Proven Leader: Fernando Suarez


Fernando Suarez
Jean C. Tempel Professor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation
PhD Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Suarez is a top innovation scholar whose widely-cited research spans the areas of industry evolution, innovation and technology strategy, entry timing strategies, standard and dominant designs, categorical dynamics, platform competition, and the role of services in product firms.

His publications have appeared in leading journals such as the Academy of Management Journal, Management Science, Strategic Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, and Journal of Management.

He has been active in both institutional and private entrepreneurial activities and has consulted with and served on the board of directors of several private sector companies.

Suarez is now examining the emergence of categories in an industry and their effect on the performance of firms; his development of a rich dataset in the smartphone industry is informing and testing his theories and hypotheses. He is also exploring the competitive dynamics in the smartphone app store, looking at the role of imitation in app market spaces. 

Q: What are your areas of expertise/research focus?

I consider myself an innovation scholar. My particular areas of research and expertise are: industry evolution (how technologies and markets evolve over time); entry-timing advantages (under which conditions it makes sense for firms to enter early in an emergent industry); categorial dynamics (how categories and category labels are created in a nascent industry, how they evolve, and what implications this has for firm performance); service strategies for product firms (when should product firms invest in services); and industry platform dynamics (how to succeed in platform-mediated industries with strong network effects).

Q: What industries are or could be impacted by your research?

Some of my research has focused on specific industries, such as software or disk drives. My recent Management Science paper, for instance, joint with Michael Cusumano and Steve Kahl, shows how profitability is first hurt and then recovered when software product firms move from being product companies to increasingly relying on services. However, most of my research explores general patterns that tend to happen in most industries, such as the emergence of a dominant category, the emergence of dominant designs, or the implications of being an early or late mover.

Q: What research projects are you currently working on or planning?

I have two papers currently under review and in addition I am currently working on several new projects. One of them is a series of empirical papers on the emergence categories in an industry and their effect on the performance of firms. So far my papers on this topics have been theoretical, but now we have constructed a rich dataset in the smartphone industry and we are starting to test some interesting hypotheses. We are also conducting online experiments to see if our key hypotheses still hold in this controlled settings, which allows us to explore more carefully causal relationships. Another empirical project relates to the competitive dynamics in the smartphone app store, which I am conducting with a doctoral student. We are looking at the role of imitation in these app market spaces that are so fast-moving and with so many players. I am also starting a project to study the role of hybrid products during time of technological discontinuities — hybrids between the “old” and the “new” technologies. Finally, I am making slow progress towards writing a book that would capture the learning from my research in industry evolution.

Q: What are some of your most seminal publications?

Suarez, F.F., Cusumano, M. A., & Kahl, S. K. (2013). Services and the business models of product firms: An empirical analysis of the software industry. Management Science Journal, 59(2), 420-435.

Suarez, F. F., & Utterback, J. M. (1995). Dominant Design and the Survival of Firms. Strategic Management Journal, 16(6), 415-430.

This was one of the first empirical papers to test some of the strategic implications of the emergence of dominant designs in an industry.

Suarez, F. F., & Lanzolla, G. (2007). The Role of Environmental Dynamics in Building a First Mover Advantage Theory. Academy of Management Review, 32(2), 377-392.

This paper extended the well-known theory of first mover advantage to account for the type of environment a firm encounters when entering a new industry.

Grodal, S., Gotsopoulous, A., & Suarez, F. F. (2015). The Coevolution of Technologies and Categories During Industry Emergence. Academy of Management Review, 40(3), 423-445.

A theory-building effort that presents an integrated model of industry evolution that includes both technological and socio-cognitive dynamics.

Q: What are some awards that you have received?
  • Winner, “Best Symposium” Award from the Academy’s Organization and Management Theory (OMT) Division, AOM 2014 Annual Meeting for Industry Evolution Revisited” (Suarez and Grodal).
  • Finalist for Best Paper Award, Technology & Innovation Management Division, AOM, 2011, for “Entry Timing Advantages and the Categorical Dynamics of the Industry Life Cycle” (with Stine Grodal and Aleksios Gotsopoulos).
  • 2014 John R. Russell Award for Teaching Excellence (best professor), EMBA Program, Boston University, elected by student vote.
  • 2010 John R. Russell Award for Teaching Excellence (best professor), EMBA Program, Boston University, elected by student vote.
  • 2008 John R. Russell Award for Teaching Excellence (best professor), EMBA Program, Boston University, elected by student vote.
  • “Best MBA/EMBA Professor” award, Universidad Adolfo Ibanez (1995 &1996).
  • M.I.T. Leaders for Manufacturing Program Grant for doctoral dissertation research, 1990-1992.
  • M.I.T. International Center for Research on the Management of Technology Grant for doctoral dissertation research, 1991-1992.
  • Chilean Ministry of Education Fellowship in support of graduate studies at M.I.T., 1987-1988.