Timothy Morris is Professor of Management Studies at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
Tim’s research and teaching activities mainly focus on the increasingly important field of professional service firms (PSFs) in which he is acknowledged as a leading international expert. PSFs are hugely significant in the global economy. They support financial markets, facilitate complex international transactions and offering advice and solutions to the world’s largest corporations, governments and other international organisations. They ‘sell’ expertise – that most intangible of products – providing customised solutions to demanding clients.
His other research, conducted with colleagues at Said Business School, has been concerned with the role and development of CEOs in large corporations based on data from interviews with a large sample of CEOs around the world. The results were presented at the World Economic Forum.
Tim is actively engaged in executive education, where he teaches on a number of the School’s open programmes, including the High Performance Leadership Programme and Diploma in Organisational Leadership. He also teaches on a wide range of custom programmes that help firms and executives grapple with the complex and pressing organisational and leadership challenges they face. In addition to his immediate teaching and research activities, Morris also pursues a variety of projects with business practitioners and is actively engaged with academic colleagues internationally.
Tim has a BA from Cambridge and a Masters and Doctorate from the London School of Economics. Before taking up his chair at Oxford, he was a professor at Imperial College, London, and at London Business School.
Tim is a highly active researcher and has published widely in leading scholarly journals as well as contributing to many edited collections. His work is notable for its pioneering analysis of many areas of professional service firms and his fusion of practical engagement with firms with the creation of new, groundbreaking frameworks and models.
He pursues research at the intersection of four key areas within PSFs:
Typically, elite professional service firms have motivated and selected staff by what is termed the up-or-out model of promotion. However, Tim and his research associates have found considerable evidence that the up-or-out model has come under pressure by institutional and market changes. The research asks what the implications for innovation and other dimensions of performance of such career changes are. Innovation in these firms is distinctive in that it is usually undertaken by front-line professionals in their everyday work rather than a separate unit like an R&D department and is relatively frequent and incremental rather than radical and punctuated. Changes to the internal structure of the firm therefore potentially alter the capacity for innovation.
From long-term collaborations with a large number of leading firms, Tim and colleagues have developed a model of the process of building competitive advantage in professional firms. For these firms much of the usual assumptions about building and sustaining differentiation are not applicable and do not take account of the nature of the service offered or the process by which clients select their professional provider. This model focuses on a set of resources and connections by which competitive advantage can be created or enhanced.
Whilst there is much research into decision making in traditional organisations, there has been limited understanding of how decisions are made and executed in professional service firms. A study by Tim, based on in-depth interviews with managing and lead partners within 16 firms supported by extensive documentary research and data retrieval within the firms, has shown that PSFs spend considerable time and resources dealing with seemingly simple issues which quickly become complex because of people issues.
‘When you consider all the factors at play, particularly the diffusion of power within PSFs, the firms could potentially be paralysed and their strategic progress undermined, especially in the largest firms where there are hundreds of partners,’ Tim says. ‘But many of these firms have successfully addressed the inherent tensions we observed. It is notable that many of them are led by particularly effective leaders who are skilled monitors of the political atmosphere within the firm, broker agreements across factions and build the necessary consensus. Like good politicians these leaders are strong negotiators, often with a flair for rhetoric and a reputation – especially internally – for integrity. These attributes are critical for their success in a uniquely challenging organisational setting. Getting to know these firms in greater detail has been a fascinating and valuable process which has generated new insights into the decision-making practices within PSFs’.
A strong reputation is very important for professional service firms because of the nature of the product they sell. Scholarly work on reputation has shown the impact of reputation on firm performance and some work has examined how it is created. Tim’s work seeks to understand to what extent and how firms can actually manage reputation, given that it constitutes the perceptions of external stakeholders about the focal firm and that these stakeholders are sophisticated actors with extensive information on which to make judgements.
Tim’s work has a deep impact on practitioners and academics alike.
He has provided consulting advice to a wide range of leading professional service firms in the UK and internationally.
He was Principle Investigator on the CEO project between Saïd Business School and Heidrick & Sruggles and has presented insights from the research to a range of practitioner audiences.
He has served as the Expert Member of the Management Consultants Association (MCA) Panel on the Value of Management Consulting.
He has participated in recent grant-sponsored projects ranging from a study of reputation and performance in labour markets to the privatisation of British Nuclear Fuels.
He is a Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Management Studies.
He has been a visiting scholar and professor at a number of universities around the world.
Tim teaches on a number of post-graduate and executive programmes at the School.
Tim teaches the core course, Leadership Fundamentals, on the EMBA. The course is designed to help executives address their organisational challenges by providing a framework for managing individual and group performance, tying concrete organisational situations – as reflected in cases, simulations, and field projects – to essential theories and effective management practices.
In addition to supervising a range of doctoral students, Tim contributes to a foundation doctoral programme on Organisational Theory.
Tim co-teaches a module on leadership and change on this diploma programme which offers participants a unique opportunity to undertake a rigorous academic programme, requiring thought and reflection, on the twin topics of leadership and the organisational landscape in which leaders operate.
Tim also teaches on this highly-regarded programme, which has helped hundreds of managers from different sectors, regions and backgrounds lead their teams to organisational success. Underpinning the programme is Tim’s distinctive view of leadership, one that is both derived from his research and is at the same time highly practical.
Tim has contributed to custom programmes for over forty leading organisations during his career, including more recently, Aviva, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, the Qatar Foundation Royal Mail.
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street