Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Emilie R. Feldman


The relationship between experience, learning, and performance is one of the most central concepts in organizational learning and is a key antecedent to dynamic capabilities and superior performance. While many existing works have focused on learning at the organizational level, more recent works have begun to examine the importance of the individuals involved in this process. This is especially critical in strategic contexts, in which focal actors have a meaningful influence over organizational decisions and outcomes. In this dissertation, I explore these issues in the context of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). By introducing Corporate Development Executives (CDEs), the focal actors specifically dedicated to leading M&A activities inside organizations, I shed light on the role of focal individual-level learning—whether it matters, when it matters, and how it impacts organizational learning, capabilities development, and performance. In Chapter 1, I highlight the challenges of learning from experience in strategic contexts such as M&A and develop a new framework for understanding the conditions under which organizational-level and focal individual-level experience may lead to effective learning and superior performance. In Chapters 2 and 3, I empirically test these ideas using a novel, hand-collected dataset on CDEs in S&P 500 information technology companies. I find evidence that CDEs’ prior M&A experience critically impacts subsequent M&A performance, and firm-level and CEO-level M&A experience serve as boundary conditions for their effectiveness. I also find that the environmental conditions of CDEs’ initial M&A learning experience have persistent influences on their subsequent behaviors, in which individual experience can be both an enabler and a constraint on organizational outcomes. Together, these findings offer new theoretical insights on the locus of experience and the antecedents of performance heterogeneity. By accounting for the task-specific focal actor, this dissertation contributes to the literature on corporate strategy, organizational learning, and microfoundations of dynamic capabilities, and has managerial implications on how firms should source and manage talent for M&A, especially given their growing reliance on inorganic opportunities for growth and transformation.


Available to all on Thursday, May 18, 2023