12 Inspiring Female B-School Deans Share Leadership Lessons

Dean Karen Sedatole

Emory University Goizueta Business School

“Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself. Have confidence that you will discover within yourself the knowledge and intuition you need to meet the challenges you will face”

Where you’re from/place of origin:

I grew up in Pasadena, Texas (a suburb of Houston)

Where you previously studied: 

  • Baylor University, Waco, TX (BSE, Computer Engineering)
  • University of Texas, Austin, TX (MBA)
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI (PhD)
  • Previous roles:

Before joining academia, I worked as a systems consultant, designing and implementing various types of forecasting, budgeting, and decision support systems. I joined Goizueta as the Advisory Board Term Professor of Accounting in 2017 and was named interim dean in 2020. Prior to joining Goizueta, I served as the Russell E. Palmer Endowed Professor of Accounting at Michigan State University. I’ve also held academic appointments at the University of Texas at Austin and the Stephen F. Austin State University and visiting appointments at Monash University, University of Melbourne, Wake Forest University, and the University of California at Davis.

My research into the field of performance measurement and reward systems, the role of forecasting and budgetary systems within organizations, and control in interorganizational collaborations involves extensive corporate engagement and has enabled me to partner across industries – health care, tech, financial services, automotive, and more. I’ve worked with Disney, Amazon, Genuine Parts Company, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Microsoft, Cargill, and Marriott, to name a few companies.

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

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change how we work and learn, organizations like ours have had to adapt to provide the best for our students, staff, and faculty, but it’s also pushed us to re-evaluate our business models for a new reality. 

Like many other schools, over the past year, Goizueta faculty pivoted to virtual teaching and were quick to adopt many new interactive tools and applications, including virtual case discussions, breakout room technologies, virtual polling, and many others. We also set up virtual forums and discussion boards for faculty to exchange tips and ideas. Many of the activities and services we traditionally deliver in-person such as career treks to San Francisco and New York or recruiting or career managment events were delivered virtually and we saw greater participation by students and corporate partners.

In 2021, it’s not just the ability to adapt that’s key. It’s the ability to embrace change, identify opportunities, and help define the future. The time is now to explore the benefits and possibilities of digital learning and what it means for the future of teaching. The flexibility that digital learning tools provide is a perfect fit for busy working professionals, international students, and individuals who have responsibilities that prevent them from coming to campus.  

We’ve invested heavily in digital learning experiences and are launching next generation digital classrooms (Goizueta Global Classrooms) this spring, hologram technology, and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences. And now Goizueta is poised to take digital learning to the next level by providing business professionals with a true immersive, dynamic experience from anywhere in the world.  

Expected to be in use later this year, holograms will allow Goizueta to invite guest speakers from all over the world, appearing as if they are right in front of students. Holograms also would make “pop up” classrooms possible in locations around the world. This method is far less expensive than sending a faculty member into the client’s location, say in far-away places like Shanghai or Rome, for in-person instruction. In the long run, this technology is expected to increase flexibility for new programs and create unique opportunities for innovation. 

Additionally, gamification or the use of game-like virtual reality (VR) simulations can pave the way for immersive learning experiences without incurring the costs of associated travel and relying on external partners to create these learning experiences. In Goizueta’s current curriculum, students go to off-campus locations for experiential learning. With VR simulation, students can “travel” to locations while in the classroom and have the same type of immersive learning experience.  

While the pandemic has presented a number of challenges, we’re really pushing ourselves to embrace change and see the opportunity within it. Digital learning offers an opportunity to expand Goizueta’s reach globally, while continuing to offer the world-class educational experiences and opportunities our students have come to expect.  

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

I am coming at this question from the perspective of a newly appointed interim dean. For me, the most critical component of managing the business school through crisis was to quickly build the trust of the leadership team and the broader community. Key to this was signaling my desire to be transparent and then following through with that transparency.

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?

I have spent my career as a research faculty member. Stepping into this leadership role was a transformational experience for me. My priorities shifted from a focus on my own scholarly community, to a focus on my school and university community.

As a faculty member engaged in critical evaluation of scholarly work (both as giver and receiver!), I constantly remind myself of a quote by editorialist and author Thomas Friedman that I find particularly meaningful, 

“There are two kinds of critics in life: those who criticize you because they want you to fail and those who criticize you because they want you to succeed.  And people can smell the difference a mile away.”

I carried this sentiment with me to the Dean’s office. It has helped me challenge myself to think about how I treat others, and remind me of the need to be humble and assume the best in others who criticize me.

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?

Students today demand more of their education and of their employers. They want purpose in their professional lives, and they want to work for an organization that is purpose-driven. At Goizueta, we build principled leaders ready to solve the biggest issues of our society. 

Earlier this month, as a reflection of our elevated commitment to social impact, we launched The Roberto C. Goizueta Business & Society Institute. The Institute’s goal is to transform business to solve society’s challenges through cutting-edge research, innovative programming, and principled leadership. The belief is that business and society can work collectively to address the challenges of inequality and climate change, two of the most pressing challenges facing both business and society today.

The Institute creates interdisciplinary study that explores the connections between business practices, market structures and social and environmental outcomes. For example, our Start: ME program offers an intensive 14-week business accelerator program to the most promising micro-entrepreneurs in underserved metro Atlanta communities, including business training, mentorship, and early-stage financing to develop their businesses. Through this initiative, we are working to create stronger communities in Atlanta and globally. 

Another area of opportunity both in business education and business itself is building a student body and workforce that fully reflects the broader society. Business schools can achieve this through partnerships and unique programming.

For example, late last year, Goizueta MBA student Willie Sullivan spearheaded a virtual business case competition to support companies in tackling racial inequality from within. Teams from across the country examined disparities in wealth, health and education, and created strategies for corporations to address racial injustice. At the finals of the John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition, MBA teams from Emory, Harvard, MIT, Yale, and the University of Southern California presented ideas to the event’s corporate partners including HP, Johnson & Johnson, Salesforce, Southern Company, Truist, and Walmart. I was so proud to see our students and partners coming together to push for critical change to strengthen business and communities alike.   

Finally, Goizueta places a huge value on innovation. We utilize our Executive Education courses as a testing ground for instructional innovation. Through our Experimentation Zone Fund and Innovation Fund, we also invest in innovative ideas for education and community engagement from faculty, students, and staff. We are innovating how we deliver programming as well. As mentioned above, Goizueta is poised to take digital learning to the next level by providing business professionals with a true immersive, dynamic experience from anywhere in the world.  

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

While I certainly have had success as a leader in my academic field, when I look back on my career, I think I will look on this time as my biggest career achievement. That I was chosen for this role means I gained the confidence of our faculty after only three years at Goizueta. I stepped into the role during a time of crisis and have thus far navigated it in a way that I’m proud of.

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

Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself. Have confidence that you will discover within yourself the knowledge and intuition you need to meet the challenges you will face, or that you will have the self-awareness to know when and from whom to seek advice. Either way, you will find a way to succeed, and while you should be grateful to those who helped you along the way, don’t forget to own your success.

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