Cultural distance, political risk, or governance quality? Towards a more accurate conceptualization and measurement of external uncertainty in foreign entry mode research
It is well accepted that multinational enterprises (MNEs) prefer equity joint ventures (JVs) over wholly owned subsidiaries (WOSs) in foreign countries where the formal and informal external environment is highly uncertain. Many entry mode studies have modeled the external uncertainty faced by MNEs in foreign countries as the cultural distance to these countries (thus focusing on the informal environment), or as their political risk level (thus focusing on the formal environment). We argue that both approaches are suboptimal because (1) cultural distance not only reflects the external uncertainty associated with WOSs but also the internal uncertainty associated with JVs, and (2) political risk covers only one aspect of the formal external environment. We contend that the governance quality of foreign countries is a better proxy for external uncertainty. The lower this quality, we hypothesize, the higher the likelihood that MNEs will choose JVs over WOSs. An analysis of 231 entries by Dutch MNEs into 48 countries offers support for this hypothesis. We also find that cultural distance has no impact on entry mode choice and that political risk has the weakest impact of all aspects of governance quality.