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International management challenges of professional service firms: a synthesis of the literature

Ciara O’Higgins (Deusto Business School, University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain)
Tatiana Andreeva (School of Business, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland)
Nekane Aramburu Goya (Deusto Business School, University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain)

Review of International Business and Strategy

ISSN: 2059-6014

Article publication date: 27 May 2021

Issue publication date: 7 December 2021




This paper aims to identify what international management challenges professional service firms (PSFs) face and why they face them.


This study carries a focussed thematic literature review of 102 empirical articles. This paper uses content analysis to extract and aggregate challenges identified by researchers in their fieldwork and then analysed this data using qualitative and quantitative methods.


This study identifies 10 international management challenges that PSFs face and a number of causes for these challenges. The analysis also suggests that the distinctive characteristics of PSFs generate some of the international management challenges for PSFs.

Practical implications

This study helps PSF managers understand the international management challenges they may face depending on the specifics of their company, thus helping them better prepare their internationalisation.


This study contributes to providing a greater understanding of what is holding PSFs back in their internationalisation and why. It demonstrates that distinctive characteristics of PSFs may predict the challenges that PSFs will face, thus paving the way for further research on international management in PSFs and for the development of the diagnostic tool for practitioners that could help them to identify which challenges they should prepare for most.



The second and third co-authors have contributed equally to the paper and are listed alphabetically.

This study was funded by the Deusto University Research Training Grant Programme. The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to Professors Elizabeth Rose and Hussain Rammal, editors of the Review of International Business and Strategy for their kind and constructive guidance, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments that helped improve this paper. An earlier version of this paper benefitted from valuable feedback at the CYGNA (Supporting Women in Academia Network) Writing Bootcamp held in September 2019 in Middlesex University (UK), for which we are very grateful.


O’Higgins, C., Andreeva, T. and Aramburu Goya, N. (2021), "International management challenges of professional service firms: a synthesis of the literature", Review of International Business and Strategy, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 596-621.



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