12 Inspiring Female B-School Deans Share Leadership Lessons


Maryam Alavi, dean of the Scheller College of Business.


Dean Maryam Alavi

Georgia Tech, Scheller College of Business

“Take more risks professionally early on in your career!”

Where you’re from/place of origin:


Where you previously studied: 

The Ohio State University

Previous roles:

Faculty, Department Chair, Vice Dean, and now Dean

How has your business school adapted to the Covid-19 crisis, & what initiatives and innovations have you implemented?

At the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we moved all courses and student services online and have since been increasing the quality and breadth of our hybrid and online learning options. We also moved some of our popular non-degree short corporate programs to an online format, and are in the process of planning online certificate and degree programs. 

We have remained creative in our approach to student career success. All of our career services, including qualifying and practice interviews and career fair simulations to prepare students for the national career fairs, are being offered virtually. We have sponsored regular career development workshops featuring recruiters from employer partners advising students on how to present their best selves virtually. The average placement of our 2020 business graduates (at both graduate and undergraduate levels) three months after graduation was over 90%. 

Shortly before the start of the pandemic, we became the newest site for the global Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) network. CDL offers objectives-based programs for massively scalable science- and tech-based companies. Our MBA students engaged with CDL-Atlanta through a practicum course that allowed them to work directly with tech companies, creating public health and economic recovery solutions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Another innovation at Scheller College during the pandemic was the creation of the Georgia Tech Covid-19 Economic Research website. This site documents the far-ranging effects of the virus on the health and well-being of the statewide economy and its residents. Included are descriptions of the effect of the pandemic on multiple sectors of the state of Georgia economy. This data is updated regularly, daily in some cases, to provide state residents and other interested parties with the knowledge to facilitate understanding and decision making in the current and post-Covid-19 environment. 

What do you feel are the most important skills needed for managing a business school through a crisis?

  • Agility and flexibility
  • Transparent, clear, and frequent communication – It is important to tell affected personnel and stakeholders what you know and when you know it, using a variety of communication channels including interactive forums (e.g., small group meetings and town halls) that invite questions and discussion.
  • Listening to better understand the needs and concerns of those affected. 
  • Showing empathy, offering options and encouragement, and suggesting ways that individuals can help themselves and others through the crisis. Creating a sense of community and being ‘in this together’ is beneficial to morale and state of mind during a crisis.
  • Developing plans to effectively and swiftly solve the problem and address the crisis, and then sharing those plans with various stakeholders. 

How has your career helped to shape your leadership capabilities, and your priorities for your role as Dean? Can you share an anecdote about a previous instance/moment in your career that you feel has left a lasting impact on you?

There are many definitions for leadership. One that resonates strongly with me is given by John Quincy Adams (the 6th President of the U.S.). He said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

I believe that my career in Higher Ed and my role as an educator have provided me with opportunities to inspire my students to dream, do, learn, and become more. These opportunities and activities have shaped my leadership capabilities and my priorities as Dean.

The instance that I feel has left a lasting impact on me was when I stood in front of a very large undergraduate class to teach for the first time as a graduate student. I realized in that moment the responsibility and potential impact we, as educators, have on our students.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for business education in the coming years and what is your business school strategy to tackle this?

Both a challenge and an opportunity is the rapidly increasing pace of change in business and society. By anticipating change and understanding its drivers while developing our students to learn “how to learn”, business schools can remain relevant and in-demand. Our strategy at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business is to develop principled business leaders who have an entrepreneurial mindset, are tech-savvy, and are focused on value creation for stakeholders and improving the human condition. 

What would you say is your biggest achievement in your career so far?

Working with and for hundreds of students and helping them to develop their potential.

If you could give one life lesson/piece of advice to your younger self/young female leaders, what would it be?

Take more risks professionally early on in your career!

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