Serena Williams. Sheryl Sandberg. Erika James? In a company blog post from the head of SurveyMonkey, Zander Lurie, the CEO extended open arms to the dean of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, writing, “Today we’re officially welcoming Erika James, the Dean of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, to our board.”
As a board member for the popular survey software company, James will sit alongside the likes of superstar tennis player Serena Williams and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The appointment, announced today (Aug. 15) also gives the Atlanta-based dean a prime seat in the boardroom of a well-known player in Silicon Valley. With James’ appointment, the 10-person board reaches a notable milestone: half of the seats are now occupied by women.
James says that while she’s happy to be the person to help achieve the milestone for the online survey development company, she doesn’t take any credit for it. “It’s really the leadership of this company,” she tells Poets&Quants. “It’s a testament to the commitment of the board, recognizing the value in having diverse perspectives and that women are in a position to add incredible value as we think about how work gets done.”
FIRST BLACK WOMAN TO HEAD UP A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL
James is no stranger to milestones. She is a long-time academic and B-school administrator with a portfolio that’s packed with accomplishments and noteworthy credentials. Prior to Emory, she served as the senior associate dean for executive education at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. She also served as an assistant professor at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business and was a visiting professor at Harvard Business School.
In 2017, James was named one of the most admired CEOs by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, and in 2016 she was recognized on a national level as one of Ebony Magazine’s “Power 100.”
When she assumed her position at Goizueta in 2014, she became the first African-American woman to sit at the helm of a top business school, currently ranked as having the 20th best MBA program in the U.S. by Poets&Quants, an accomplishment SurveyMonkey’s CEO cited in calling her the type of trailblazer his board currently needs.
“As the first black woman to be appointed dean of a top 25 business school, Erika is exactly the kind of change agent we need on our board,” Lurie wrote. He also referenced the dean’s award-winning work as a researcher and consultant, areas for which Dean James is widely known for her expertise in leadership, diversity, and women in business. “Her research and consulting work inspires companies to be more thoughtful about their hiring and leadership principles, and encourages women to pursue a career in business,” the CEO said.
JAMES TWEETS: ‘I’M HUMBLED AND HONORED’
Post-announcement, James took to Twitter to express gratitude for her new appointment. “I’m humbled and honored to be added to SurveyMonkey’s board of directors. I’m looking forward to the new opportunity and the ability to create meaningful change,” she tweeted.
Speaking to Poets&Quants, she says the key value she expects to bring to the board is her extensive experience in education. “What’s most attractive about my profile is being steeped in the higher-education market. The company is expanding avenues to gain access to new markets within higher education. Years in this arena and knowing how to connect with administrators and faculty can be useful as they expand into the education sector.”
Her expertise in crisis leadership is another value-add, she say: “As an expert in crisis leadership, it’s always a useful knowledge base for any organization. It’s always helpful to have someone who knows how to weather difficult circumstances.”
B-SCHOOL DEANS SERVING ON BOARDS NOT UNCOMMON
James’ appointment to SurveyMonkey’s board highlights a tendency among business school deans to serve the business community by way of board appointments. Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett serves as a board member for Park Hotels and Resorts, Chicago Booth Dean Madhav V. Rajan is a long-time board member for San Jose, California-based semiconductor company Cavium, and Harvard Business School’s Nitin Nohria joined the board of Tata Sons in 2013, though it was recently announced that he will step down from that role next month.
It is the fourth current board position for Erika James, who is in her first term on the board of the Graduate Management Admissions Council while serving on two nonprofit boards with East Lake Foundation of Atlanta and the Arts Alliance Theater Board for the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. She’s also a past board member of Junior Achievement of Atlanta.