Kristina McElheran

Kristina McElheran


Kristina McElheran joined the University of Toronto in 2014 after five years at the Harvard Business School and one year as a visiting scholar at MIT. She has long been fascinated by the changes that information technology has been fueling in the inner workings of firms and in the economy, more broadly. Trained as an economist, Kristina conducts empirical research on the link between information technology, firm performance, and the organizational and market contexts that enable firms to thrive in the digital age. Her work has been featured in Management Science, the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, the Harvard Business Review, and Communications of the ACM.

Kristina’s teaching focus is on corporate strategy, with an emphasis on the linkages between strategy formulation, strategy execution, and capability development within firms. She has a passion for studying and teaching about the process and strategy of innovation and, more recently, how firms are responding to the “big data” craze.

Prior to her academic career, Kristina worked for two start-up technology companies in Silicon Valley. The first, Risk Management Solutions, has become a leading provider of products and services for managing risks associated with natural disasters. The second, Exemplary Software, provided collaborative web-based supply chain management solutions.

Kristina’s PhD (2009) in Managerial Economics and Strategy comes from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She also holds a Diploma in Economics (1999) from the London School of Economics, as well as a Master's degree (1994) in International Development Policy and a Bachelor's degree (1993) in Political Science from Stanford University.

She is looking for new and creative ways to measure how firms use Cloud-based technologies to collect, manage, and leverage data. There is a growing disconnect between how much firms spend on technology and what they are *using*. We desperately need to bridge the gap to sustain good research. A hurdle is that we need huge numbers of observations and the ability to link to performance metrics (e.g., sales, productivity, etc.). Standard data sets like the Census data and Harte Hanks are helpful but not innovative enough to identify this activity.

Connect with Kristina on LinkedIn

Research Interests: 

Kristina’s research focuses on the use of IT and data in firms, with an emphasis on organizational design and strategy, including delegation, vertical integration, diversification, competition and supply chain linkages. She enjoys Special Sworn Status at the U.S. Census Bureau but is constantly looking for new and better data on the types of IT investments and IT-related practices that firms are pursuing and how they structure themselves to take advantage of them.

Research themes: Innovation and technological change, information technology, corporate strategy, organizational economics, industrial organization, supply chain management.

Awards and Grants: 

NBER Entrepreneurship Working Group Research Grant (2016)

Connaught New Researcher Award, University of Toronto (2015)

Finalist, Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper Award, ISNIE 2014 Annual Conference

$120,000 U.S. – Israel Binational Science Foundation Grant, joint with Naomi Hausman (2013)

Finalist, Best Dissertation Award, Technology & Innovation Management (TIM) Division, Academy of Management (2010)

Best Paper Proceedings, Academy of Management (2008)


Refereed Publications

Do Market Leaders Lead in Business Process Innovation? The Case(s) of E-Business Adoption,” Management Science, 61(6) June 2015, 1197-1216. Lead article.

Are market leaders more likely to be early adopters of business process innovations? Although they tend to enjoy economies of scale in adoption, leaders may find that adjustment costs also increase with scale. Prior work has focused on how misalignment of incumbents’ internal capabilities may affect their technology strategy. However, technology-capability misalignment may exist outside the firm boundary, as well. In this paper, I build on mainstream product innovation concepts to predict when market leaders will adopt certain business process innovations. I then test these predictions in a large data set on early e-business adoption, leveraging its novel insight into focal firms, their markets, and their customers. I find market leaders were significantly more likely to embrace new IT-enabled practices – except when customer adjustment costs were a significant concern. These findings highlight the strategic significance of external capabilities in the face of technological change.

Delegation in Multi-Establishment Firms: Adaptation vs. Coordination in I.T. Purchasing Authority,” Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 23(2), Summer 2014, pp. 225-257. Lead article.

Recent contributions to a growing theory literature have focused on the tradeoff between adaptation and coordination in determining delegation within firms. Empirical evidence, however, is limited. Using establishment-level data on decision rights over information technology investments, I find that a high net value of adaptation is strongly associated with delegation, as are local information advantages and firm-wide diversification; in contrast, a high net value of within-firm coordination is correlated with centralization. Variation across establishments within firms is widespread: most firms are neither fully centralized nor fully decentralized. Delegation patterns are largely consistent with standard team-theory predictions; however, certain findings, such as a negative correlation between delegation and firm size, call for a consideration of agency costs, as well.

Other Publications

“Decentralization vs. Centralization in IT Governance: It’s Not as Simple as You Might Think,” Communications of the ACM, no. 11, November 2012.

“The Short Life of Online Sales Leads,” with James B. Oldroyd and David Elkington, Harvard Business Review 89 (3), March 2011, p. 28.

“Productivity Leadership and Strategic Investments in Innovation: The Adoption of E-Business Capabilities,” Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, George T. Solomon (Ed.), 2008.


Digital Fellow, Initiative on the Digital Economy (2013–present)
Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

As a Digital Fellow, I conduct frontier research on the use of information technology and data in firms, investigating the practice and impact of data-driven decision making and other applications of IT. I collaborate with firms and other leading researchers to understand the best practices and complementary investments that make IT productive and valuable in today's economy. I am currently co-authoring a series of papers with Erik Brynjolfsson on data-driven decision making, various ways of valuing firm investments in collecting and using data, and the relationship of these things to centralized authority and other management practices using U.S. Census Bureau data.


Ph.D. in Managerial Economics and Strategy (2009)
Kellogg School of Management
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL
Dissertation: Market Position and Organizational Structure in Information Technology Investment
Committee: Shane Greenstein, Scott Stern, Ranjay Gulati, Leemore Dafny

Diploma in Economics, with credit (1999)
London School of Economics
London, United Kingdom

A.M. in International Development Policy (1994)
A.B. in Political Science, Stanford University, with distinction (1993)

Stanford University
Palo Alto, CA

Undergraduate studies in political philosophy and French (1988-1991)
B.A. in French, summa cum laude (awarded 1993)

Albion College
Albion, MI