Of More Than Academic Interest: Eden McCallum featured at LBS Ghoshal Conference

Sumantra Ghoshal was a greatly admired professor at London Business School (LBS), who died at the early age of 55 in 2004. Since 2007 LBS has held an annual conference in his honour inviting business school academics from around the world to discuss “managerially relevant research”. This conference is dedicated to finding out what is working well in the practical world of management.

As well as being featured as a case study at Harvard Business School and in a recent HBR article, Eden McCallum is now also becoming a case at LBS, written by Prof Freek Vermeulen, the co-chair (with Prof Julian Birkinshaw) of this year’s Sumantra Ghoshal conference.

In a session entitled “Practice to Research: The Case of Eden McCallum”, three academics, two from the US and one from Germany, responded both to Prof Vermeulen’s case and a short presentation by the firm’s founders, Liann Eden and Dena McCallum.

The first respondent, Linus Dahlander from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, noted that the Eden McCallum business model is well-suited to a world of “boundary-less careers”, where flexibility and changing work patterns are becoming ever more common. He also noted that the Eden McCallum approach is “human capital intensive”, by which he meant that leadership and management at the centre were crucial to the firm’s continuing success. Prof Dahlander studies how new ideas and innovations are developed in networks and communities – hence his interest in the Eden McCallum model.

Gina Dokko, a specialist in organisational theory and behaviour from the University of California, Davis, argued that “shared social identity” is a key element in the success of high performing service firms such as Eden McCallum. Colleagues feel that they are members of a group. “Socialisation” can reinforce ties and build cohesion. Having a modest core staff and a large network of independent consultants presents a challenge to the firm: finding ways to create “organisational identification without [full-time] employment,” Prof Dokko said. This is aided by the portable human capital – skills and knowledge – and social capital that Eden McCallum consultants bring with them when they start working with the firm.

The final academic respondent, Prof Marshall van Alstyne from Boston University, a specialist in “information economics”, discussed the elements of supply and demand that led to the firm’s foundation and growth. Prof van Alstyne noted that the Eden McCallum model fitted in to the recognised trend of the unbundling of professional services. What remains to be seen is how this trend will play out and how traditional firms will react and adapt to it.

Reflecting on the afternoon’s discussion, Dena McCallum said: “It was an honour to be the subject of such intense – yet highly courteous – scrutiny. As well as highlighting many of the things we have got right, the session gave us helpful insights that will support the firm as we continue to innovate and grow.”