abstract Qualitative interviews and observations were conducted to study the cross‐border transfer of organizational learning systems to the subsidiaries of five Japanese manufacturing companies operating in South China. This paper develops a holistic model of the overall process, by integrating knowledge‐oriented, routine‐oriented, and social/contextual perspectives, each of which plays a necessary role in explaining essential aspects. One feature of the transfer of organizational learning systems entailed arranging local access to, and opportunity to replicate, various types of knowledge repository that contained corporate values as well as technical expertise. A second feature involved the development of collective learning routines through dynamic interplay with evolving, locally... based, knowledge repositories. A third feature, in two companies, entailed the creation of enterprise contexts that reproduced the socialization and corporate culture maintenance rituals, and the open plan factory and office designs, that were hallmarks of the respective parent companies, and which appeared highly conducive to the transfer of collective learning routines to the local sites. Findings indicate that successful cross‐border transfer of organizational learning systems entails the development and implementation of an overall heuristic design for cultivating collective learning routines through the engineering of enterprise contexts and the responsive management of knowledge repositories.