Leading Professional Service Firms

Course Number 1770

Professor of Management Practice Robert G. Eccles
Winter; Q3Q4; 3 credits
25 Sessions

Career Focus

In this course, students discover what it takes to be an effective and successful professional, leading up to crafting a personal plan to kick-start your career. This course examines the strategy and leadership challenges firms face, exploring how to create, lead, and thrive in these firms through understanding their internal and external dynamics and developing skills to succeed in these environments. This course covers most professional service businesses that hire HBS students, including management consulting, law, investment banking, private equity, accounting, public relations, asset management/hedge funds, and executive recruiting. Designed primarily for those who want either to join a professional firm or to work as an in-house professional for a corporate or non-profit organization, this course will also benefit entrepreneurs who consider starting up a professional firm and managers in the client role who expect to hire professionals.

Educational Objectives

Professional service firms continue to play an increasingly important role in the world economy, yet today are facing unprecedented strategic, operational, and leadership challenges. You will study not only the various ways that firms, teams, and individual professionals respond to these issues, but also explore how to create opportunities to personally leverage these challenges for professional advancement and personal development.

First, you will gain an understanding of what makes professional service firms successful and what it takes to develop and sustain competitive advantage, taking the perspective of both senior firm leaders and client executives. Second, you will develop insights into the essential human capital processes that underpin strategy, figuring out how firms harness professionals' talents and motivation to deliver superior client service. Finally, in this course you will have the opportunity to think through the "so-what's" for you as a person: For example, how do you think about balancing the work and life pressures, and where do you draw the line? What strengths can you leverage and what competencies do you need to master?

Course Content and Organization

This course is divided into three modules. The first covers firm strategy and client relationship management, exploring what it takes to become - and remain - a "trusted advisor." We explore challenges like globalization, strategic re-positioning and diversification, and ethical crises. The second module is grounded in the idea that competitive advantage in this sector is rooted in a firm's ability to attract, hire, nourish, and motivate the best talent in the labor market. We examine how firms tackle these challenges for both entry-level and senior professionals, and explore how these processes affect the experiences of professionals themselves. The third module focuses on succeeding and thriving as a professional, and includes case studies, panel discussions, and experiential and reflective exercises. To maximize learning, case protagonists (typically senior executives) or external experts will attend most class sessions and play a major role in the learning process. Their presentations, together with extensive Q&A and your own guided preparation, are designed to supplement your insights about best practices in professional services, along with the personal challenges and rewards of working in this arena. In addition, students can opt into small-group discussions with course visitors to explore their particular interests outside the classroom setting.