Sampling process

The sampling process focused on upstream supply-chain relationships of self-contained production units within a group of Nordic multinational corporations (MNCs) originating either in Finland, Norway, or Sweden. Despite their origins in Nordic countries, the sample firms are representative of transnational companies that produce, market, and distribute their products on a global basis. That is, we do not expect a bias due to unique characteristics that might prohibit us from generalizing beyond our sample of Nordic firms. First, we identified self-contained production units in which managers could serve as key informants regarding the nature of particular upstream supply-chain relationships. By self-contained production units, we refer to MNC subsidiaries that: contain at least the functional areas of manufacturing, purchasing, R&D, and marketing; have at least some external suppliers; and have at least some external customers. All in all, the sampling process secured participation by a total of 53 self-contained production units belonging to a total of 24 different MNCs. However, the unit of analysis is a particular supply-chain relationship between one of these self-contained units and one of its suppliers.

Within each self-contained production unit, the initial contacts, typically purchasing directors, identified individuals whom they felt were willing to serve as key informants on behalf of some of the production units' upstream supply-chain relationships. The criterion by which key informants were identified was that they were familiar with at least one upstream supply-chain relationship. Some key informants offered to respond also regarding a second supply-chain relationship, and, overall, usable data was gathered from 150 key informants regarding the nature of a total of 157 supply-chain relationships. The use of key informants has been well established in this kind of research (e.g. John and Reve, 1982; Kumar et al., 1993; Joshi and Stump, 1999). Care was taken to ensure that the people identified by the initial contacts

Niklas Myhr and Robert E. Spekman were, in fact, knowledgeable and able to report on these supply-chain relationships.

Key informants were then instructed to select upstream supply-chain relationships between the self-contained production units and one of their suppliers in which some kind of direct materials were being exchanged. They were also instructed to limit themselves to relationships that had been in existence for at least two years. The two-year criterion was not an arbitrary time limit but is based on previous empirical research reported in work by Spekman (e.g. Spekman et al., 2000). An empirical examination of a cross-section of complex alliances suggests that it can take up to three-and-a-half years for an alliance to work through its start-up difficulties. Given the complexity and scope of the alliances examined, we felt that for the purposes of this study, a two-year period was sufficient to capture established supply-chain relationships and would yield a sample of established exchange relationships. In our sample, the average supply-chain relationship duration was ten years.

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