Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine scholars’ proposal that self-initiated expatriates (SIEs) can provide an alternative to company-assigned expatriates (CAEs) for filling key positions in foreign subsidiaries at a lower cost. Design/methodology/approach – Underpinned by findings from empirical studies, this conceptual paper compares SIEs with CAEs and their traditional alternative, multinational corporation (MNC) local employees, to examine the suitability of SIEs as a replacement for CAEs. Findings – SIEs are likely not a suitable alternative to CAEs for purposes of control, transfer, running the foreign operation and management development (purposes requiring firm-specific competencies), but are likely suitable for filling technical and lower and middle management positions (requiring more generic, specialist competencies) and purposes of managing within the subsidiary and responding to the local environment (purposes requiring cross-cultural and host location-specific competencies). Practical implications – Guidance is provided for the recruitment of SIEs as an alternative to CAEs. Originality/value – The paper adds new insight in assessing whether SIEs provide an alternative to CAEs by proposing a framework that integrates: the identification of SIEs’ competencies relative to those of CAEs and MNC local employees, based on career capital theory; with the assessment of their value, based on human capital allocation theory, against the purposes for which CAEs are deployed.
- Alternative to traditional expatriates
- Company-assigned expatriates
- MNC local employees
- Self-initiated expatriates