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In Search of Inspiration: External Mobility and the Emergence of Technology Intrapreneurs


Organization Science


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Ng W;Sherman E L

Publication Year



Recent scholarship has established several ways in which external hiring—versus filling a role with a comparable internal candidate—is detrimental to firms. Yet, organizational learning theory suggests that external hires benefit firms: by importing knowledge that is unavailable or obscured to insiders and applying it toward experimentation and risky recombination. Accordingly and consistent with studies of learning by hiring and innovation, we predict that external hires are at greater risk of intrapreneurship than internal hires. We test this prediction via a study of product managers in large technology companies. We use machine learning to operationalize intrapreneurship by comparing product manager job descriptions with the founding statements of venture-backed technology entrepreneurs. Our research design employs coarsened exact matching to balance pretreatment covariates between product managers who arrived at their roles internally versus externally. The results of our analysis indicate that externally hired product managers are substantially more intrapreneurial than observably equivalent internal hires. However, we also find that intrapreneurial product managers have a higher turnover rate, an effect that is primarily driven by external hires. This suggests that hiring for intrapreneurship may be a difficult strategy to sustain.

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