Mari Sako’s most recent work has focused on business and professional services and on outsourcing. Her work on business services in the UK has attracted the interest of UK policy makers. Research findings highlight the fact that, unlike manufacturing, productivity growth in business services benefits job creation and contributes positively to the balance of trade. She has also investigated outsourcing and its impact on productivity, concluding that outsourcing works best where it is at the heart of corporate restructuring and where it is a strategic decision, not simply a reaction to the latest fad or fashion. Her work on outsourcing has been mentioned in the Economist, the Financial Times, the Times, and the Economic Times of India.
Mari is currently looking at the way cost pressures are contributing to the outsourcing and offshoring of legal services and how this impacts the way law firms work. While there is considerable diversity in its effects, law firms that are outsourcing are using multiple service providers and requiring them to work cooperatively in their provision of client services. This work is particularly relevant in the context of regulatory changes, such as the introduction in the UK of the Legal Services Act. This stipulates the activities that can only be undertaken by qualified lawyers and regulates providers that firms draw on for outsourced services. Mari’s research findings in this area inform her executive education work with law firms. She is also a regular speaker at Law Society and other professional conferences.
With over 20 years’ research in the area of global strategy, Mari earlier made a significant contribution to the understanding of the Japanese economy and Japanese firms. In the 1990s and 2000s, she was a researcher for the MIT International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP), which gave her a valuable opportunity to be out in the field, observing and interviewing managers and workers at automakers in Japan, Europe and the USA. Drawing on lessons from the Japanese model, she then worked with a number of firms to reconfigure their supplier relationship management.
Mari is Professor of Management Studies at Saïd Business School, Co-Director of the Centre for Professional Service Firms and a Professorial Fellow of New College, Oxford.
Her areas of expertise are:
Mari’s academic career began at Oxford where she read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). She then studied for an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics and an MA in Economics at Johns Hopkins University, before completing her PhD at London University in 1990. She also held visiting positions at Kyoto University, Tokyo University, Ecole Polytechnique, RIETI (Research Institute of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry in Tokyo), and MIT Sloan School of Management. She was the President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) during 2011 - 2012.
Mari’s research focus has been on comparative business systems, global value chains in business services and professions and professional service firms, most recently including the impact of outsourcing.
Comparative business systems
Mari’s approach has been to apply comparative institutional analysis to investigate specific issues such as; supplier relations, labour-management relations, training and education, and entrepreneurial start-ups in Japan and elsewhere. One specific aspect of the research is an investigation of how an environment favourable to start-ups could be promoted in Japan. While there was an expectation that newly globalised financial markets would be more favourable to start-ups, the opposite was the case. She found that, because labour markets had eroded more quickly, they had become more flexible and accommodating to start-ups than had financial markets.
Theoretically, Mari’s analysis is informed by typologies of comparative political economy, including Varieties of Capitalism and various theories of the firm.
Professions and Professional Services Firms
Mari has examined the way cost pressures are contributing to the outsourcing and offshoring of legal services and how this is impacting the way law firms work. This research combines an economic analysis of make-or-buy decisions with a sociological analysis of the nature of professional work to study the way lawyers conduct their work, manage their firm, and develop client relations as they go global. During 2010-2011, she interviewed over 50 in-house general counsels in the UK and the USA to investigate these issues from the perspective of professionals embedded in corporate hierarchy. She found considerable diversity in their effects; Some general counsel have responded by bringing work back in house, while others are relying more on external sources. Where the latter is the case, they are typically crafting a lateral network of suppliers who are required to work cooperatively in determining what services should be provided and by which supplier. This work is particularly relevant in the context of regulatory changes, such as the introduction in the UK of the Legal Services Act.
Global value chains and outsourcing and technology
Global value chains refer to the disaggregation and the geographical dispersion of various stages of production and delivery. Over time, they have become a common phenomenon not only in manufacturing of shoes, clothing and electronic assembly, but also in services such as; call centres and IT services.
Mari’s most recent research in this area was designed to understand the impact of the growing phenomenon of outsourcing on plant and firm level productivity. It set out firstly, to quantify the different types of activities outsourced and where they were located geographically. And secondly, to understand how important outsourcing has been as a source of growth and the factors driving some firms and industries to adopt outsourcing. It concluded that; outsourcing works best when the decision to do so is at the heart of corporate restructuring, where there is a clear understanding of the kind of tasks that need to be retained in-house, and when it is a strategic decision taken for reasons of sustainability, and not as a result of fad or fashion.
Mari’s earlier work in this field examined the electronics and then automobile industries, focusing on trust-based mechanisms for relational contracting. Much of this research was undertaken as part of the MIT International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP), which enabled Mari to undertake field work , observing and interviewing managers and workers at automakers in Japan, Europe and the USA. Drawing on lessons from the Japanese model, she then worked with a number of firms to reconfigure their supplier relationship management. This work is the subject of two books: Prices, Quality and Trust: Inter-firm Relations in Britain and Japan, Cambridge University Press (1992) and Shifting Boundaries of the Firm, Oxford University Press (2006).
UK productivity performance
As a Senior Fellow with the Advanced Institute of Management (AIM), Mari investigated UK productivity and specifically why it lagged behind other major industrial economies. The AIM team started with a sectoral decomposition of the UK productivity gap with the US. They showed that whilst the overall productivity gap between the UK and USA had remained stable over the past decade, the sectoral composition of this gap had changed considerably. The study observed that, unlike manufacturing, productivity growth in business services benefits job creation and contributes to the balance of trade. This has attracted the interest of UK policy makers, including those in the Treasury.
Mari is a member of the Centre for Professional Service Firms which conducts research into the internal and external dynamics of professional service firms. The primary focus is on the management of such firms, and the issues faced by people working within them. Her research also focuses on the governance of professional service firms more generally, addressing policy issues of concern to both clients and regulators.
Mari carries out research on the role of in-house general counsel, the globalisation of law firms, and the impact of legal process outsourcing on the legal profession. Her current work on legal services offshoring and its impact on the legal profession is on-going. It examines the way lawyers conduct their work, manage their firm, and develop client relations as they go global. Mari’s research findings in this area inform her executive education work with law firms. She is also a regular speaker at Law Society and other professional conferences.
Mari is a member of the Research Strategy Group of the UK Legal Services Board (LSB is the regulator for the legal professions created by the Legal Services Act)
Mari has written teaching cases which she uses in class, including a case study of Evalueserve, an India-based knowledge process outsourcing business.
Mari was the President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics during 2011-2012. She was Senior Fellow of the UK Advanced Institute of Management, the institute established to increase the contribution of world class UK management research, from 2003–11.
Mari is a member of the Finance Committee of Oxford University Press.
Mari serves on the editorial boards of Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Industry and Innovation, and the European Journal of Purchasing and Supply.
Mari teaches on executive programmes for professional services firms, including the Clifford Chance Advanced Management Programme. She also teaches Global Strategy on the MBA Programme, and Globalisation to students on the MSc in Major Programme Management and on the Diploma in Strategy and Innovation. She is Academic Director for the School’s new Diploma in Global Business.
Mari also supervises doctoral students and considers this an important part of what she does as it straddles her research and teaching interests.
Her teaching philosophy is to create a stimulating and memorable learning environment for students in what is typically a very international environment.
As Academic Director of the Diploma in Global Business which began in March 2011, Mari was responsible for creating the programme’s content. The programme focuses on the new challenges of global business, such as non-market issues of risk and reputation which arise from interactions not only with competitors, suppliers, and customers, but also from the state and non-government organisations.
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street