Catherine Thomas

Associate Professor of Managerial Economics and Strategy

London School of Economics and Political Science
Houghton Street

Published Papers

Trialling an experience good allows consumers to learn their value for the sampled good and also informs beliefs about their value for similar products. These demand-side information spillovers across products create a relatively well-informed group of potential future consumers for rival firms. When both switching consumers and repeat buyers are profitable, firms face reduced incentives to set a low initial price to attract inexperienced consumers. Switchers and repeat buyers are more likely to be profitable in new product categories that build on major innovations and when firms can price discriminate based on purchasing history. We suggest that competing products and services arising from new innovations often have demand-side information spillovers from any product trial and are, hence, settings where competing firms can make overall profits even when selling products that consumers perceive to be indistinguishable prior to initial trial.

Ghemawat’s work in international business strategy demonstrates that MNEs create value both by overcoming and by exploiting the price differences that exist at country borders. This paper evaluates the investment strategies of MNEs with subsidiaries in the 10 Central and Eastern Europe countries that had joined the European Union by 2007 through the lens of this insight. The data show that subsidiaries’ activities vary with the parent MNE’s home location. The CEE subsidiaries of Western European MNEs are more likely to be producing output that can be traded across country borders, particularly when their output differs from the main product of their parent company. The findings suggest Western European MNEs tend to invest in CEE countries to fragment value chains across the region, exploiting factor cost arbitrage opportunity in a semiglobalized world.

This paper analyzes firm boundaries in the U.S. hotel industry. Hotel properties of a given brand are often managed either by a chain employee or by a franchisee. We document that brand properties with the lowest and the highest occupancy rates are more likely to be managed at arm’s length by franchisees. Variation in organizational form is consistent with a model in which the incentives embodied in management contracts vary with property-level productivity. We infer that most hotel chains franchise low-productivity relationships to keep property-level fixed costs low and franchise the most productive relationships to create high-powered incentives for franchisees. Franchisees of high-productivity properties face stronger incentives than the managers of both chain-managed properties and low-productivity franchises because the performance incentives in franchise contracts are proportional to hotel revenues and complement the incentives from franchisees’ property control rights.

Online markets for remote labour services allow workers and firms to contract with each other directly. Despite this, intermediaries—called outsourcing agencies—have emerged in these markets. This article shows that agencies signal to employers that inexperienced workers are high quality. Workers affiliated with an agency have substantially higher job-finding probabilities and wages at the beginning of their careers compared to similar workers without an agency affiliation. This advantage declines after high-quality non-affiliated workers receive good public feedback scores. The results indicate that intermediaries have arisen endogenously to permit a more efficient allocation of workers to jobs.

Demand uncertainty is thought to influence irreversible capacity decisions. Suppose that local demand can be sourced from domestic (rigid) production or from (flexible) imports. This paper shows that the optimal domestic capacity is either increasing or decreasing with demand uncertainty, depending on the relative level of the costs of domestic production and imports. We test this relationship with data from the U.S. cement industry, in which the difference in marginal cost between domestic production and imports varies across local U.S. markets because cement is costly to transport over land. Industry data for 1999 to 2010 are consistent with the predictions of the model. The introduction of two technologies to the production set—one rigid and one flexible—is crucial to understanding the relationship between capacity choice and uncertainty in this industry because there is no relationship between these two variables in aggregated U.S. data. Our analysis reveals that the relationship is negative in coastal districts, and significantly more positive in landlocked districts.

This paper uses a rich panel dataset of Spanish manufacturing firms (1990-2006) and a propensity score reweighting estimator to show that multinational firms acquire the most productive domestic firms, which, on acquisition, conduct more product and process innovation (simultaneously adopting new machines and organizational practices) and adopt foreign technologies, leading to higher productivity. We propose a model of endogenous selection and innovation in heterogeneous firms that jointly explains the observed selection process and the innovation decisions. Further, we show in the data that innovation on acquisition is associated with the increased market scale provided by the parent firm.

I analyze country-level product ranges offered by multinational laundry detergent manufacturers in Western Europe. Observed product range variation across countries exceeds the optimal firm-level response to differences in consumer preferences and retail environments. Counterfactual analysis reveals that increased product range standardization would reduce firm costs and increase profits. These findings are consistent with theory models of local agency, where decentralized decision making can be the constrained optimal organizational form despite the resulting lack of coordination across divisions. My analysis suggests that organizational structure affects product market outcomes and firm performance.

When partially inalienable managerial entrenchment is introduced to Zwiebel’s 1996 model of dynamic capital structure, anticipated debt renegotiation between a higher-type manager and the creditor reduces expected firm value. Only lower-type managers can issue debt to avoid shareholder takeover.

Stock price synchronicity has been attributed to poor corporate governance and a lack of firm-level transparency. This paper investigates the association between different kinds of firm interlocks, control groups, and synchronicity in Chile. A unique data set containing equity cross-holdings, common individual owners, and director interlocks is used to map out firm ties and control groups. While there is a correlation between synchronicity and share ownership and equity ties, synchronicity is more strongly correlated with interlocking directorates. The presence of share directors is associated with either reduced firm-level transparency or increased correlation in firm fundamentals—due, for example, to joint resource allocation across the firms.

Agglomeration in foreign direct investment (FDI) is typically attributed to location-specific characteristics such as natural resource advantages or production-related spillovers between multinational firms. The increasing collocation of the largest global firms in the cement industry since the 1980s is not easily attributed to either of these explanations. This paper draws on theories of multimarket contact to test whether strategic interaction across national markets has influenced the successive market entry decisions generating the observed agglomeration. We first establish that there is indeed nonrandom agglomeration of the six largest cement firms. We next show that preexisting cross-market interaction with current incumbents helps predict which firm will enter a given market and also the choice of market a given firm enters. The association does not appear to be caused by strategic convergence or mimicry of recent entry events and cannot be explained by production side effects, which depend only on local conditions. The findings are consistent with multimarket contact models where collocation allows firms to sustain higher prices in all markets. This latter inference is also supported by evidence of an association between global firm market share and local cement price. The paper suggests that pricing spillovers can serve as an alternative motivation for FDI agglomeration.

Book Chapters and Other Writings




  • International Economics for Research Students, PhD Course. LSE. 2017 – 2019, 2023.

  • Strategy, Organization, and Innovation. MSc Course. LSE. 2015 – 2016.

  • Topics in International Trade, PhD Course. Columbia Economics Department. 2014.

  • Strategic Management. Undergraduate Summer School. LSE. 2013 – 2017.

  • Research in Multinationals. PhD Course, INSEAD. 2012.

  • What’s next for South Africa? MBA Elective. Columbia Business School. 2010.

  • Managerial Economics. MBA and Executive MBA Core Curricula. Columbia Business School. 2007 – 2012.

  • Quantitative Methods, International Trade and Investment, Regulation and Antitrust, Social Analysis 10, Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Teaching Assistant. 2001 – 2006.