The mechanisms of knowledge transfer that were potentially available (e.g., informal meetings, communities of practice, wiki platforms, and on-line learning) had advantages and disadvantages to weigh, not only in terms of their economic and financial aspects, but also their emotional bearing on the family business owners.

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