Before stepping down as dean of UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Rich Lyons made sure to etch in stone the four defining leadership principles that have become the bedrock of the school’s culture: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. Lyons quipped that by carving the principles into the walkways of the new Haas courtyard and the sides of a building, it would be harder for a new dean to abandon the principles.
Turns out, he didn’t have to worry about that at all. In announcing last week that Wharton professor Ann Harrison would become Haas’ new dean in January, the university chose a strong advocate for the very principles that Lyons put in place. “These four defining leadership principles are brilliant and critical to the identity of the school,” says Harrison in an interview with Poets&Quants. “I am wholeheartedly and enthusiasically behind them. They are a huge asset and extremely important to continue as part of the differentiating characteristics of Haas. They attracted me to the school.”
Harrison, who will begin the Haas deanship on Jan. 2, says that she most identifies with “Confidence Without Attitude” and “Beyond Yourself.” “I really believe in service and thinking about not just your own priorities but the priorities of the greater community and where you work and live,” she says. “‘Students Always’ is great because as a researcher I am always learning new things. What Rich (Lyons) did was find a way to codify what was already present in the school through these principles.”
‘I AM PRETTY CONFIDENT I WOULD NEVER BE INTERESTED IN A DEANSHIP AGAIN’
Harrison will be traveling back and forth between the coasts until becoming dean at Haas. “What I plan to do is a lot of listening and a lot of learning,” she says. “It’s a long process to do justice to everyone’s thoughts. One piece of advice I have been given is don’t be in a hurry. I have a sense of what my priorities are but I want to emphasize is that this is a changeable vision which will very much depend on what the community is interested in doing going forward.”
For now, Harrison says, she intends to focus her energy on three broad issues: philanthropy; exploring ways to more deeply leverage the broader community at the university and beyond; and making sure the faculty, students, and staff are having a “positive experience.”
TEARS IN HER EYES AS SHE ENTERED HAAS’ NEWEST BUILDING FOR THE FIRST TIME
To get the job, Harrison and two other finalists went through a grueling process of evaluation, including two back-to-back 12-hour days of interviews on campus with administrators and faculty, culminating in a town hall meeting. “I am pretty confident I would never be interested in a deanship again,” she says flatly. “I am very excited about this position, but I can never imagine going through that again.”
Yet, she says, her passion for the job grew as she went through that exhausting process. When she first walked into Haas’ new $60 million Connie & Kevin Chou Hall, which opened last year, she confides that tears welled up in her eyes. She was overcome by the beauty of the Haas campus, remembering the days when she was an undergrad on campus and the business school when it was housed in Barrows Hall. At the time, business was the only professional school on campus without its own building and undergraduate classes and research programs were scattered all over campus.
For Harrison, the new job represents a return to the Bay Area where she spend most of her formative years. Born in Brittany in France to an American father and a French mother, she came to the United States when she was very young. Her parents met when her father was doing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the Sorbonne in Paris on the GI Bill. Once a month, he would have to go to the American Embassy to pick up his check from a bilingual secretary there. The two fell in love, married, and had two children, including Harrison.
“It was just hard to make ends meet in France,” Harrison says. “He worked for a research think tank and eventually said we should move to the U.S., and he got a job at Chevron working in research in Richmond.” The family settled in Pinole in Contra Costa County. Among her childhood friends is Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
AT ONE POINT IN HER LIFE, SHE APPLIED TO TEN LAW SCHOOLS
Harrison earned her bachelor’s degree from UC-Berkeley with a double major in economics and history in 1982. She also served as a professor in Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics from 2001 to 2011. For the past six years, Harrison has been at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where she has been a professor of multinational management, business economics, and public policy.
She brings to Haas an unusual background for an academic, having served as the director of development policy at the World Bank, where she co-managed a team of 300 researchers and staff, reformed the World Bank’s process for allocating research funds, and oversaw the institution’s most important flagship publications, including its annual World Development Report. During her tenure, she convinced the World Bank’s president to release all historical records on project loans, a milestone in increasing transparency.
Indeed, Harrison’s detour to academia was not planned. “When I was a senior at Berkeley, I couldn’t decide what to do,” she says. “I thought I would go to law school and applied to ten schools, but also to two economic programs. I worked in Oakland for a real estate lawyer one summer and then after graduaing I worked as a health economist for the medical economics and statistics division of Kaiser in Oakland.” It was in that job, working the numbers on Kaiser’s then-membership of two million, that she became fascinated with economics.
‘UNLIKE MOST PH.D.S, I WANTED TO WORK IN A NON-ACADEMIC SETTING’
“Working on the economics of health care, I decided then I was really interested in economics and not law,” Harrison says. “What I really wanted to do was work for an international organization on poverty and growth.” She set her sights on the World Bank and, as a student at Berkeley, began randomly calling people at the bank. “It became evident that a Ph.D. in economics was more important than a law degree. Unlike most who get Ph.D.s in economics, I wanted to work in a non-academic setting.”
In fact, when Harrison applied to the Ph.D. program at Princeton University, she explicitly noted that she wanted to use the degree to work at the World Bank. “Princeton’s Ph.D. was a theoretical program, which meant it was one of the most rigorous and mathematical progams in economics at the time. I was looking for a more applied experience, so I took a year off from grad school to work at the World Bank, which I really enjoyed.”
Even before completing her Ph.D. at Princeton in 1989, Harrison went straight into the World Bank’s Young Professionals Program, a highly selective rotational management training program that selected just 20 of 10,000 applicants. “I hadn’t done that much research, but when I got there I did more research on top of my day job and I fell in love with doing research. It was a bizarre trajectory, though one of the highly published economists at Haas is Ross Levine. He and I were young professionals at the World Bank together. So there are a number of us who did make that move into academia.”