Abstract: Since the 1980s, policy reforms have been undertaken in China to gradually promote entrepreneurship of academic researchers. Based on manually collected data on academic executives (defined as either chairperson of the board or CEO, who had an academic title), we investigate the effects of academic executives on corporate technological capabilities and innovation performance among Chinese listed manufacturing firms from 2001 to 2015. Our results demonstrate that firms with academic executives are more likely to implement technological advancement strategies by increasing firm basic research, collaborating with outside institutions, and providing incentives to knowledge workers. Consequently, they have enhanced technological capabilities, as well as a higher quantity and quality of innovation output. In addition, firms with academic executives are more likely to have better financial performance regarding sales and profitability and keep a higher proportion of profits inside the firm to reinvest. The identification of the causal effects of academic executives relies on top executive turnover within firms and the propensity score matching strategy. Further analysis demonstrates that the effects of academic executives are more pronounced when they have a higher academic title, administrative experience, and a specialization in sciences. Our findings suggest that promoting entrepreneurship of academic researchers is an effective way of diffusing and utilizing knowledge, and it provides an internal driving force for the enhancement of corporate technological capabilities, which is crucial for technological catch-up of firms in latecomer countries.
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