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Thesis Title: Disentangling the labyrinth of supply management in multinational

corporations (MNCs)

Doctoral dissertation of: Sudipa Sarker

Supervisor: Paolo Trucco

This research is about the intricacies of supply management in multinational corporations (MNCs).
Supply chain research is at least three decades old. Over this period, supply chain researchers have
conceptualized the focal firm in the supply chain as a single organization. The present research
diverges from this monolithic view of focal firms and contends that large MNCs that apply
corporate strategies such as outsourcing and global sourcing, are also structurally complex. This
research further argues that the structural complexity of MNCs affects the organization of the
purchasing function. One direct implication of this is that, theories and models that have been
proposed assuming a single, unified organization as a point of departure do not fit the realities of
these large MNCs.
This research highlights these misalignments between theory and practice by systematically
combining modules of studies. The primary study, an in-depth investigation of a global
conglomerate, applied a mixture of case study and collaborative management research
methodologies. The next two studies were guided by case study design and strove to make sense
of, validate, and analytically generalize the findings of the first study.
The main contribution of this thesis to the field of purchasing and supply management is to
demonstrate the effects of the structural complexity (i.e., vertical, horizontal, and spatial
complexities) on the organization of the purchasing function. It is argued that academics and
practitioners should look beyond the centralized, decentralized, and hybrid structures of the
purchasing organization and also take into account the internal structural complexities of MNCs.
The four appended papers illustrate how vertical, horizontal, and spatial complexities affect the
organization of the purchasing function as well as demonstrate the misalignments between theory
and practice. The first paper examines the effects of vertical complexity. It illustrates how the
purchasing function is divided into different roles and responsibilities within an MNC. This
division of labor makes the management of supply risk a fragmented, multilevel, and time-
dependent activity. This challenges the conventions and norms of risk management theories,
models, and standards that assume that risk management in practice is a holistic, integrated, and
time-independent activity. Grounded in theories such as bounded rationality and contingency
theory, the second paper examines the effects of both vertical and spatial complexity. The paper
explains why risk management in practice is silo-based and illustrates how silos are created by the
division of labor and contingencies in MNCs. The third paper examines the effects of horizontal
complexity. The paper illustrates how an MNC can create purchasing synergy through the
development and implementation of a one-size-fits-all supplier segmentation model. The fourth
paper extends the understanding of the effects of structural complexity by illustrating how the
supply management function is organized in three leading MNCs of the world. It identifies a need
to distinguish between the concepts of supply segmentation and supplier segmentation so that
existing models can fit the realities of MNCs.