Valeria Giacomin - Faculty & Research - Harvard Business School
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Valeria Giacomin

Harvard-Newcomen Fellow

General Management

Valeria Giacomin is the Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in Business History during 2017/2018. She received her BA and her MSc in International Business from Bocconi University, Italy, and a MA in Southeast Asian Studies from SOAS, UK. In 2016 Valeria obtained her PhD from Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. She researches global business history, with a focus on clustering, global commodity chains, and historical geography. She specializes on Southeast Asia and emerging economies. Currently, she is working on corporate reputation in the emerging markets.

Her doctoral thesis is on the evolution of the rubber and palm oil clusters in Malaysia and Indonesia during the twentieth century. It
 examines the relevance of business clusters for the integration of less developed countries in the global economy. It centers on the concept of cluster, a multidisciplinary notion that spans from International Business, Development Studies and Economic Geography, but has only seldom been investigated through historical methods. The thesis includes three major parts, each focusing on a specific phase of the palm oil cluster evolution and addressing an under-researched topic within cluster theory: (i) cluster emergence and diversification from rubber to palm oil; (ii) cluster governance during Malaysian decolonization; and (iii) south-south cluster competition between Southeast Asia and West African cluster locations.

Valeria's research shows that clusters are not self-contained products of the local economy. Rather, it presents clusters as building blocks of emerging economies since the first wave of globalization in early 20th century. By hosting multinationals and channeling knowledge and institutional upgrading, the palm oil cluster in Southeast Asia worked as a long-lasting organizational space for the interaction between local and foreign business. Finally, her work explores the competitive and coopertive dyamics between similar clusters in different locations.
Journal Articles
Working Papers
  1. A Historical Approach to Clustering in Emerging Economies

    Valeria Giacomin

    Clusters are defined as geographically concentrated agglomerations of specialized firms in a particular domain. The cluster concept in its broader meaning of industrial agglomeration has been the focus of longstanding debates in the social sciences. This working paper traces the evolution of the literature on industrial concentration, reviewing the major contributions and puzzles at the core of cluster theory with a specific focus on clustering in developing economies. Traditionally, studies on clusters have overemphasized the dynamics arising in specific cluster locations as opposed to the impact of external factors. Indeed, researchers have explained clusters as self-contained entities and reduced their success to local exceptionality. In contrast, emerging literature has shown that clusters are integrated in broader structures beyond their location and are rather building blocks of today’s global economy. The working paper goes on to present two historical cases from the global south to explain how clusters work as major tools for international business. Particularly in the developing world, multinationals have used clusters as platforms for channeling foreign investment, knowledge and imported inputs. The study concludes by stressing the importance of using historical evidence and data to look at clusters as agglomerations of actors and companies operating not just at the local level but across broader global networks. In doing so the historical perspective provides explanations lacking in the existing cluster scholarship to understand clusters as organizational structures underpinning the process of globalization.

    Keywords: Industry Clusters; Research; Theory; Developing Countries and Economies; History; Analysis; Globalization;


    Giacomin, Valeria. "A Historical Approach to Clustering in Emerging Economies." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-018, August 2017.  View Details
  2. Countering Political Risk in Colonial India: German Multinationals and the Challenge of Internment (1914-1947)

    Christina Lubinski, Valeria Giacomin and Klara Schnitzer

    Internment in so-called “enemy countries” was a frequent occurrence in the 20th century and created significant obstacles for multinational enterprises (MNEs). This article focuses on German MNEs in India and shows how they addressed the formidable challenge of the internment of their employees in British camps during both WWI and WWII. We find that internment impacted business relationships in India well beyond its endpoint and that the WWI internment shaped the subsequent perception of and strategic response to the WWII experience. We show that internment aggravated existing staffing challenges, impacted the perception of racial lines of distinctions, and re-casted the category “European business.” While internment was perceived and managed as a political risk, the case also shows that it created unexpected networking opportunities, generating a tight community of German businesspeople in India.

    Keywords: Multinational Firms and Management; Employees; War; History; Outcome or Result; India;


    Lubinski, Christina, Valeria Giacomin, and Klara Schnitzer. "Countering Political Risk in Colonial India: German Multinationals and the Challenge of Internment (1914-1947)." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-090, March 2018.  View Details
  1. Making Sense of Sino-Burmese SME Internationalization: A Theory Driven Inquiry

    Valeria Giacomin and Jinsun Bae


    Giacomin, Valeria, and Jinsun Bae. "Making Sense of Sino-Burmese SME Internationalization: A Theory Driven Inquiry." In Small and Medium Enterprises and Value Creation in Southeast Asia. Paper presented at the Symposium on Southeast Asian Studies, University of Oxford and Project Southeast Asia, Oxford, UK, March 2014.  View Details
Other Publications and Materials