This paper fills theoretical gaps in the scholarly debate about the functional integration of a management accountant into SMEs for the first time, focusing on leader-member exchange (LMX) theory. Through an explorative, qualitative research design in the form of a multi-case study, the process of building a relationship between the manager and the management accountant is investigated, and their interaction is shown to largely influence the integration process. The study thereby improves understanding of the phases postulated by LMX theory: While manager and management accountant remain strangers during recruiting and training, the manager initiates relationship building, actively training the new management accountant. Over the integration period, the manager and management accountant become acquaintances: Although their working relationship is characterized by a division between strategic (manager) and operative (management accountant) functions, they practice teamwork, information exchange, and knowledge sharing. Lastly, manager and management accountant enter the stage of interdependency and become partners. Their cooperative working relationship is based on trust, loyalty, respect, and mutual influence. Finally, we provide a broad range of implications for future research and corporate praxis concerning the first-time integration of management accountants into SMEs.
management accountant; small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); leader-member exchange theory; longitudinal multiple-case study