‘I HAVE SPENT MY CAREER GOING BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN TWO WORLDS’
Harrison earned her Ph.D. from Princeton in 1991 and remained at the World Bank until 1994. “I started sending my papers out to be published, and much to my astonishment, people liked them,” she says. “At some point, Dani Rodrik at Harvard’s Kennedy School asked me to teach there for a year during his sabbatical.” She spent a year as a visiting faculty member of Harvard’s School of Government, returning to the World Bank in 1992. It was Rodrik who later called Harrison to let her know that Columbia Business School was looking for an assistant professor. “It seemed like a wonderful opportunity, since I really developed a love for research,” she recalls. “I went and became an academic. It was a very circuitous path, and I have spent my career going back and forth between these two worlds.”
Harrison joined Columbia as an assistant professor of finance and economics in 1994, gained a promotion to associate professor four years later in 1998, and returned to Berkeley as a full professor of agricultural and resource economics in 2001. But her love of the World Bank would intervene yet again. She went on leave from Berkeley in 2009 to became a trade team manager at the World Bank, and then director of development policy. Then, it was back to academia at Wharton in 2012.
“I have loved Wharton,” Harrison says. “It’s been a tremendous experience here. It’s a great institution. People are really nice. It’s a very warm community, and I have had a wonderful time. It’s been fun for me because I was always in an economics group but at Wharton the group that does research on mutlinational firms and foreign investment is in the management department. So I had the opportunity to learn about a field that was very different and applies very different techniques than the economists.”
‘BECOMING A DEAN WAS NOT SOMETHING I SYSTEMATICALLY FOCUSED ON’
Harrison says she felt no burning desire to become the dean of a business school, though she had received calls from recruiters over the years about open deanships. “This was not something that I systematically focused on,” she says. “I was the one person in my class at Princeton who was interested in going to an institution that does a lot of on-the-ground work. So there is this part of me that absolutely loves to make things happen. It’s kind of a split personality at this point.”
Then she received an email from a search consultant at Isaacson, Miller last December asking if she would be interested in the Haas opening. “I was absolutely thrilled” by the outreach, Harrison says. “Haas is a really special place. The focus on culture and the school’s position within the greater university is special. I spoke to my family, my friends, and others who had either considered or had become deans. Everybody around me was very supportive. Everyone seemed to think it would be a great fit.”
She tossed her hat into the ring. The process was grueling. “There were many, many rounds of interviews and then they narrowed it down to eight finalists,” Harrison recalls. “I went through two sets of interviews with Isaacson, Miller and then they had all eight candidates come out to Berkeley. We were interviewed by a panel which included all the members of the search committee and people on the Haas board.”
‘THE LONGEST INTERVIEW I HAVE EVER BEEN IN … THEY DID GIVE US A BREAK TO SLEEP’
The school then chose three finalists from the list of eight: Harrison, along with another Wharton professor, Katherine Klein, vice dean for Wharton’s social impact initiative and a professor of management. The third finalist was Mihir A. Desai, a professor of finance at Harvard Business School who is also a professor of law at Harvard Law School.
“After that, the three finalists did a two-day-long 24-hour interview process,” Harrison remembers. “That was definitely the longest interview I have ever been in. They did give us a break to sleep, but we spent 12 hours each day in interviews. I met with different groups within the business school, faculty, administrators, and vice deans. It culminated in a town hall which was videotaped and sent to all the alumni.
“And then there was another round. It was a very challenging process. I am pretty confident I would never be interested in a deanship again. I am very excited about this position but I can never imagine going through that again.”
‘CROSS-SCHOOL LEVERAGE’ A LIKELY PRIORITY FOR THE NEW DEAN
Harrison is the second woman to win the deanship at Haas, which becomes the only top-ten business school to be led by two women. Economist Laura Tyson, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, was dean of the business school from 1997 until 2001; she then became dean of London Business School from 2002 to 2006. Tyson is currently interim dean of the school until Harrison arrives.
Very much on Harrison’s mind at the moment is the school’s financial footing. “Berkeley is a public institution, so you are subjected to varying budgetary ups and downs. It is really important to work on revenue diversification as well as philanthropy, especially as the share of funding from the state has been declining. In order to grow and accommodate increasing numbers of students, we obviously need to pay attention to finances.”
Harrison links fundraising to a pair of other issues she considers important. “I would like to emphasize Haas’ wonderful business school within the broader community of Berkeley. To leverage that community would be really great. Under Rich Lyons, who has been an incredible dean, Haas has started to do that. We have some exciting new programs, including an undergraduate program which links engineering and business. We’ve had 2,000 applicants for 20 spots in that joint degree program. There are more opportunities to create these kinds of joint programs, including at the graduate level, which would be really exciting.
“I came from the college of natural resources and I also do a lot of research on environmental issues. As a child, I campaigned for Proposition 20, which created the coastal commisson to save California’s coastline. Combining the strongest natural resources school in the world with graduate education in business could be very exciting as well. I call it cross-school leverage.”
‘HAAS HAS A BUDGET WHICH IS A FRACTION OF THE BUDGET OF ITS PRIVATE-SECTOR COMPETITORS’
“I also want to make sure the faculty, students and staff are having a positive experience. We want to continue to support our brilliant faculty and we want to hire more of them. This is easier said than done, because though Haas is doing brilliantly, with its MBA ranked seventh and its part-time MBA ranked first, the school is managing to do that on a budget which is a fraction of the budget of its private-sector competitors.”
For now, Harrison is looking forward to her return to the Bay Area with her husband, economist Vicente Madrigal, who received his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton in 1989.
“This is a really great opportunity in terms of timing because both my children are leaving home,” she says. “My youngest daughter will start at UC-Santa Barbara. She only applied to the UC system. Our other daughter will be going to graduate school to study art history at Williams College.
“This is really the beginning of a process,” she says. “I will be speaking to many, many people even before I join in January and then once I get there.”