12 Inspiring Female B-School Deans Share Leadership Lessons

Ann Harrison, dean of UC-Berkeley’s Hall School of Business

Ann E. Harrison

UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“The pandemic has taught us that we can do much more online than we thought possible”

Where you’re from/place of origin:

I was born in France and raised in California from the age of 2.

Where you previously studied: 

I earned my bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley (as a double major in economics and history) and a PhD in economics from Princeton University. Also, I hold a DEUG (diplôme d’études universitaires générales) from the University of Paris.

Previous roles:

I’m an economist who has dedicated her career to creating inclusive and sustainable policies in development economics, international trade, and global labor markets.

I came to Haas from the Wharton School, where I was the William H. Wurster Professor of Multinational Management and Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy. Before joining Wharton in 2012, I was the director of development policy at the World Bank, where I co-managed a team of 300 researchers and staff. I also served as a professor in Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics between 2001 and 2011.

I’ve written dozens of journal articles and am the editor of three books, including Globalization and Poverty and The Factory-Free Economy: Outsourcing, Servitization, and the Future of Industry. Previously, I held teaching positions at Columbia Business School, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the University of Paris.

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

Berkeley Haas transitioned to all remote teaching within 48 hours in March of 2020. We had talked about virtual programming for years, and realized that we had the ability to implement it—if we put our will to it. For most faculty and staff, the summer of 2020 involved reimagining courses and implementing technology improvements to prepare for fall. The challenges of COVID-19 led us to invest in significant technology upgrades, new virtual classrooms, and faculty training for an improved remote experience.

As part of the Berkeley campus recovery plan, Haas was one of five campus pilots that tested limited in-person, on-campus activities outdoors for select graduate programs between October 26 and November 22.  Students who were invited by their program office to attend an in-person activity followed strict safety guidelines. We were pleased that the measures worked and we have experienced zero COVID-19 cases at Berkeley Haas. Throughout this process we aligned our actions and decisions with three guidelines:

#1 Putting the health and safety of our community first

#2 Making our remote instruction as engaging as possible

#3 Emerging from this pandemic stronger

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

No dean has ever experienced anything like what we are going through right now. To manage effectively, we’ve relied on three critical skills: leadership, problem solving, and emotional intelligence. Leadership comes first, because messaging during a crisis comes from the top and must be informed, thoughtful, strategic, and concise, paving the way for others to follow. Problem solving has been integral for our leadership team since the pandemic began and we were forced each day to solve new issues that cropped up as we switched from in-person to virtual classrooms. The challenges that followed—from helping international students return to Berkeley to bringing some students to campus for in-person activities—could not have been tackled without strong problem-solving skills.

Finally, with so much uncertainty, emotional intelligence has helped us to communicate effectively and often with diverse groups. We listen to people’s concerns and fears with empathy, and collaborate to achieve our goals. As leaders, we must show that we are listening and responding and that we value the physical and mental health and overall well-being of our community, as well as the value of the education we are providing.

We have a very strong and distinctive culture at Haas that has helped us navigate this unprecedented environment. While this is not a skill per se, it’s a muscle that we exercise every day. It is especially during these troubled times that we need to double down on practicing principled leadership. And this has been such a leadership moment.

How has your career helped to shape your leadership capabilities, and your priorities for your role as Dean? 

My career includes years of teaching at top institutions, which gave me insight into how different business schools are run—what makes them alike and sets them apart. At the World Bank, I was a leader who, in addition to setting direction and managing my staff, reformed the organization’s process for allocating research funds and convinced its president to release all historical records on project loans, a milestone in increasing transparency.

My long-term priorities for Haas are to put us at the heart of what’s next. That means elevating the school in three areas: innovation, inclusion, and sustainability.

When I arrived, I wanted to focus on taking advantage of our amazing Bay Area location and our proximity to startups and technology pioneers. That California spirit of innovation informs all that we do and we’re deepening that commitment by hiring more faculty for our entrepreneurship & innovation faculty group and creating a new hub for entrepreneurship.

DEI was a priority for me before I even set foot on campus. We are striving to create a true sense of belonging for all students, staff, and faculty of all perspectives and backgrounds. We’ve also doubled the number of underrepresented minority students in our full-time MBA program, increased scholarships, hired a chief DEI officer, and changed our admissions criteria to emphasize diversity goals. Fifty percent of our recent faculty hires have been women.

We have also diversified the Haas Board. Creating an inclusive environment where all Berkeley Haas community members feel comfortable sharing their opinions and showing up as their authentic selves is critical to me.

In sustainability, we’re working to expand our efforts to become a true leader. This year’s climate change events have shown that creating a sustainable economy is a matter of saving lives, preventing widespread food insecurity, reducing poverty, and retooling the economy. As a business school, especially Berkeley’s business school, we have a responsibility to facilitate the research and to develop the future business leaders to address these challenges.

Last September, I hired our first executive director of sustainability programs. She is working with faculty to infuse our core and elective curriculum with sustainability concepts across different disciplines. We also launched a new certificate in sustainable business in spring 2021 and are creating a concurrent MBA/master’s degree in sustainability with Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources.

So, in addition to teaching the tools our graduates need to thrive in any business industry or function or their choosing, we foster the know-how and mindset that allows them to apply the lens of innovation, inclusion, and sustainability to their post-MBA careers—whether they go into consulting, tech, finance, healthcare, or become entrepreneurs.

Can you share an anecdote about a previous instance/moment in your career that you feel has left a lasting impact on you?

When I first became a leader at the World Bank, I failed to realize how important it is to lead through influence rather than leading through position. That was an important lesson that I have brought to my leadership at Haas.

We also have a strong tradition of shared governance at Haas, which has been a pleasure to be part of. Our senior leadership, staff, and faculty are highly principled and skilled individuals who have truly made my job a pleasure. My role is to help them be the best version of themselves.

 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?

We are in a time of creative and disruptive innovation as universities and other providers experiment with new formats, including online degree programs and just-in-time education models. A lot of universities will not make it through the current pandemic crisis, and those that do make it will radically transform their offerings.

The pandemic has taught us that we can do much more online than we thought possible and that some online instruction can be more effective for some students, who reap the benefits that are unique to remote learning. For example, we have found that some students who are shy in the classroom speak up online or can engage more deeply in small breakout sessions. We’ve also found that we can cast a wider net to draw MBA applicants who might not be able to commute to Haas or leave their home office to attend an MBA program. We are incorporating this new knowledge to reassess how we teach and the programs we offer. We must adapt.  We also know that the MBA is here to stay—and in fact we’ve seen increased interest in the degree.

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

My biggest achievement in my career has been leading the Haas School through this pandemic. We pivoted to remote education, balanced the budget, enrolled the largest classes in the history of the school, and expanded faculty hiring. Looking toward the future, we created an entrepreneurship group, embarked on creating a more diverse community, and are bringing a sustainability lens to both our teaching and our activities at Haas. Ensuring the safety of the community while expanding our programs—we just created two new admissions programs, added three new joint degree programs, and created a certificate in sustainability—has been an amazing experience.

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

I would tell young leaders not to be afraid to be assertive, to always make yourself heard, and to lean in. Reach out to others!  Help them! Recent Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley advises women to “walk in the room like you own it.”  Even more importantly, do not be afraid to fail and never give up. To quote Winston Churchill, “never, never, never give up.” Resilience is the key.


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