Saerom (Ronnie) Lee

Saerom (Ronnie) Lee
  • Assistant Professor of Management

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    2019 SH-DH
    3620 Locust Walk
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: organizational structure, organization design, human capital acquisition, venture scaling, entrepreneurship

Links: Personal Website, CV


Saerom (Ronnie) Lee is an Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Saerom studies why start-ups succeed or fail to capture entrepreneurial opportunities. To address this question, he focuses on the human capital acquisition and organizational design of new ventures―that is, how firms acquire and organize their employees at the early stage of their life cycle and how they adjust their organizational design to meet the needs of their distinct challenges in venture scaling. His research has appeared in Strategic Management Journal and Strategy Science. His dissertation was recognized as the winner of the INFORMS/Organization Science Dissertation Proposal Competition (2019), the winner of the Strategic Management Society Best Conference Ph.D. Paper Prize (2019), the runner-up of the Industry Studies Association Dissertation Award (2021), and the finalist of the Academy of Management’s Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) Division Dissertation Award (2022).

Before joining the Wharton School, he received a Ph.D. in Strategy from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and both a B.B.A. and an M.S. in Strategy & International Management from Seoul National University.

Continue Reading


  • Reuben Hurst and Saerom Lee (Work In Progress), Do Diversity Claims Cause Labor Market Sorting by Political Partisanship? Evidence from Experiments.

    Abstract: This study investigates how diversity claims may cause labor market sorting by political partisanship. In a field experiment conducted in partnership with a hiring company, we show that these claims are disproportionately unattractive to Republican job seekers. Our follow-up survey experiment reveals that this decreased attraction is driven by not only taste-based (i.e., ideological misalignment) but also statistical mechanisms (i.e., inferences regarding what these claims signal regarding unobservable employer characteristics). Notably, while previous studies have demonstrated that diversity claims lower expectations of discrimination for women and people of color, we find that these claims can, in fact, raise expectations of discrimination (while also reducing expectations of meritocracy) for workers on the political right. Overall, our findings imply that, in organizations with a low representation of Republican workers, efforts to improve gender or racial diversity through diversity claims may (inadvertently) create a homogeneous workplace in terms of political partisanship.

  • J. Daniel Kim and Saerom Lee (Under Review), Target Startup’s Organizational Structure and Acquirer’s Integration-Separation Decision.

    Abstract: To reap the benefits of startup acquisition, acquirers strategically choose whether to integrate or separate their targets. This study examines how this post-acquisition organization design choice between integration and separation depends on the target startup's pre-acquisition organizational structure. Leveraging employee-employer-matched data to construct a novel measure of post-acquisition separation based on employee mobility patterns, we find that acquirers are more likely to separate more structurally complex target startups. Additional analyses are consistent with the view that, as the target firm's structural complexity can increase the disruptive costs of integrating the two firms but reduce coordination costs when kept separate, post-acquisition separation becomes more suitable. Our results shed light on an important organizational antecedent that shapes the relative appeal of integration versus separation in startup acquisitions.

  • Jaeho Choi and Saerom Lee (Under Review), The Optimal Span of Control for Venture Scaling.

    Abstract: This study investigates how a new venture's span of control affects its growth. Using a large-sample dataset of more than 3.4 million startups established in the U.S. between 2000 and 2019, we find an inverted U-shaped relationship between the span of control and firm size. To explore its underlying mechanisms, we develop a computational model of organizational information processing. Consistent with the descriptive finding, our simulation results demonstrate that an intermediate value in the span of control is optimal for venture scaling, as this structural dimension tunes the balance between individual-level and organizational-level information bottlenecks. That is, narrowing the span of control confers the benefit of alleviating its managers' cognitive burden, but bears the disadvantage of adding hierarchical layers that can prematurely filter out or delay the execution of projects. Additional analyses suggest that this optimal span of control decreases with the task environment's uncertainty and munificence and the employees' capabilities in project generation and screening. Overall, our work sheds new light on how the span of control plays a role in venture scaling.

  • Saerom Lee and J. Daniel Kim (2024), When Do Startups Scale? Large-scale Evidence from Job Postings, Strategic Management Journal.

    Abstract: Scaling at the right time is a crucial challenge for startups. Conceptualizing “scaling” as the entrepreneurial process of acquiring and committing resources to implement the core business idea and expand the customer base, this study examines how scaling early may decrease imitation risk at the expense of increasing commitment risk. As startups typically hire managers and sales personnel when they begin to scale, we propose that this timing can be empirically measured by when startups first post these jobs. Leveraging a dataset of job postings, we find that early scalers are more likely to fail, but no evidence of a countervailing benefit in terms of successful exit. Additional analyses suggest that the commitment risk in scaling early outweighs the benefit of reducing imitation risk.

  • Reuben Hurst, Saerom Lee, Justin Frake (2024), The effect of flatter hierarchy on applicant pool gender diversity: Evidence from experiments, Strategic Management Journal.

    Abstract: This article investigates how job seekers' perceptions of an employer's formal hierarchy affect the size and gender composition of its applicant pool. Building on the literature on gendered organizations and organizational design, we develop opposing perspectives on these relationships. To arbitrate between these perspectives, we first conduct a field experiment in partnership with a hiring firm. We find that featuring a flatter hierarchy in recruiting materials does not significantly affect the size of the applicant pool, but significantly decreases women's representation within it. Our follow-up survey experiment identifies several potential mechanisms (e.g., perceptions of career progression, informality, workload, and fit). Our findings imply that firms' growing tendency to adopt flatter hierarchies could inadvertently undermine efforts to attract a greater proportion of women applicants.

  • Saerom Lee and Britta Glennon (Under Review), The Effect of Immigration Policy on Founding Location Choice: Evidence from Canada’s Start-up Visa Program.

    Abstract: To spur entrepreneurship and economic growth, an increasing number of countries have introduced immigration policies that provide visas to skilled entrepreneurs. This paper investigates whether these policies influence the founding location choice of immigrant founders, by leveraging the introduction of Canada's Start-up Visa Program in 2013. We demonstrate that this immigration policy increased the likelihood that U.S.-based immigrants have a start-up in Canada by 69%. Our results show that Asian immigrants (who have a higher representation in Canada than in the U.S.) are disproportionately more likely to migrate to Canada to start their businesses, whereas Hispanic immigrants (who have a smaller representation in Canada than in the U.S.) are less inclined to do so. We also find that this propensity varies with the size of co-ethnic immigrant communities in the origin location. Overall, our study unveils the importance of immigration policies in determining founding location choice and has important implications for countries competing for global talent.

  • Saerom Lee (2022), The Myth of the Flat Start-up: Reconsidering the Organizational Structure of Start-ups, Strategic Management Journal, 43 (1), pp. 58-92.

    Abstract: There has been an ongoing debate over whether start-ups should be "flat" with minimal hierarchical layers. To reconcile this debate, this paper distinguishes between creative and commercial success (i.e., product novelty vs. profitability), and examines how these outcomes are variously influenced by a start-up’s hierarchy. This study suggests that while a flatter hierarchy can improve ideation and creative success, it can result in haphazard execution and commercial failure by overwhelming managers with the burden of direction and causing subordinates to drift into power struggles and aimless idea explorations. I find empirical support for this trade-off using a large sample of game development start-ups. These findings offer one resolution to the debate by sorting out the conditions under which hierarchy can be conducive or detrimental to start-ups.

  • Saerom Lee and Felipe Csaszar (2020), Cognitive and Structural Antecedents of Innovation: A Large-Sample Study, Strategy Science, 5 (2), pp. 71-79.

    Abstract: This paper studies how cognitive and structural antecedents affect adaptation to disruptive innovations. We do so by analyzing how video game firms adapted to the free-to-play business model around the period of disruption (2012–2015). Our data set (which contains 461 firms, collectively employing 83,157 individuals) allows us to characterize each firm’s organizational structure and each employee’s experience profile; it also captures the performance of firms under the existing and new technological regimes (that is, firms that do and do not adopt the disruptive innovation). We show that adoption, implementation under the existing regime, and implementation under the new regime are affected by cognitive and structural antecedents in different and often opposite ways. We also point out conditions under which cognitive and structural antecedents can compensate for each other. Overall, our study contributes to a better understanding of how firms should organize to face disruptive innovations.


All Courses

  • INSP4999 - Honors Thesis

    The senior thesis course is a capstone for seniors in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. Students in the Huntsman Program should consult with the Huntsman Program advisors for more information.

  • MGMT2230 - Business Strategy

    This course encourages students to analyze the problems of managing the total enterprise in the domestic and international setting. The focus is on the competitive strategy of the firm, examining issues central to its long- and short-term competitive position. Students act in the roles of key decision-makers or their advisors and solve problems related to the development or maintenance of the competitive advantage of the firm in a given market. The first module of the course develops an understanding of key strategic frameworks using theoretical readings and case-based discussions. Students will learn concepts and tools for analyzing the competitive environment, strategic position and firm-specific capabilities in order to understand the sources of a firm's competitive advantage. In addition, students will address corporate strategy issues such as the economic logic and administrative challenges associated with diversification choices about horizontal and vertical integration. The second module will be conducted as a multi-session, computer-based simulation in which students will have the opportunity to apply the concepts and tools from module 1 to make strategic decisions. The goal of the course is for students to develop an analytical tool kit for understanding strategic issues and to enrich their appreciation for the thought processes essential to incisive strategic analysis. This course offers students the opportunity to develop a general management perspective by combining their knowledge of specific functional areas with an appreciation for the requirements posed by the need to integrate all functions into a coherent whole. Students will develop skills in structuring and solving complex business problems. In addition to prerequisites, enrollment is limited to seniors and juniors that have completed introductory courses in finance, marketing, and accounting.

  • MGMT6120 - Managing Emerg Entrprse

    This course is about managing during the early stages of an enterprise, when the firm faces the strategic challenge of being a new entrant in the market and the organizational challenge of needing to scale rapidly. The enterprises of interest in this course have moved past the purely entrepreneurial phase and need to systematically formalize strategies and organizational processes to reach maturity and stability, but they still lack the resources of a mature firm. The class is organized around three distinct but related topics that managers of emerging firms must consider: strategy, human and social capital, and global strategy.

  • MGMT9260 - Sem Strat & Org Des

    This half-semester course examines one of the foundational questions in strategy: the role of organizational structure in both supporting and shaping strategy. As Winston Churchill famously said: "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us." This course examines this proposition from two traditions, the "institutional economics" and "information processing" schools of organizational design. We will examine foundational works from both schools, such as Coase, Williamson, Simon, March, and others, and then proceed to recent work in the area. Some of the questions that we will explore in the class are: why do firms exist? What determines their boundaries? What determines formal and informal structures within firms? How does the strategic context shape the answers to these questions? How might the nature of the firm and its boundaries relate to innovation, human capital, and knowledge creation? The aim of this class is to provide students with a grounding in the fundamental questions and contributions in this area, and to spark ideas for research in their own graduate work.

Awards and Honors

  • Wharton Teaching Excellence Award, 2023
  • Wharton Teaching Excellence Award, 2022
  • Strategic Management Society Conference Strategic Human Capital Interest Group Best Paper Award, 2022
  • Finalist, Strategic Management Society Conference Responsible Research Paper Prize, 2022
  • Finalist, Academy of Management TIM Division Dissertation Award, 2022
  • Strategy Science Conference Best Paper Award, 2022
  • Runner-up, Industry Studies Association Dissertation Award, 2021
  • Academy of Management OMT Division Best Paper Award, 2022
  • Wharton Teaching Excellence Award, 2021
  • Winner, INFORMS/Organization Science Dissertation Proposal Competition, 2019
  • Strategic Management Society Best Conference Ph.D. Paper Award, 2019
  • Michigan Ross E. G. Flamholtz Award for Academic Excellence, 2018
  • Michigan Ross T. W. Leabo Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence, 2018
  • Michigan Ross W. A. Spivey/Valerie and W. Hall Award for Academic and Research Excellence, 2018
  • Michigan Ross Emeritus Award for the Best Second-year Paper, 2017

In the News

Knowledge at Wharton

Wharton Stories


In the News

Falling Flat: Why Startups Need Hierarchical Structure

A new study from Wharton's Saerom (Ronnie) Lee pushes back against the popular view that startups work best without a hierarchical management structure. Read More

Knowledge at Wharton - 1/10/2022
All News

Wharton Stories

Get to Know the 20 New Faculty Members Joining Wharton This Year

This upcoming academic year, the Wharton School will welcome 20 new faculty members. These brilliant minds are leading experts in a wide range of fields, including business, social science, finance, economics, public policy, management, marketing, statistics, real estate, and operations. One of the most exciting additions to the Wharton community…

Wharton Stories - 08/17/2020
All Stories