12 Inspiring Female B-School Deans Share Leadership Lessons

Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy

Dean Barbara Stöttinger

WU Executive Academy, Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna)

“Ask for what you want and don’t be surprised to get it! Be bold and courageous – now and not later”

Where you’re from/place of origin:

Originally, I come from the beautiful city of Linz, located by the Danube river in Upper Austria. In 1983, I moved to Vienna to study Business Administration at WU Vienna.

Where you previously studied:

After my master’s degree, I decided to go straight into doctoral studies, which I completed in 1994. After some years in business, I returned to WU Vienna and earned my post-doctoral qualification in international marketing in 2003.

Previous roles:

Before joining WU Vienna’s Institute for International Marketing Management, I worked in the marketing department of an international consumer goods manufacturer (consumer electronics) and as a consultant. As part of my research, I have spent considerable amounts of time in the USA and in Canada. Moreover, I have lectured on marketing and international marketing in Europe, Asia and North America for many years and won several teaching awards.
In 2007, I was instrumental in designing the new Professional MBA specialization Marketing & Sales of the WU Executive Academy and became its Academic Director in the same year.

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

Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, we at the WU Executive Academy have made every effort to continue to provide our participants with the smoothest and most valuable learning experience possible. Even during the first lockdown, we offered all modules virtually and brought various digital formats to the screens of our participants from all over the world. In parallel, we equipped all lecture halls with state-of-the-art IT and interactive multimedia equipment in just a few weeks, enabling true hybrid teaching. Currently, we are further developing this hybrid model: ahead of a module’s first on-site session, students will receive digital “nudges” in the shape of videos, quizzes, and tasks designed as challenges to introduce them to the respective topic. The goal is to combine the best of both worlds: This means, for instance, offering an online session on blockchain and then further exploring the topic in the next on-site session, where participants can share their personal experiences and things they already know in a live group discussion.

2020 was a very challenging time for most of the companies and their employees. These are exactly the challenges we had in mind when developing the topics and formats for our participants, but also for our corporate clients. In addition to areas such as innovation, leadership, strategy and change, we also put a special focus on leadership in times of crisis, coupled with a wide variety of aspects of digitalization.

Also, we have significantly expanded our portfolio in the area of online teaching. Besides multi-day programs on topics such as data governance, agile leadership or change management, we also offer digital game changer workshops or leadership and management training online. And, most recently, we have launched an innovative online program: the Professional Master Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Technology, which is based on a new didactic online concept and combines the best that digital teaching currently has to offer.

The focus of all of these programs is to not only address those issues that executives need to manage the short- and medium-term impact of the pandemic, but at the same time to equip them with methods and tools that they can immediately put into practice.

What do you feel are the most important skills needed for managing a business school through a crisis (couple of bullet points and why is fine)?

Well, not any different from running any other commercial enterprise. In times of crisis, leadership skills are crucial – giving your team the confidence that you control what you can control, communicate proactively what you cannot control and what requires your and their flexibility as well as planning in different scenarios. And of course compassion – showing that you sincerely care – to all your stakeholders, but your team in particular. Your team needs to know that you support them in every respect and appreciate them for going all these extra miles. We are in there together and we are all very much looking forward to a great party once everything is successfully completed!

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?

Good question – I think it has been solid education, preparation and training on the job. Ever since I started my career in academia, it had a strong interest in humans and how they “operate” across cultures – my field is international marketing – and my curiosity. Investigating consumer behavior, human behavior in general, has always greatly interested me and my curiosity has pushed me out of the comfort zone over and over again. So there is not one single moment I could name that made a lasting impact on me – but my curiosity and mission to make an impact myself – on the students at all levels who I have the pleasure to work with, on my team, etc – with what I do, what I can share and how I work.

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?

The speed of change, the volatility and half-life of knowledge and practical knowhow are extreme challenges not only for companies around the world. The same is true for us business schools. Digitization has triggered a development here that can no longer be stopped – the Corona crisis was yet another accelerant. Our task in the coming years will be not only to focus on those topics that will be needed to cope with the short- and medium-term effects of the pandemic, but also to read the trends correctly and thus remain relevant for our customers – both in terms of content, but also didactically. Only in this way can we accompany companies in recognizing and successfully exploiting the countless opportunities that are emerging as a result of the digital transformation. But that is precisely what constitutes the USP of a university – to provide knowledge at a level that goes beyond day-to-day practice.

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

Well, you would probably have to ask others to get a fair answer… I would say, how we are managing the effects of the COVID pandemic on our business – not me alone, but we as a team. It seemed impossible, until we got it done – in the past months and the months to come.

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

Ask for what you want and don’t be surprised to get it! Be bold and courageous – now and not later.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.