Research summary: While alliance researchers view prior partner‐specific alliance experience as influencing firms' subsequent alliance or acquisition decisions, empirical evidence on the alliance versus acquisition decision is surprisingly mixed. We offer a reconciliation by proposing and testing an analytical framework that recognizes prior partner‐specific experiences as heterogeneous along three fundamental dimensions: partner‐specific trust, routines, and value certainty. This allows us to use a policy‐capturing methodology to rigorously operationalize and test our mechanism‐level predictions. We find that all three mechanisms can increase the likelihood of a subsequent alliance or acquisition, and in terms of the comparative choice between alliances versus acquisitions, partner‐specific trust pulls towards alliances, and value certainty pulls towards acquisitions. We conclude with a discussion of the theoretical and empirical implications of our approach and method.
Managerial summary: This study focuses on an important corporate decision: When a firm has had an alliance with another firm, how would that experience affect the likelihood of a future alliance or acquisition with that same firm? We first suggest that it will depend on three factors: the level of trust that existed in that prior alliance, the extent to which specific work routines were developed, and the degree to which the firm was able to confidently assess the value of the partner firm's resources. We then find that trust is a particularly strong predictor of future alliances, while confidence regarding value more strongly predicts future acquisitions. In this way, we demonstrate more precisely how past corporate choices can affect (consciously or unconsciously) future ones.