Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Business

Supervisor

Prof. Jean-Philippe Vergne

Abstract

Management scholars recognize the uncertainties and challenges during the market entry process that can impede operational startup. However, very little empirical research exists to fully understand these challenges and explain firm responses. Even less attention has been paid to the threats from non-market actors and the countering strategies employed by firms. Hence, this thesis explores firm reactions to community contestation, as a form of social barrier to entry that can prevent the firm from exploiting market opportunities. Specifically, I consider the strategic implications of firms’ rhetorical responses to community contestation during the market entry process.

For this thesis, U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry (2000–2013) is an appropriate context because only 26 out of the 59 proposed LNG import terminals could even get to the regulatory approval stage. Regulatory success, defined as the gain of regulatory approval in a relatively short amount of time compared to other competing proposals, was a necessary precursor for achieving operational startup and implementing the market entry strategy. The regulatory success of many proposals was threatened by extensive negative media attention due to sustained community contestation, forcing the Federal regulatory agencies to carry out an extensive and time-consuming evaluation in order to project an image of fairness. Firms had to employ rhetorical strategies to publicly counter the community contestation but were not equally successful.

Using fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA), I identify four rhetorical strategies associated with the regulatory success. I find that a demonstrable community need enables an avoidance rhetorical strategy whereby firms try to sail through the regulatory process without catching public attention, especially when the design disadvantages of their proposals risk being exposed. When community need is not demonstrable but contestation levels are high, firms implement counterattack rhetorical strategies to undermine any community contestation, at times directly targeting the firm’s detractors, and not just the issues they raised. By conceiving of community contestation as a social barrier to entry and showing how it can be mitigated using rhetorical strategies, my study contributes to the literatures on rhetoric, firm entry, and non-market strategies at the community level.