Publications by Author: Tarun Khanna

Trust: Creating the Foundation for Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries

Entrepreneurial ventures often fail in the developing world because of the lack of something taken for granted in the developed world: trust. Over centuries, the developed world has built customs and institutions such as enforceable contracts, an impartial legal system, and credible regulatory bodies—and even unofficial but respected sources of information such as Yelp and Consumer Reports—that have created a high level of what scholar and entrepreneur Tarun Khanna calls "ambient trust." 

This is not the case in the developing world. But Khanna shows that rather than become casualties of mistrust, smart entrepreneurs can adopt the mindset that, like it or not, it's up to them to weave their own independent web of trust—with their employees, their partners, their clients, their customers, and society as a whole. This can be challenging, and it requires innovative approaches in places where the level of societal mistrust is so high that an official certification of quality simply arouses suspicion—and lowers sales! Using vivid examples from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and elsewhere, Khanna's stories show how entrepreneurs can build on existing customs and practices instead of trying to push against them. He highlights the role new technologies can play (but cautions that these are not panaceas) and explains how entrepreneurs can find dependable partners in national and local governments to create impact at scale.

As far back as the eighteenth century, Adam Smith recognized trust as what Khanna calls "the hidden engine of economic progress." "Frankness and openness conciliate confidence," Smith wrote. "We trust the man who seems willing to trust us." That kind of confidence is critical to entrepreneurial success, but in the developing world entrepreneurs have to establish it through their own efforts. As Khanna puts it, "The entrepreneur must not just create, she must create the conditions to create."

Khanna, Tarun, and Prithwiraj Choudhury. 2014. “Charting Dynamic Trajectories: Multinational Enterprises in India.” Business History Review, 88, 1-38. Abstract

In this article, we provide a synthesizing framework that we call the “ dynamic trajectories ” framework to study the evolution of multinational enterprises (MNEs) in host countries over time. We argue that a change in the policy environment in a host country presents an MNE with two sets of interrelated decisions. First, the MNE has to decide whether to enter, exit, or stay in the host country at the onset of each policy epoch; second, conditional on the fi rst choice, it has to decide on its local responsiveness strategy at the onset of each policy epoch. India, which experienced two policy shocks — shutting down to MNEs in 1970 and then opening up again in 1991 — offers an interesting laboratory to explore the “ dynamic trajec- tories ” perspective. We collect and analyze a unique dataset of all entry and exit events for Fortune 50 and FTSE 50 fi rms (as of 1991) in India in the period from 1858 to 2013 and, addition- ally, we document detailed case studies of four MNEs (that arguably represent outliers in our sample)

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Amul is an Indian dairy cooperative founded in 1947, eight months before India's independence from British rule, and owned by over three million farmers in the state of Gujarat. It is India's largest food product marketing organization, selling 46 products, including pouched milk, cheese, butter, ice cream and infant food through a million retailers across the country, and is the market leader in almost all the categories that it operates in. Amul is well known among Indian consumers for offering high-quality products at reasonable prices, and runs a highly popular advertising campaign that spoofs current events. It offers its farmers 80% of the consumer's dollar for milk, compared with 35%-40% typical in some Western markets. Amul's cooperative dairy model has been replicated across several Indian states, thereby helping increase the incomes of 80-100 million farmer families across the country. However, despite its success, Amul is beginning to come under increasing pressure. Multinationals like Nestlé and Unilever are increasing their presence in India, and competing fiercely with Amul in value-added products like yogurt. The entry of large multi-brand retailers like Walmart and Carrefour in the Indian market threatens to squeeze Amul's margins and undermine its low-cost distribution network. India's large young rural population is shying away from dairy farming in favor of urban jobs, leaving questions about future procurement. Finally, Amul's farmers form a large vote bank in the state of Gujarat, and its cooperative structure risks being compromised by vested political interests. Should Amul continue with the business model that has served it so well for decades, or should it change its strategy in order to keep up with India's changing social, political and economic landscape?

Khanna, Tarun, Lakshmi Iyer, and Ashutosh Varshney. 2013. “Caste and Entrepreneurship in India.” Economic and Political Weekly. Abstract
It is now widely accepted that the lower castes have risen in Indian politics. Has there been a corresponding change in the economy? Using comprehensive data on enterprise ownership from the Economic Census of 1990, 1998 and 2005, this paper shows there are substantial caste differences in entrepreneurship across India. The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are significantly under-represented in the ownership of enterprises and the share of the workforce employed by them. These differences are widespread across all states, have decreased very modestly between 1990 and 2005, and cannot be attributed to broad differences in access to physical or human capital.
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Khanna, Tarun. 2013. Kumbh Mela: India's Pop-up Mega-city. Harvard Business School. Publisher's Version
Khanna, Tarun, and Santiago Mingo. 2013. “Industrial Policy and the Creation of New Industries: Evidence from Brazil's Bioethanol Industry.” Industrial and Corporate Change , 1-32. Abstract
Industrial policy programs are frequently used by governments to stimulate economic activity in particular sectors of the economy. This study explores how an industrial policy program can affect the creation and evolution of an industry and, ultimately, the long-term performance of firms. We examine the history of the Brazilian bioethanol industry, focusing on the industrial policy program implemented by the Brazilian government in the 1970s to develop the industry. We put together a novel data set containing detailed information about the history of bioethanol producers. Our findings show that plants founded during the industrial policy program tend to be, in the long run, more productive than those founded before the program was in place. Based on additional analyses and complementary fieldwork, we infer that the wave of acquisitions that occurred after the end of the industrial policy program had an important effect on the performance of the plants founded when the program was in place. Industrial policy, especially in conjunction with a competitive post-industrial policy business landscape, can succeed in nurturing competitive firms.
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Khanna, Tarun, and Prithwiraj Choudhury. 2013. “Toward Resource Independence—Why State-Owned Entities Become Multinationals: An Empirical Study of India's Public R&D Laboratories.” Journal of International Business Studies, 1-18. Abstract

In this paper, we build on the standard resource dependence theory (RDT) and its departure suggested by Vernon to offer a novel explanation for why state-owned entities (SOEs) might seek a global footprint and global cash flows: to achieve resource independence from other state actors. In the context of SOEs, the power use hypothesis of standard RDT can be used to analyze the dependence of SOEs on other state actors, such as government ministries and government agencies that have ownership and control rights in the SOE. Building on Vernon, we argue that the SOE can break free from this power imbalance and establish resource independence from other state actors by becoming a multinational firm and/or by generating global cash flows. We leverage a natural experiment in India and outline both quantitative and qualitative evidence from 42 Indian state-owned laboratories to support this argument.

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We build on the emerging literature of influence-based models to study how multinational firms can navigate host governments. Our ‘core-periphery’ framework posits that the actions that an MNC takes with actors in what we call the ‘periphery’—comprised of state, quasi-state, and civil society actors—can lead to positive or negative influence with interconnected state actors in a ‘core.’ There are two mechanisms by which this can happen: engaging the periphery may either change the information set of the core or help align incentives of multiple core actors. Engaging the periphery might be particularly relevant in settings where the institutional framework is still emerging. We build a case study of a multinational firm in the biotechnology sector to illustrate how the core-periphery framework works in multiple emerging markets across institutional differences. The analysis is based on 32 interviews conducted with the CEO and other executives of Genzyme at the corporate headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in subsidiaries in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, India, and the United States.


In 2009 the management of Vale, a Brazilian diversified mining company and the largest iron ore producer in the world, was under pressure from at least two fronts. First, the emergence of China as the most important consumer of iron ore in the last few years had changed the pricing system for iron ore from long-term contracts based on negotiated "benchmark prices" to contracts based on spot prices, usually forcing mining companies to pay for shipping. Second, for Brazil's charismatic president, Lula, a former union leader, Vale's layoffs during the global financial crisis and its perceived move away from Brazil (as Vale increased its exports to China and purchased Chinese vessels to ship iron ore to Asia) were reasons to start an open campaign to pressure Vale and Agnelli to invest in integrated steel mills in Brazil. In October of 2009, the CEO of Vale, Roger Agnelli was going to meet with Lula and had to decide what to do to attenuate these political pressures. What could Agnelli do to deal with political pressures at home? Was the purchase of large vessels to ship iron ore to Asia a good decision at a time when the shipping industry had spare capacity?

Winning in Emerging Markets
Khanna, Tarun, and Krishna Palepu. 2010. Winning in Emerging Markets. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

Already cited by the Financial Times,, The Economic Times, WSJ/Mint and several other prominent global business publications, Winning in Emerging Markets is quickly becoming the go-to book for mapping a strategy for entering new markets—and then quickly gaining a competitive edge in those high growth regions.

Advancing the discussion about emerging markets themselves and how organizations can best leverage the potential of these regions, Tarun Khanna and Krishna Palepu – both well respected thinkers on the subject – argue there is more to sizing up these markets than just evaluating data points related to size, population, and growth potential. In fact, they say the possibility to expand a company’s progress in developing economies is to first asses the area’s lack of institutional infrastructure—and then to formulate strategies around what the authors call “institutional voids” to the firm’s advantage. Khanna and Palepu say the primary exploitable characteristic of an emerging market are such voids, and though they create challenges, they also provide major opportunity both for multinationals and local contenders.

Winning in Emerging Markets serves as a playbook for measuring a market’s potential and for crafting a strategy to succeed there.

Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India Are Reshaping Their Futures and Yours

China and India are home to one-third of the world's population. And they're undergoing social and economic revolutions that are capturing the best minds--and money--of Western business. In "Billions of Entrepreneurs," Tarun Khanna examines the entrepreneurial forces driving China's and India's trajectories of development. He shows where these trajectories overlap and complement one another--and where they diverge and compete. He also reveals how Western companies can participate in this development. Through intriguing comparisons, the author probes important differences between China and India in areas such as information and transparency, the roles of capital markets and talent, public and private property rights, social constraints on market forces, attitudes toward expatriates abroad and foreigners at home, entrepreneurial and corporate opportunities, and the importance of urban and rural communities. He explains how these differences will influence China's and India's future development, what the two countries can learn from each other, and how they will ultimately reshape business, politics, and society in the world around them. Engaging and incisive, this book is a critical resource for anyone working in China or India or planning to do business in these two countries.