Skip to main content
Structural Knowledge: How executive experience with structural composition affects intrafirm mobility and unit reconfiguration
Strategic Management Journal (2012)
  • Charles Williams, Bocconi University
  • Samina Karim, Boston University

This paper explores how knowledge embodied in executives is tied to the organizational context in which it develops. Drawing on the knowledge based view of the firm and human capital theory, we predict that executives will tend to move between units with similar ‘structural composition’ – histories of origin through acquisition or internal development and subsequent recombination with other units. In addition, we argue that executives will be conduits of organizational change and stasis. We predict that units receiving more transferred executives, more executives with experience at other recombined units, and more executives from internally developed units will have a greater likelihood of being recombined, while units receiving executives from previously acquired units will tend to remain unchanged. We study the hypothesized relationships in a 20-year panel of 48 multidivisional firms from the US medical sector. In this sample, executives predominantly move between units with closely related structural composition, consistent with our first set of hypotheses. We find much less evidence that executives are conduits of organizational change, however. Movement of executives in general, and of those with previous experience at recombined units in particular, is not associated with future recombination. Movement of executives from internally developed units is associated with future recombination, suggesting that executives from the internally developed core play a very different role than those from the peripheral acquired units.

Publication Date
Citation Information
Charles Williams and Samina Karim. "Structural Knowledge: How executive experience with structural composition affects intrafirm mobility and unit reconfiguration" Strategic Management Journal Vol. 33 Iss. 6: Special Issue on Organizational Architecture (2012)
Available at: