Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)


School of Business

First Advisor

Dr. Debby Thomas, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Shelton, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dr. Jim Foster, Ph.D.


How do future Big 4 partners and managing directors (collectively referred to as “practice leaders”) develop themselves and change their identities as they progress through role transitions within the accounting firms where their careers unfold? For accountants who develop themselves into partner material, little is known about the process of identity work they engage in across their career span; even less is known about managing directors’ identity work processes. This study explores accountants’ self-transformation journey, one marked by intention and reinvention, as they become practice leaders. Their journey of agentic reinvention, though it takes place in a socially connected environment, is largely a project of the self. This qualitative narrative inquiry finds that future practice leaders utilize mental management techniques extensively to transform themselves into more adaptable, resilient professionals who overcome roadblocks. Further, they actively leverage liminal periods to accelerate their self-development and promotability. This research also highlights differences in the ways that sensemaking and legitimacy-claiming are accomplished by a partner vs. managing directors. Finally, this study documents identity struggles that accounting professionals experience after their long-awaited promotion. A key insight is that joining a Big 4 firm’s upper ranks as a practice leader – rather than marking the end of accountants’ identity journey – introduces a new, dynamic, and perhaps more challenging phase of personal reinvention, identity work, and becoming. The triumphs and tribulations experienced by practice leaders before, during, and after their promotions point to several implications for aspiring accountants and the firms who employ them.