Strategic Venturing as Legitimacy Creation: The Case of Sustainability

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Legitimacy is crucial for the survival and growth of strategic ventures inside larger corporations. Yet, despite much progress, research on the strategic venturing-legitimacy nexus, that is, how internal strategic initiatives gain legitimacy and become part of the corporate strategy, remains underexplored. Drawing on the analysis of a longitudinal case study of the development of a sustainability initiative within a major diversified firm, we identified three core mechanisms of legitimation – seeding, energizing and prospering – that turned the concept of sustainability from an internally widely shared moral obligation into a business case. Our study contributes three distinct mechanisms that facilitate the legitimation and the integration of a strategic initiative within the corporate strategy. Moreover, we show how the sequence of legitimation mechanisms matters and highlight the inherently sequenced nature of strategic venture legitimation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)417-459
Number of pages43
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2022

Bibliographical note

This article has greatly benefitted from the guidance of associate editor John Prescott and three anonymous reviewers. We would also like to thank Johann Bronstein, Stefanie Habersang, Thomas Gegenhuber, Elias Kaiser, Anna Krzeminska, Katrin Obermeit, Dennis Schoeneborn, and Ferdinand Wenzlaff for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. A preliminary version of this article was presented at the 33rd Annual International Conference of the Strategic Management Society, in Atlanta, GA, USA, and was awarded with the SMS Best Conference PhD Paper Prize. We would like to thank Sarah Kaplan and Tomi Laamanen and the remaining PhD Paper Prize Committee for honouring our work in this way and the conference participants for their invaluable comments on our article. Furthermore, we would like to thank members of the Leuphana Organization Studies Group (LOST) for their helpful feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Management Studies published by Society for the Advancement of Management Studies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

    Research areas

  • strategic venturing, internal corporate venturing, legitimacy, process theory, sustainability, case study
  • Management studies