The modern multinational enterprise (MNE) as we know it today has its origins in the second industrial revolution of the late 19th century. British, North-American, and continental European firms expanded around the world on the basis of intangible assets such as technology, brands, and managerial expertise. The climax of their worldwide expansion was reached during the 1950s and 60s, as trade and investment barriers gradually fell around the world (Chandler 1990; Wilkins 1974; Kindleberger 1969; Vernon 1979).
While significant variations in the strategy and structure of North-American and European multinationals were documented at the time (e.g. Stopford and Wells 1972), and the rise of Japanese multinationals during the 1970s and 80s added yet more diversity to the global population of multinational corporations, firms expanding from relatively rich and technologically advanced countries tended to share a core set of features. Chief among them were their technological, marketing and managerial strengths, which enabled them to overcome the so-called liability of foreignness in a variety of markets, investing for the most part in wholly or majority owned subsidiaries, transferring technology, products and knowledge from headquarters to far-flung operations around the globe, and relying on elaborate bureaucratic and financial controls.
This relatively straightforward state of affairs is changing rapidly. Since the 1990s, the global competitive landscape is becoming increasingly populated by MNEs originating from countries that are not among the most advanced in the world. These “new” MNEs come from: (1) upper-middle-income economies such as Spain, Portugal, South Korea or