What is a Professional Service Firm? Towards a Theory and Taxonomy of Knowledge Intensive Firms

Academy of Management Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 155-174, Jan. 2010

21 Pages Posted: 22 May 2009 Last revised: 24 Apr 2011

See all articles by Andrew von Nordenflycht

Andrew von Nordenflycht

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Beedie School of Business; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Date Written: June 2010

Abstract

A growing literature on professional service firms is hindered by the ambiguity of its central concept, which leads to an overly-narrow empirical focus and to over-generalizations that may tout inefficiencies as best practice. To address this ambiguity, I develop a theory of the distinctive characteristics of professional service firms and their organizational implications. I identify three distinctive characteristics--knowledge intensity, low capital intensity, and professionalized workforce - with which I propose a taxonomy of four types of knowledge intensive firms - Classic PSFs, Professional Campuses, Neo-PSFs, and Technology Developers - whose varying degrees of professional service intensity predict different organizational features. The analysis highlights the danger of conflating the implications of professionalization with those of knowledge intensity and calls for comparative research across a wider range of professional services.

Keywords: knowledge intensive firms, knowledge intensity, professional services, law firms, human capital

JEL Classification: J44, J54, l23, l84

Suggested Citation

von Nordenflycht, Andrew, What is a Professional Service Firm? Towards a Theory and Taxonomy of Knowledge Intensive Firms (June 2010). Academy of Management Review, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 155-174, Jan. 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1407347

Andrew Von Nordenflycht (Contact Author)

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Beedie School of Business ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Colombia V5A 1S6
Canada

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

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