David Ager

Senior Fellow
Senior Director, Executive Education

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David Ager is Senior Fellow within Executive Education at Harvard Business School. Professor Ager's research focuses on the leadership and organizational challenges that firms face as they conduct post-acquisition integration.  He recently published a paper entitled "The Emotional Impact and Behavioral Consequences of Post-M&A Integration," which considers the complexities of post-merger integration and demonstrates how social identity, emotions, and coping strategies both motivate and constrain human behavior, leading to perverse unintended consequences that directly impact individual and organization-level goals of integration.

Ager has co-authored over thirty case studies that focus on a diversity of management dilemmas in the areas of leadership, organizational change, strategy, M&A, and international business.

Ager has designed and directed executive programs for several large multinational firms addressing leadership development, strategic planning, talent management, change management, M&A, team building and succession planning.  He has worked with firms around the world that operate in diverse sectors that include finance, energy, high technology, hospitality, consumer products, bio-technology, retail, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications. In addition, he has advised large, family controlled businesses around the world.

From 2004 to 2012 Ager served as a faculty member and the director of undergraduate studies in the Sociology Department at Harvard University.  One of the first faculty to introduce the case method of learning to Harvard College, Ager offered courses on leadership, organizational sociology, and field research methods.  In 2008 he introduced the first undergraduate course on Social Entrepreneurship at Harvard College with an emphasis on using entrepreneurial approaches to create for-profit, not-for-profit, and hybrid ventures to address social problems and bring about social change.

In 2004 Ager earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, a joint degree granted by Harvard Business School and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.   He also earned an Honors B.Sc. in Economics and Human Biology from the University of Toronto, an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario and a Master's degree in Sociology from Harvard University.  In 2010 Harvard University awarded Ager the Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize for excellence in teaching and dedication to undergraduate education.  In 2011 he was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Prize for excellence in teaching at Harvard University by the Alpha-Iota of Massachusetts Phi Beta Kappa chapter.  Ager serves as an advisory board member to several organizations including The Resolution Project, Lead Us Today, and Main Street.

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. The Emotional Impact and Behavioral Consequences of Post-M&A Integration: An Ethnographic Case Study in the Software Industry

    David Ager

    This ethnographic case study has focused in depth on one type of acquisition, that of two small, young firms (each with less than 2,000 employees and less than ten years in operation) acquired by one company in the software development industry based in the United States. The underlying research extends understanding of postacquisition integration by (1) offering new insights into why actors become so intransigent about preserving their self-and group identity, especially in situations of major organizational change; (2) illustrating how seeking socio-emotional support from one's in-group may actually lead to perverse, unintended consequences for both the individual and the organization-level goal of integration; and (3) through the "emic" perspective adopted in this ethnographic research, the findings extend thinking in a number of theoretical realms, illuminating the complexities of postmerger integration by demonstrating how social identity, emotions, the appraisal process, and coping strategies both motivate and constrain human behavior.

    Keywords: Integration; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Behavior; Groups and Teams; Mergers and Acquisitions; Emotions;

    Citation:

    Ager, David. "The Emotional Impact and Behavioral Consequences of Post-M&A Integration: An Ethnographic Case Study in the Software Industry." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40, no. 2 (April 2011): 199–230. View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Trader Joe's

    David L. Ager and Michael A. Roberto

    Based on a variety of metrics, Trader Joe's ranked as one of the most successful grocers in the United States in 2013. Experts estimated that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any major grocery chain, even significantly higher than top performer Whole Foods. In 2013, Trader Joe's faced several threats as large chains such as Wal-Mart and Tesco had begun to open small-format stores that mimicked the Trader Joe's approach. In addition, some analysts had begun to question whether Trader Joe's was losing its authenticity and "quirky cool" as the firm had continued to grow and expand across the country. What should Trader Joe's do to ensure continued growth?

    Keywords: Comparative Advantage; competitive strategy; core competencies; growth strategy; strategic positioning; industry analysis; organizational culture; Retail Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Ager, David L., and Michael A. Roberto. "Trader Joe's." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 714-420, September 2013. View Details
  2. Trader Joe's

    David L. Ager and Michael A. Roberto

    Based on a variety of metrics, Trader Joe's ranked as one of the most successful grocers in the United States in 2013. Experts estimated that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any major grocery chain, even significantly higher than top performer Whole Foods. In 2013, Trader Joe's faced several threats as larger chains such as Wal-Mart and Tesco had begun to open small-format stores that mimicked the Trader Joe's approach. In addition some analysts had begun to question whether Trader Joe's was losing its authenticity and "quirky cool" as the firm had continued to grow and expand across the country. What should Trader Joe's do to ensure continued growth?

    Keywords: competitive advantage; competitive strategy; core competencies; growth strategy; strategic positioning; industry analysis; organizational culture; Retail Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Ager, David L., and Michael A. Roberto. "Trader Joe's." Harvard Business School Case 714-419, September 2013. (Revised April 2014.) View Details
  3. Bentington Industries

    David Ager and John A. Davis

    Describes the situation facing Paul Bentington, the president, CEO, and member of the owning family of BIND, PLC, a large and successful family-owned engineering consulting firm in London. Bentington's sister and brother, both of whom are owners of the firm, confront him regarding family participation both in the governance and management of the firm. Third- and fourth-generation members of the family represent a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, which Bentington's siblings believe would benefit the firm. Yet Bentington has misgivings about whether it is appropriate for his siblings, their spouses, and their children to serve in any leadership role at the family company.

    Keywords: Business or Company Management; Leadership; Family Business; Management Succession; Conflict and Resolution; Diversity Characteristics; London;

    Citation:

    Ager, David, and John A. Davis. "Bentington Industries." Harvard Business School Case 806-115, January 2006. (Revised September 2007.) View Details
  4. Cat is out of the Bag, The: KANA and the Layoff Gone Awry (A)

    Leslie A. Perlow and David Ager

    Vicki Amon-Higa, vice president of KANA, a publicly traded, midsize development company, was working with Bryan Kettle, KANA's CFO, to plan a layoff in which KANA would reduce the size of its workforce by nearly 40%. Despite the best of intentions, news of the layoff leaked before the planned announcement. The situation quickly deteriorated as a series of irate managers called Amon-Higa, demanding to know why they weren't aware of the layoff and asking her how to handle the situation. She must quickly assess the situation, figure out what went wrong, and decide how to manage each of the company's stakeholders, including Chuck Bay, KANA's CEO.

    Keywords: Crisis Management; Employees; Job Cuts and Outsourcing; Problems and Challenges; Business and Stakeholder Relations; Conflict Management;

    Citation:

    Perlow, Leslie A., and David Ager. "Cat is out of the Bag, The: KANA and the Layoff Gone Awry (A)." Harvard Business School Case 403-117, January 2003. (Revised April 2004.) View Details
  5. Ottawa Voyageurs, The

    Thomas J. DeLong, Scott Baldwin, Chris Strong, Andrew Feng, Eliza Moody and David Ager

    Manuel Tertuliano, head coach of a professional soccer club, must make some difficult decisions about the compensation of six of his players. Specifically, he must decide how to allocate $850,000 among these six players in a way that will benefit his team, which has just finished second to last in the league and faces being eliminated from the league if team performance and game attendance don't improve. Tertuliano realizes that compensation is a key tool in motivating his players. In deciding on these six players' compensation, Tertuliano must ensure that he not only recognizes them, but also the other players on the team for the value each individual contributes to the team.

    Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Compensation and Benefits; Performance; Motivation and Incentives; Sports; Groups and Teams; Sports Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Canada;

    Citation:

    DeLong, Thomas J., Scott Baldwin, Chris Strong, Andrew Feng, Eliza Moody, and David Ager. "Ottawa Voyageurs, The." Harvard Business School Case 404-023, July 2003. (Revised October 2003.) View Details
  6. C&S Wholesale Grocers: Self-Managed Teams

    Thomas J. DeLong, Tejal Mody and David Ager

    Rick Cohen, president and CEO of C&S Wholesale Grocers, is trying to decide whether and how to implement the self-managed teams concept in his warehouse. Eight months earlier, C&S had begun to act as principal wholesaler to A&P throughout New England, a decision that was consistent with the firm's growth strategy, but that also represented a significant increase in daily throughput. Cohen was concerned about whether the company's existing operations would be able to meet the needs of all its customers and maintain the high levels of customer satisfaction for which the company was known throughout New England. When implemented successfully, the self-managed teams concept had been credited with enhancing an organization's productivity and competitiveness. Cohen wondered how such a concept could be implemented in the context of a labor-intensive, unionized warehouse environment.

    Keywords: Customer Satisfaction; Decision Making; Labor Unions; Growth and Development Strategy; Distribution Channels; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Structure; Groups and Teams; New England;

    Citation:

    DeLong, Thomas J., Tejal Mody, and David Ager. "C&S Wholesale Grocers: Self-Managed Teams." Harvard Business School Case 404-025, August 2003. (Revised October 2003.) View Details
  7. Cat is out of the Bag, The: Kana and the Layoff Gone Awry (TN) (A), (B), and (C)

    Leslie A. Perlow and David Ager

    Teaching Note for (9-403-117), (9-403-118), and (9-403-119).

    Citation:

    Perlow, Leslie A., and David Ager. "Cat is out of the Bag, The: Kana and the Layoff Gone Awry (TN) (A), (B), and (C)." Harvard Business School Teaching Note 404-060, September 2003. (Revised October 2003.) View Details
  8. De La Salle Academy

    Thomas J. DeLong and David Ager

    Brother Brian Carty, headmaster and founder of De La Salle Academy, a private school for academically talented, economically disadvantaged children in grades six to eight in New York City, is scheduled to meet with the school's board of directors to discuss how the school and its education concept can be extended to more children. Over 750 children apply each year for the 50 spaces at De La Salle, and most have few other options if rejected but to enroll in the New York Public School system. The school relies on the financial support of the local community and charitable foundations to cover operating expenses, as most of the students are unable to pay the tuition of approximately $9,000 a year to attend. Not only do the school's graduates go on to elite preparatory and independent schools in the Northeast, but they also attend some of the most well-regarded colleges in the country, including Brown, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

    Keywords: Middle School Education; Corporate Accountability; Giving and Philanthropy; Business and Community Relations; Management Succession; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Organizational Design; Success; Growth and Development; Education Industry; New York (city, NY);

    Citation:

    DeLong, Thomas J., and David Ager. "De La Salle Academy." Harvard Business School Case 404-024, July 2003. View Details
      1. Winner of the 2011 Phi Beta Kappa Alpha Iota Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

      2. Winner of the 2010 Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize.