The news made national headlines in late February: Erika H. James was named the next dean of the Wharton School, effective July 1. The historic announcement by University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett made James the first woman and first person of color to lead Wharton in its 139-year history.

“Erika is an award-winning scholar and teacher and a strong, proven leader who serves as dean of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University,” said Gutmann. “A passionate and visible champion of the power of business and business education to positively transform communities locally, nationally, and globally, she is exceptionally well prepared to lead Wharton into the next exciting chapter of its storied history.”

James’s career has been notable for her commitment to meaningful cross-disciplinary collaboration, superb scholarship, passionate teaching, and excellence through diversity and inclusion. After becoming Goizueta’s dean in 2014, she led the effort to build an innovation and entrepreneurship lab for all students on campus. She grew the Goizueta faculty 25 percent in her first term, recruiting in key academic areas such as behavioral and decision- based research, business analytics, and healthcare innovation. James was awarded the Earl Hill Jr. Faculty Achievement and Diversity Award from The Consortium, an organization committed to increasing diversity in business, and was named one of the “Top 10 Women of Power in Education” by Black Enterprise and one of the “Power 100” by Ebony.

“I’m looking forward to learning from alumni who have been pivotal in so many sectors,” James said.

Speaking with Wharton Magazine after the announcement, James stressed that a dean can’t lead alone. “Only with a committed team and a clear purpose can we expect to achieve extraordinary outcomes,” she said. “I’ve learned that talent lives everywhere and comes in all kinds of packages.” James works to “showcase value in people even when their strengths or contributions are not being realized in their current role or position.”

James’s appointment sparked excitement across campus and throughout the global Wharton community. It’s a feeling that’s mutual, James said: “Since I am an academic, it’s probably not surprising that I am intellectually curious. I am excited to learn how Wharton engages its immediate university and community environment, and to explore how my experiences and leadership proclivities can contribute to creating opportunities in these new contexts. I am also looking forward to learning from a new set of faculty colleagues and alumni who have been pivotal in so many sectors of society around the world. Finally, I am eager to connect with the Wharton students, to understand their passions and academic interests, and to help shape the next generation of leaders.”

 

Published as “Introducing Wharton’s New Dean” in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of  Wharton Magazine.