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This article revisits a central question in the debates on the management of multinationals: the balance between centralized policy-making and subsidiary autonomy. It does so through data from a series of case studies on the management of human resources in American multinationals in the UK. Two strands of debate are confronted. The first is the literature on differences between multinationals of different national origins which has shown that US companies tend to be more centralized, standardized, and formalized in their management of human resources. It is argued that the literature has provided unconvincing explanations of this pattern, failing to link it to distinctive features of the American business system in which US multinationals are embedded. The second strand is the wider debate on the balance between centralization and decentralization in multinationals. It is argued that the literature neglects important features of this balance: the contingent oscillation between centralized and decentralized modes of operation and (relatedly) the way in which the balance is negotiated by organizational actors through micro-political processes whereby the external structural constraints on the company are defined and interpreted. In such negotiation, actors’ leverage often derives from exploiting differences between the national business systems in which the multinational operates.