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Keyan Lai


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Personal profile


I received my PhD from Cardiff Business School in 2017 and joined the University of Edinburgh Business School in July 2019 following two years at the University of St Andrews as an Associate Lecturer. I currently teach three courses: International HRM and Comparative Employment Relations (UG), Emerging Market MNCs: Internationalisation and HRM (PG), and Core Competencies for HR Professionals (PG).

My research focuses on identity and legitimacy issues of multinational corporations from emerging markets (EMNCs).  At macro level, I investigate how EMNCs (e.g. Chinese firms) are perceived and evaluated by the Western societies, how their ‘Chinese’ identity has become a source of illegitimacy, and how they tackle this problem through various forms of legitimacy building activity. In this research, I am particularly interested in the issue of national security, e.g. the development of national security discourse in relation to foreign investments, how it informs the government’s inward foreign direct investment policy, and how it affects EMNCs’ international business strategy.

At micro level, I study identity regulation and identity work. I am interested in exploring how identity regulation and other forms of organisational control are embedded in organisational politics and power relations, and how they become a process of contestation, struggle and negotiation. In this strand of research, I have highlighted organisational identity as an important context for employees’ identity work. I argue that organisational identity construction has become a form of identity regulation. Some of the research projects I have been working on include:

  1. Space, time, and MNCs' organisational identity
  2. Organisational identity and legitimacy of French and Chinese state-owned enterprises in the UK's nuclear power industry
  3. National security and FDI screening regime in Germany and the UK
  4. MNCs' legitimacy loss and legitimation strategies amidst national security concerns

My recent publications include:

  • Lai, K., Morgan, G., & Morris, J. (2020). ‘Eating Bitterness’ in a Chinese Multinational: Identity Regulation in Context. Organization Studies, 41(5), 661-680.
  • Lai, K. (2020). National Security and FDI Policy Ambiguity: A Commentary. Journal of International Business Policy. (Accepted/ In press)

Before embarking on an academic career, I worked with HSBC, management consultancy Towers Watson and game developer Ubisoft. Previously I also worked as an editor in a Shanghai-based publishing house for several years.


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