It comes as no surprise that Jay Barney is the most cited professor at the University of Utah, according to Google Scholar. Not after reviewing his work that is. Barney is currently the presidential professor of strategic management, the Lassonde chair of social entrepreneurship and the editor-in-chief for “The Academy of Management Review,” ranked first or second in the areas of business and management over the last 10 years. On top of all these accolades, Barney holds a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a master’s and doctorate degree from Yale University. Additionally, he has received honorary doctorate degrees from universities in Sweden, Spain and Denmark.
Barney’s publications have been cited 147,616 times in areas including strategic management and entrepreneurship, according to Google Scholar (as of Feb. 7, 2019). The University of Utah scholar with the second most citations is Tom Greene with 132,817 citations. Barney’s most cited paper, titled “Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage,” was published in 1991 and currently has over 64,000 citations.
Aside from his accomplishments and the body of his work, which is extensive, Barney is easy to talk to and invested in his work. “Most of my work is in strategic management. I try to understand why some firms make more money than other firms,” Barney explained. “Most of economic theory is designed to explain why firms converge to zero economic profits over time. My work tries to explain why that doesn’t happen all the time.” Barney was referring to the observation that the performance of firms in an industry often even out over time. So, companies competing against each other will eventually make about the same profit. Except this trend doesn’t always hold true and Barney studies why not.
There are two big explanations of these sustained profit differences: monopoly power and efficiency profits. “Firms in monopolies earn high profits that are protected by barriers to entry,” Barney said. “This can lead to sustained high profits. However, sometimes firms are able to address customer needs and preferences more effectively and efficiently than others. If this differential ability is costly for other firms to imitate, the superior performance of these firms can also last, without traditional barriers to entry. For example, if it turns out that a firm’s advantage is based on socially complex capabilities — like trusting relationships with a supplier or an enabling culture among employees — other firms can’t buy and sell these kinds of relationships very easily, so if these abilities create value for a firm, they can be a source of sustained advantage.”
Where this heterogeneity in capabilities comes from is what first got Barney interested in the field of entrepreneurship. “I thought it might be an area where we could explore why relatively homogeneous organizations become more heterogeneous over time,” he said.
Of course, none of his publication success has been easy. The acceptance rates of the journals in which Barney publishes usually hover around 5 percent, and most papers are cited by only a handful of other scholars. “The scariest thing in my professional life is a blank computer screen,” Barney said, “because I know what it is going to take to fill it with a good theory paper. The real challenge in writing a paper is to present an idea or an argument so clearly and seamlessly that almost anyone can understand it.” Barney’s favorite part of the writing process is nailing the argument. He knows an argument is ready when he can explain it in an understandable way to someone who isn’t trained in management theory. “My mother has passed away, but I used to use her as my sounding board. A very bright lady, but not trained. If I could explain what I was doing to my mother in a way that she understood, then I knew I had nailed the argument,” he explained.
Barney’s mother isn’t the only important woman in his life. “The only reason I have any hope of getting as much done as I do is because of Tresa Fish, my assistant, and Kim Barney, my wife,” he said. “Tresa, is just remarkable, without her I would not be very productive. And my wife, besides being a professional genealogist and managing my consulting practice, really took the lead in raising our kids.” They form his support system which has allowed him to write hundreds of papers, teach all over the world, and consult with dozens of companies and boards of directors.
Barney is an incredible academic surrounded by wonderful people. He continues his own work while seeking new opportunities to support and transform students.