Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to offer an explanatory process model of stakeholder management. The model shows how and why path dependence is manifested in stakeholder management issues. Design/methodology/approach - The paper integrates stakeholder theory with key ideas from path dependence literature. The resulting propositions are examined in the context of a longitudinal case study of the United Airlines and US Airways abandoned merger in 2000-2001 Findings - The paper's analysis demonstrates that initial conditions are accentuated by the sequence of actions, offering a plausible explanation for process outcomes. Practical implications - On the practical side, the paper provides a problem-solving tool for stakeholder management to analyze the stakeholder linkages during strategic initiatives. Originality/value - The paper addresses an important research gap, exploring how stakeholder-related path dependencies influence the process of conflict escalation.