Meet Tyra Banks, Stanford B-School ‘Prof’

Supermodel and entrepreneur Tyra Banks will be co-teaching an elective course for MBAs at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Supermodel and entrepreneur Tyra Banks will be co-teaching an elective course for MBAs at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Four years ago, supermodel Tyra Banks made headlines when she showed off her newly won Harvard Business School certificate after completing a nine-week program for executives called the Owner/President Management program.

Now she’s moving to the front of the classroom as a teacher at, of all places, Harvard’s biggest business school rival, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Poets&Quants has learned that the 42-year-old Banks is scheduled to co-teach a spring elective for MBA students called “Project You: Building & Extending Your Personal Brand” with GSB lecturer Allison Kluger.

The supermodel-to-professor switch apparently occurred after Banks came to the Stanford campus last May for a fireside chat as part of a Stanford Women in Business leadership series, according to a spokesperson for the school. Banks shared stories about her path toward entrepreneurship, including her decision to cold call Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to ask his advice on how to do her own startup.

Kluger, formerly a producer for “The View” and once a host for a cable-TV shopping network, was in the audience. She sat in the front row and immediately after the event went back stage to make her pitch to Banks. Within a week, a conference call between the two occurred, a few more calls followed, and the course on personal branding emerged.


Stanford GSB Lecturer Allison Kluger

Stanford GSB lecturer Allison Kluger

For the past two years, Kluger has been teaching courses in reputation management and strategic communications at Stanford’s business school. The pair decided they would co-teach a course on building and sustaining a personal brand.

Banks surely knows a thing or two about personal branding. She turned her runway success into a multimedia brand and was at the center of two successful TV series, America’s Next Top Model and The Tyra Banks Show, the latter of which ran for 810 episodes and won two Emmys. She took the HBS executive education course to help her build and lead her self-funded startup, TYRA Beauty, a cosmetics business. Her reinvention from model to iconic consumer brand gives her plenty of classroom cred.

When Banks was asked to name her most difficult HBS class, she quickly noted it was finance. “For the first 30 minutes of the class, I’m raising my hand, I’m all into it, ‘cause it’s kind of like theory and just like, the social part of the case,” she told VH1 during an interview. “The last hour it’s all like Einstein and algebraic equations and craziness. And I’m just like, what the (heck) is going on? Please don’t call on me because it won’t be pretty.“


After earning her HBS certificate, Tyra Banks tweeted this picture from the business school campus

After earning her HBS certificate, Tyra Banks tweeted this picture from the business school campus

Now Banks, who gleefully tweeted a photo of herself on the HBS campus with her Harvard certificate, will get to call on others. The two-credit course, recently listed in the school’s online course catalog, focuses on how to build, broadcast, maintain and protect your personal brand. According to the description of the course, “Project You will help each student realize: What is a personal brand and how can it be unleashed as a valuable, competitive advantage? Why do you need a personal brand? How do you differentiate yourself and create a brand identity and strategy? How do you use social and traditional media to enhance your brand effectively as well as measure the metrics of social media responses? And how do you know when to pivot and evolve your brand for sustainability?”

Kluger and Banks appear to be planning what they are calling a “highly interactive learning” course that will inevitably be oversubscribed. After all, the class will be limited to only between 25 and 30 students, says Kluger. MBAs who get into the class will watch a video titled “Who you are, what your personal brand is, and what you want it to be.” Among the assignments will be “image transformations, live broadcasting of presentations at a television station, live streaming of portions of the class on Facebook Live, and YouTube recordings,” according to the course catalog.

For Banks, the supermodel, TV and movie star, talk show host, producer, and entrepreneur, it’s a chance to add yet another title to a striking résumé of achievements. After all, while she won’t officially be a professor at Stanford, she will be a guest lecturer at one of the best business schools in the world.


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