Home-owned versus foreign-owned firms in the UK automotive industry: exploring the microfoundations of ambidextrous production and supply chain positioning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External organisations

  • University of Sheffield
  • Xi’an Jiaotong University


The UK automotive industry is home to a large number of foreign firms, demonstrating the open nature of competition. However, the industry necessitates both exploitative and explorative capabilities. Contingency theory suggests that firms align their internal structure with contextual factors. As such, the aims of this study were to investigate whether it was possible to distinguish home-owned (UK) and foreign-owned firms based upon: a) the microfoundations of ambidextrous production, which are conceptualised as lean and agile routines; and b) the tier at which these firms operate in the automotive supply chain. Survey data were collected from 85 home-owned and 55 foreign-owned firms within the UK Midlands automotive industry. Logistic regression results revealed that home-owned firms were significantly more likely to be implementing explorative (agile) production methods, whereas foreign-owned firms were significantly more likely to be implementing exploitative (lean) production. Home-owned and foreign-owned firms were found to be significantly more likely to be operating upstream and downstream in the automotive supply chain respectively. Thus, the findings support a contingency theory explanation, suggesting that firms align their performance priorities with contextual factors, but we argue that home-owned and foreign-owned firms have evolved to compete based on their different innovative capabilities, which are located at different tiers of the automotive supply chain. On this basis, although neither home-owned nor foreign-owned firms were found to be endogenously ambidextrous, we argue that foreign-owned firms internationalise into the UK automotive sector to exploit the explorative capabilities acquired by home-owned firms operating upstream in automotive supply chains, thus enabling ambidextrous capabilities at an exogenous, industrial level.


Original languageEnglish
Article number101657
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Business Review
Early online date30 Dec 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Dec 2019


  • Automotive, Ambidexterity, Lean, Agile, Supply chain, Routines, Contingency theory