Xun (Brian) Wu

Academic affiliations

2015 –                       Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Associate Professor of Strategy (with tenure)

2014 – 2015              Ross School of Business, University of Michigan                             

                                                 Sanford R. Robertson Professorship

2007 – 2015              Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Assistant Professor of Strategy

2012 – Present         Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan

                                                 Faculty Associate

2014 – Present         Strategy Department, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan 

                                                 PhD Coordinator

2015 – Present         China Global Node, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

                                                 Faculty Director


PhD, Management, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 2007
MS, Management, National University of Singapore, 2001
BA, Finance (with distinction), Tsinghua University, 1998


Industry Evolution, Corporate Scope, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Chinese economy

             My research examines the role of firm capabilities in influencing the dynamics of corporate scope and the evolution of industries. My work can be organized into two streams, with the first stream related to firms’ strategies for reconfiguring their business portfolios in dynamic environments, and the second related to industry evolution driven by entry, exit, and incumbent adaptation. These two streams are linked by a common concern with how competitive advantage is created and destroyed when industry landscapes are reshaped by economic, technological, and institutional factors.

When Suppliers Climb the Value Chain: A Theory of Value Distribution in Vertical Relationships” (with Zhixi Wan).  Forthcoming at Management Science.

Academy of Management BPS Division Distinguished Paper Award 2015

Abstract: While offshore outsourcing has become an important strategy to lower production costs among Western firms, it gives rise to the phenomenon of value chain climbing – suppliers in emerging markets can develop capabilities by supplying, with aspirations to compete with the buyers in the product market. We build an analytical model to study the impact of value chain climbing on value distribution in vertical relationships. The analysis identifies a set of dominant relationships, characterizes how the buyer’s optimal choice among these relationships depends on firms’ relative competitiveness in the product market and the supplier’s speed of capability development, and shows how the optimal choice evolves with the dynamics of the supplier’s capability development. The results provide new insights into our understanding of value distribution in vertical relationships across different contexts and over time. By endogenizing the supplier’s entry into the product market, our study enriches the literatures on vertical relationships, market entry, and the management of global value chains.

A capabilities-based Perspective on Target Selection in Acquisitions (with Aseem Kaul). Forthcomig at Strategic Management Journal.

Abstract: This study examines the choice of acquisition targets by horizontal acquirers. Taking a capability-based perspective, we argue that acquirers prefer targets with different levels of capability in similar contexts or markets.  Moreover, acquirers will seek to balance these dimensions, seeking targets with inferior capabilities in existing markets, but superior capabilities in new but related markets, especially when their own integration capabilities are weak. Results from an analysis of horizontal acquisitions in the Chinese brewing industry from 1998 to 2007 provide support for our theory. The paper contributes to the acquisition literature by providing a capability-based perspective on the factors that drive target selection by acquirers, highlighting the distinction between capability transfer and capability combination as sources of value in acquisitions, as well as the role of acquirer integration capabilities.


Organizational Constraints to Adaptation: Intra-Firm Asymmetry in the Locus of Coordination. (with Vikas Aggarwal). Forthcoming.  Organization Science.


Abstract: We assemble a panel dataset of firms in the U.S. defense industry between 1996 and 2006 to examine the drivers of heterogeneous incumbent firm adaptation following the industry-wide demand shock of September 11, 2001. This shock entailed not only an increase in aggregate demand, but more importantly a shift in the relative attractiveness of individual product areas, resulting in the need for firms to reshuffle their product portfolios in response to changing demand conditions. The exogenous nature of the shock allows us to empirically identify the effect of pre-shock interdependence structures on post-shock adaptation outcomes. We find that the locus of coordination inside a firm can explain differential post-shock adaptation performance: because interdependencies spanning organizational boundaries are more difficult to manage than those contained within such boundaries, coordination across product areas creates greater adaptation challenges as compared to coordination within product areas. We further investigate the moderating effects of product complementarity and organizational grouping, finding results consistent with our hypothesized mechanisms. As one of the first studies to empirically link a firm’s locus of coordination with its adaptation performance, this study contributes to our understanding of the role of interdependence and organization design in dynamic environments.

Complementary assets as pipes and prisms: Innovation incentives and trajectory choices. (with Zhixi Wan and Daniel Levinthal). 2014. Strategic Management Journal. 35(9): 1257–1278 (lead article).

Abstract: Under-investment in radical innovation is often pointed to as the basis for incumbent failure in the face of radical change. However, it is also commonly observed that incumbents make substantial investments in radical innovations. To address the paradox of incumbent failure despite heavy investments, we develop an analytical model that considers firm heterogeneity with respect to both technical trajectories and complementary capabilities. In this model, complementary assets play a dual role in incumbents’ investment behavior toward radical technological change: complementary assets are not only resources [pipes] that can buffer firms from technology change, but are also prisms through which they view those changes, in terms of both the magnitude of resources that should be invested and the trajectory to which these resources should be directed.

Institutional barriers and industry dynamics. (with Sea-Jin Chang). 2014. Strategic Management Journal, 35(8): 1103–1123 (lead article).

The Economist,  April 27th 2013


Abstract: This study demonstrates new entrants exhibit higher productivity but also higher exit hazard than incumbents in post-liberalization China. We argue this seemingly paradoxical relationship is attributable to institutional barriers, defined as the hindrance in the institutional environment that prevents market selection forces to function. New entrants require higher productivity to compensate for those institutional barriers, which in turn implies a higher exit hazard after controlling for productivity. Our empirical findings support this argument and further show that the differences in productivity and exit hazard between new entrants and incumbents become smaller where and when institutional barriers recede. By integrating economic and institutional perspectives, we highlight the importance of institutional factors in shaping industry evolution.

Book review for “Build, Borrow, or Buy: Solving the Growth Dilemma (by Laurence Capron and Will Mitchell). 2014. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 13(1): 141-143.

Foreword (in Chinese) for the Chinese edition of “Build, Borrow, or Buy: Solving the Growth Dilemma (by Laurence Capron and Will Mitchell)

Opportunity costs, industry dynamics, and corporate diversification: Evidence from the cardiovascular medical device industry, 1976-2004. 2013. Strategic Management Journal, 34(11):  1265–1287 (lead article).

Abstract: This paper examines how demand conditions across alternative markets impact diversification decisions and firm performance by influencing the opportunity costs of deploying non-scale free capabilities. Using data within the cardiovascular medical device industry, this study shows that: (1) firms with a larger stock of pre-entry innovation experience are more likely to diversify; (2) firms in a current market with greater relative demand maturity are more likely to diversify; (3) diversification is associated with a performance decrease in the current market; and (4) diversification is associated with a performance increase at the corporate level. These findings shed new light on the self-selection process of corporate scope, the conceptualization of firm capabilities, and the connection between industry dynamics and resource deployment.

Opportunity costs and non-scale free capabilities: Profit maximization, corporate scope, and profit margins. (with Daniel Levinthal). 2010. Strategic Management Journal, 31(7): 780-801.

Abstract: The resource-based view on firm diversification, subsequent to Penrose (1959), has focused primarily on the fungibility of resources across domains. We make a clear analytical distinction between scale free capabilities and those that are subject to opportunity costs and must be allocated to one use or another, thereby shifting the discourse back to Penrose’s (1959) original argument regarding the stock of organizational capabilities. The existence of resources and capabilities that must be allocated across alternative uses implies that profit-maximizing diversification decisions should be based upon the opportunity cost of their use in one domain or another. This opportunity cost logic provides a rational explanation for the divergence between total profits and profit margins. Firms make profit-maximizing decisions to increase total profit via diversification when the industries in which they are currently competing become relatively mature. Due to the spreading of these capabilities across more segments, we may observe that firms’ profit-maximizing diversification actions lead to total profit growth but lower average returns. The model provides an alternative explanation for empirical observations regarding the diversification discount. The self-selection effect noted in recent work in corporate finance may not be indicative of inferior capabilities of diversifying firms but of the limited opportunity contexts in which these firms are operating.

Spillover asymmetry and why it matters. (with Anne-Marie Knott and Hart Posen). 2009. Management Science, 55(3): 373-388.

Abstract: Although spillovers are a crucial factor in determining the optimal environment for innovation, there is no consensus regarding their impact on firm behavior. One reason for this may be that models differ in their assumptions for the functional form of the spillover pool. In industrial organization and economic geography, for example, the predominant convention is that all innovation within an industry/region contributes to a spillover pool that has a common value for all firms. An alternative convention prevalent in endogenous growth and evolutionary economics is that spillovers have directionality—the size of the relevant pool differs across firms. Knowing the correct functional form may facilitate theoretical consensus, either analytically (by modifying models’ assumptions) or empirically (by supporting a critical test of competing theories). We characterize and test the functional form of spillover pools for efficiency-enhancing innovation across 50 markets in the banking industry. Our results in that setting are consistent with expectations for asymmetric spillovers but inconsistent with expectations for pooled spillovers.

Entrepreneurial risk and market entry. (with Anne-Marie Knott). 2006. Management Science, 52(9): 1315-1330.


Winner of the 2005 Annual Best Student Paper Award from the Office of Advocacy of the US Small Business Administration.

BusinessWeek Online, February 1st, 2005


Featured by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, May 19, 2014


Abstract: This paper attempts to reconcile the risk-bearing characterization of entrepreneurs with the stylized fact that entrepreneurs exhibit conventional risk-aversion profiles. We propose that the disparity arises from confounding two distinct dimensions of uncertainty: demand uncertainty and ability uncertainty. We further propose that entrepreneurs will be risk averse with respect to demand uncertainty, yet “apparent risk seeking” (or overconfident) with respect to ability uncertainty. To examine this view, we construct a reduced-form model of the entrepreneur’s entry decision, which we aggregate to the market level, then test empirically. We find that entrepreneurs in aggregate behave as we predict. Accordingly, risk-averse entrepreneurs are willing to bear market risk when the degree of ability uncertainty is comparable to the degree of demand uncertainty. Potential market failures exist in instances where there is a high demand uncertainty but low performance dispersion (insufficient entry), or low demand uncertainty but high performance dispersion (excess entry).

Lessons from Alibaba.com: Government’s role in electronic contracting. (with Qin Hu and Clement Wang). 2003. INFO – The Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications, Information and Media, 6(5): 298-307.

Abstract: Although electronic commerce (e-commerce) can be a source of competitive advantage, will e-commerce businesses in countries like China flourish when governments still take a “wait-and-see attitude” as to prompting, protecting, and regulating e-commerce? The paper employs transaction cost economics in analyzing the role of government in regulating electronic contracting. Due to the transaction costs arising from e-commerce, explicit contracts between parties are usually incomplete. The paper argues that these contracts should always be backed by implicit contracts, which are determined by default rules in various governments. Therefore, it behoves governments urgently to fill gaps in incomplete contracts in e-commerce in order to foster a predictable legal environment for e-businesses, minimize legal risks and transaction costs, and maximize economic and social benefits. The authors believe that governments must also act in concert with one another at the international level to create a favorable and consistent commercial environment.

Product market competition and financial conservatism: A theoretical model and the case of Yanjing Brewing Corporation. (with Hanmei Chen and Wuxiang Zhu). 2002. Journal of Economic Research (a leading economics journal in China), 52(8): 28-36.

Working papers

Creative Construction in a Schumpeterian Environment: The Duality of Learning and Competition (replacing old title “Schumpeterian Competition, Inter-Organizational Learning, and the Dynamics of Spillover Pools") (with Gianluigi Giustiziero).  Invited for 2nd review at Organization Science.

Abstract: Entrants constitute an important source of novel knowledge that incumbent firms could absorb to strategically renew themselves. Incumbents’ investments in absorptive capacity, however, are a double-edged sword that affects incumbents’ absorption of entrants’ knowledge. We theorize that while these knowledge investments can enhance incumbents’ internal learning ability, they may decrease knowledge absorption by causing competitive tensions that reduce incumbents’ technological proximity to entrants, a crucial channel to access the external pool of entrant knowledge. Using data from the cardiovascular medical device industry, we investigate the implications of our theory and find empirical support. By incorporating the dynamic interplay between incumbents and entrants, this study contributes to our understanding of absorptive capacity and creative construction in dynamic environments.

 Awards and honors

Academy of Management BPS Division Distinguished Paper Award 2015

Neary PhD Teaching Excellence Award (one at Ross), 2015

Sanford R. Robertson Professorship, school-wide junior faculty award to recognize career achievement and outstanding performance in research and teaching (one at Ross), 2014

3M Non-tenured Faculty Award, 2012, 2013, 2014

Academy of Management Technology and Innovation Management Division Past Chairs Emerging Scholar Award, runner-up, 2012

Nominated for the Ross Junior Faculty Research Award, 2012, 2013

INFORMS Organization Science Dissertation Proposal Competition, finalist, 2006

Strategic Management Society Best Conference Paper Prize, finalist, 2006

Academy of Management (AOM) Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) Division Stephan Schrader Best Conference Paper Award, 2006   

Best Doctoral Paper award from the Office of Advocacy of the US Small Business Administration, 2005

Wharton School Doctoral Fellowship, 2002 – 2007

Research Scholarship of National University of Singapore, 1999 – 2001

Citibank Scholarship for academic excellence, 1st Prize

HongKong Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC) Scholarship for academic excellence, 1st Prize

Outstanding Student Scholarship, Tsinghua University, 1st Prize

Metrobank (Philippine) Foundation Scholarship for academic excellence, Highest Prize

One of "Top Ten Students" out of 180,000 examinees of Shandong Province in the National College Entrance Exam, 1994


Doctoral dissertation advisor: Gianluigi Giustiziero (Ph.D. in Strategy), Sara Ryoo (Ph.D. in Strategy)

Doctoral dissertation committee: Thunyarat (Bam) Amornpetchkul (Ph.D. in Operations Management; National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) Business School in Thailand), David Knapp (Ph.D. in Economics; RAND Corporation), Santhosh Suresh (Ph.D. in Operations Management; McKinsey & Co.), Anyan Qi (Ph.D. in Operations Management; UT Dallas), Dadi Wang (Ph.D. in Operations Management; McGill University), Yan Yin (Ph.D. in Operations Management; HEC Paris), Bo Zhao (Ph.D. in Business Economics; University of Hong Kong)

Doctoral Seminar in Strategy: Boundaries of the Firm

Fall, 2012 evaluation 5/5


Mergers, Acquisitions, and Corporate Development (Ross School of Business MBA elective)

Evaluation 4.54/5.0 across 3 sections in Winter 2014

Increased enrollment to three sections in 2013

Will increase enrollment to four sections in 2015


Corporate Strategy (Ross School of Business Weekend MBA core course)

Fall, 2010 evaluation 4.52/5.0


Corporate Strategy (Ross School of Business BBA core course)

Fall, 2007-2010 average evaluation 4.4/5.0 across 11 sections


Guest lectures (Strategy, China, etc.)

Ross Preparation Initiative Seminar, University of Michigan

Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan

American Society of Mechanical Engineers, University of Michigan

Theta Tau Professional engineering fraternity, University of Michigan

The Asia Law Society, University of Michigan

The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations Fifth Annual CHINA Town Hall


Teaching awards and honors


Neary PhD Teaching Excellence Award (one at Ross), 2015

Nominated by the Ross BBA Class for the Ross Teaching Excellence Award, 2011

Nominated for the PhD Teaching Excellence Award, 2013, 2014


Associate Editor for Strategic Management Journal 2015-2018

Editorial board member for Strategy Science 2014-

Editorial board member for Strategic Management Journal 2013-2015

Ad hoc reviewer for Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Business Research, Journal of International Business Studies, Management and Organization Review, Management Science, Organization Science, Academy of Management annual conferences, AOM dissertation competitions, Strategic Management Society conferences, and INFORMS Organization Science dissertation proposal competitions

University services

PhD coordinator, Strategy Department, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Admissions and fellows committee, Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan


Professional services

Co-organizer for the Doctoral Consortium of Business Policy and Strategy (BPS) Division of the Academy of Management (2014-2016)

Elected as Representative-at-Large for the Corporate Strategy Interest Group of the Strategic Management Society (2014-16)

Elected as Representative-at-Large for the Behavioral Strategy Interest Group of the Strategic Management Society (2014-16)

Elected to the Business Policy and Strategy (BPS) Division Executive Committee of the Academy of Management (2013-2015)

Appointed to the Business Policy and Strategy (BPS) Division Research Committee of the Academy of Management (2010-2012)



Slow, avid runner.

Dexter Ann Arbor Half Marathon

Pre-2011. +∞. 2011. 2:28:05. 2012. 2:14:12. 2013. 2:04:34. 2014. 2:56:52

Detroit Free Press Talmer Bank Marathon

2014. 5:05:50


Updated May 2013
My official Michigan Profile
Ross School of Business