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Eric Zhao - Indiana University, Kelley School of Business. Bloomington, IN, US

Eric Zhao Eric Zhao

Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship; Institute for Entrepreneurship and Competitive Enterprise Faculty Fellow | Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Bloomington, IN, UNITED STATES

Eric Zhao is an expert in strategy and organization theory, optimal distinctiveness, institutional theory and social entrepreneurship.



Eric Yanfei Zhao is the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Competitive Enterprise Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, and Co-Chair of the PhD Program at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Eric’s research sits at the interface of strategic management, organization theory, and entrepreneurship, pushing the boundaries of conversations around topics like optimal distinctiveness, institutional logics, and social entrepreneurship. His research has been published in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Annals, Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Business Venturing, and Organization Studies. He is currently working on a book "Optimal Distinctiveness: A New Approach to the Competitive Positioning of Organizations and Markets" for Cambridge University Press.

Industry Expertise (1)


Areas of Expertise (6)

Cross-National Comparative Analysis

Institutional Theory

Organization Theory


Optimal Distinctiveness

Social Entrepreneurship

Accomplishments (10)

Inaugural OMT Research Committee Service Award, Academy of Management (professional)


IACMR Best Conference Macro Paper Award (professional)


Inaugural IACMR Presidential Award for Responsible Research in Management, 2017 – for 2016 AMJ “Not All Inequality Is Equal” (professional)


ONE-NBS Research Impact on Practice Award, Academy of Management, 2017--for 2016 AMJ “Funding Financial Inclusion” (professional)


D'Amore-McKim Best Paper Award, 13th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference (professional)


OMT Best Entrepreneurship Paper Award (Runner Up), Academy of Management (professional)


SAMS/JMS Grigor McClelland Doctoral Dissertation Award (final 3 out of 132 apps) (professional)


Best Student Paper on Social Innovation, European Group for Organizational Studies (professional)


Best Student Paper Award (Finalist), European Group for Organizational Studies (professional)


Glueck Best Paper Award (Finalist), Academy of Management, BPS (professional)


Education (3)

University of Alberta: Ph.D., University of Alberta 2014

University of Toronto: M.A., Sociology

London School of Economics: M.S., Management

Articles (6)

Optimal Distinctiveness in the Console Video Game Industry: An Exemplar-Based Model of Proto-Category Evolution

Organizational Science

2018 In this paper, we develop an exemplar-based model of the emergence and evolution of proto-categories—new groupings of products that are only weakly entrenched but have the potential to become widely institutionalized—and examine how different positioning strategies of new entrants vis-à-vis the exemplar of a proto-category affect entrant performance.

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Taking Trade-offs Seriously: Examining the Contextually Contingent Relationship Between Social Outreach Intensity and Financial Sustainability in Global Microfinance

Organizational Science

2018 A key insight from research on hybrid organizing is that the joint pursuit of competing goals exposes an enterprise to potentially problematic tensions and trade-offs. Yet while studies have examined the former, the actual trade-offs that these organizations face—and how these might vary among enterprises and contexts—has been largely overlooked.

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Optimal Distinctiveness: Broadening The Interface Between Institutional Theory And Strategic Management

Strategic Management Journal

2017 Attaining optimal distinctiveness—positive stakeholder perceptions about a firm’s strategic position that reconciles competing demands for differentiation and conformity—has been an important focal point for scholarship at the interface of strategic management and institutional theory. We provide a comprehensive review of this literature and situate studies on optimal distinctiveness in the broader scholarly effort to integrate institutional theory into strategic management.

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Organizational Response To Adversity: Fusing Crisis Management And Resilience Research Streams

Academy of Management Annals

2017 Research on crisis management and resilience has sought to explain how individuals and organizations anticipate and respond to adversity, yet—surprisingly—there has been little integration across these two literatures. In this paper, we review the literatures on crisis management and resilience and discuss opportunities to both integrate and advance these streams of research.

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Not All Inequality Is Equal: Deconstructing The Societal Logic Of Patriarchy To Understand Microfinance Lending To Women

Academy of Management Journal

2016 Many social problems reflect sets of beliefs and practices—or “institutional logics”— that operate at the societal level and rationalize the marginalization of certain categories of people. Studies have examined the consequences this has for individuals, but have largely overlooked how organizations that address such issues are affected. To understand this, we apply and extend the institutional logics perspective.

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Funding Financial Inclusion: Institutional Logics And The Contextual Contingency Of Funding For Microfinance Organizations

Academy of Management Journal

2016 Microfinance is a promising tool for addressing the grand challenge of global poverty. Yet, while many studies have examined how microfinance loans affect poor borrowers, we know little about how microfinance organizations (MFOs) themselves finance their lending activities. This is a significant oversight because most MFOs do not self-fund their lending, but, rather, rely on loans from external funders.

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