Revisiting the Locus of Experience: A Study on Corporate Development Executives, Organizational Learning and M&A Performance

Lisa Tang, Management, The Wharton School

Abstract: Understanding how firms learn to make better strategic decisions and achieve superior performance is a question of significant concern to managers and scholars, especially in the context of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). While a long history of research has been conducted on the role of organizationallevel learning in shaping M&A outcomes, limited attention has been paid to the individuals who are specifically dedicated to this process. In this study, I introduce and argue that Corporate Development Executives (CDEs), the M&A-specific human capital leading inorganic growth inside companies, are particularly critical for M&A learning and performance. Through a comprehensive, hand-collected dataset on the heads of corporate development in S&P 500 information technology companies, I shed light on who CDEs are, what they do, and whether and how they impact M&A outcomes. Specifically, I find evidence that an inverted U-shaped relationship exists between CDEs’ prior M&A experience and subsequent M&A performance. Context variability moderates this relationship, while firm-level and CEO level M&A experience serve as important boundary conditions for the effectiveness of CDEs. Overall, this study contributes to the corporate strategy literature by unveiling novel insights regarding the locus of experience and learning in M&A.