Management Department



Brett H. Neely

Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Management 46:6 (July 2020), pp 1029–1062. DOI: 10.1177/0149206320908640


Copyright © 2020 Brett H. Neely Jr., Jeffrey B. Lovelace, Amanda P. Cowen, and Nathan J. Hiller. Published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


After more than 35 years, Hambrick and Mason’s upper echelons theory (UET) stands as one of the most influential perspectives in management research. However, as the literature and its attendant reviews have become more numerous and specialized, discussion of the fundamental conceptual and methodological critiques leveled against research utilizing the UET perspective has grown fragmented. As such, the first aim of the present review is to identify and synthesize a set of common critiques levied against UET research. In doing so, we unpack important nuance within each critique while establishing a common vocabulary to facilitate greater consistency in how these critiques are discussed by scholars, editors, and reviewers. Next, we analyze the past decade of UET research (i.e., empirical and conceptual articles) to provide a progress report on the state of the literature as it pertains to each critique. Based on this analysis, we issue a “verdict,” providing clear guidance on what issues still need to be resolved and offering clear recommendations for UET scholars moving forward. Finally, we close by taking stock of how our recommendations position UET scholars to embrace the task of providing impactful insights on emerging challenges facing top executives.

Includes supplemental appendix