Purpose. The purpose of this paper is to utilize middle-range theorizing to examine whether a US manufacturer can leverage supply chain orientation (SCO) to garner responsiveness from a global supplier. To capture the interplay of macro-level institutional environments, the authors examine the moderating effect of institutional distance on the SCO–supplier responsiveness relationship. Design/methodology/approach. Primary survey data collected from US manufacturers are utilized to measure SCO and supplier responsiveness. Two secondary data sets (EIU and GLOBE) capture formal and informal distance at the institutional level and are used to test the moderating effect of institutional distance. Findings. The research finds that SCO can facilitate global supplier responsiveness. A post hoc exploratory analysis reveals a three-way interaction, where the SCO–supplier responsiveness relationship is strengthened when formal and informal institutions are either very similar or very different. Research limitations/implications. The research offers a more nuanced understanding of manufacturer–supplier relationships in global supply chains by demonstrating how country-level (macro) characteristics can influence firm-level (micro) supply chain phenomena. It extends research on SCO by illustrating how institutional distance interacts with a manufacturer’s ability to leverage SCO to enable supplier responsiveness. Practical implications. Manufacturers should increase their attentiveness to institutional distance. When both formal and informal distances are different (i.e. high distance), SCO can create a powerful lever to improve global supplier responsiveness. Likewise, when formal and informal institutions are similar (i.e. low distance), SCO reinforces joint efforts and collaboration to create additive benefits, whereby suppliers are incentivized to be responsive to unexpected environmental changes. Originality/value. This research addresses the growing call for more empirical studies that examine how country-level institutions influence firm-level phenomena. It also utilizes secondary data to serve as a proxy for formal and informal institutional distance.