Wharton Names New Dean: Emory’s Erika James

Erika James will leave Emory Goizueta after six years as dean. Emory photo


It was while at Darden that she also pioneered a new position: associate dean of diversity. In fact, her decision to accept that position was the subject of the 14-page case study written by colleagues at the Darden School a dozen years ago. “The position would bring with it a sizeable increase in pay, much more responsibility, and many more administrative meetings, with a continued requirement to meet her teaching responsibilities,” wrote James Clawson and Gerry Yemen, authors of the case study. “All in all, the job would mean more work. The job would likely cut into her available consulting time in the summer and require her to create an initiative and strategy for the office from scratch. And she still wanted to reach full professor. She had several research projects under way and was partway through her first book manuscript.

“She had a husband who was a busy executive and lived two hours away during the week—and who was likely to get more promotions. She had two small children full of energy and enthusiasm. She had a full-time au pair and a personal Pilates trainer. She had always been known for her cheerful, can-do attitude. Could she bear the additional strain?”

For James, it clearly was no strain at all and helped lead the way to her deanship at Emory.


Born in Bermuda in 1969, the daughter of two music teachers, her family moved to the U.S. when she was little more than two years old. James, her mother and stepfather would ultimately settle in Texas where James attended high school. She was one of the few graduates in her high school class to leave the state for California where James would ultimately earn her undergraduate degree from Pomona College in California in 1991. Her interest in psychology was sparked by her stepfather, Marshall Rosenberg, who married James’ mother when she was five years old in 1974. A well-known psychologist and author, Rosenberg developed the theory and practice of nonviolent communication, a process of resolving conflict in relationships. It was her interest in human behavior that led to her master’s and PhD in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan in 1995.

At first, James sought a job in the corporate and consulting world, until her dissertation advisor suggested that she try working as a professor for a year, a reason why she has referred to herself as an “accidental academic.” Her first teaching job was at Tulane University where she taught evening MBA students, many of whom worked in the oil industry. Several of her students at the time were employed by an oil concern that was going through a major class-action suit over racial discrimination. “What I learned from teaching and working with those students is that their organization was really experiencing a crisis,” she recalls in a video. It led her to combine her academic specialty in human behavior with the study of crisis management, two areas that defined her early academic pursuits.

In 1998, she joined Emory’s Goizueta Business School as an assistant professor, teaching the core organization behavior class to undergraduate students. James left Emory in 2001 for Darden after getting married to Jimmie James, then an Exxon-Mobil executive, so she could be closer to her husband. After he was transferred to the company’s Washington, D.C. office, they moved to Northern Virginia, with James commuting two hours each way to Darden for the next three years. At Darden, she taught MBA students the core leadership class, created a second-year elective on Crisis Leadership, and did academic research in workplace diversity and crisis leadership. She worked at Darden for the next 13 years, with the exception of a one-year leave in 2008 to teach at Harvard Business School. When named dean of Emory’s Goizueta in 2014, she became the first African-American woman to lead a top 25 business school.


Garrett’s departure from Wharton was a bit unexpected. After completing a five-year term, Garrett was set to begin another before announcing he’d leave the school for Southern California last June. Garrett steps into a bit of an awkward situation in Los Angeles, where former Marshall Dean Jim Ellis was forced out by USC President Wanda Austin and Provost Michael Quick after allegedly mishandling multiple complaints of gender and racial bias at the school. Ellis, who was highly popular among faculty at Marshall, vigorously denied the allegations and many supporters petitioned the school to reconsider.

“Wharton has risen to even greater heights throughout Geoff’s enormously successful six-year tenure, reinforcing all of its traditional strengths while also building its global force in data analytics, entrepreneurship, fintech, behavioral economics, and other fields that are defining the future of business,” Gutmann said in the school’s announcement.

Either way, Wharton has snagged one of the industry’s most exciting young, up-and-coming deans. As stated above, James and Goizueta have been punching above their weight. With the resources of a school like Wharton, James could do some very innovative things.

“This is an exciting time to be in business education,” James said. “The scope and platform of the Wharton School provides an opportunity to create far-reaching impact for students, scholars, and the business community.”

James’ husband, who made history last year playing Golf Digest’s list of the top 100 golf courses in a single year after retiring from a near 30-year career at ExxonMobil, celebrated his wife’s achievement with a simple tweet: “Congratulations to the best wife of all times.”


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