Last week, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania announced that Erika James, the current dean of Emory University's business school, would become the new dean in July 2020.
James shared the news of her new position on LinkedIn, commenting that the "scope and platform of the Wharton School provides an opportunity to create far-reaching impacts for students, scholars, and the business community."
James will be the first woman and person of color to lead the 139-year-old prestigious institution.
James will succeed Geoff Garrett, who has taken a position as dean of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.
James was born in Bermuda and moved to the US when she was young. In the US she lived in St. Louis and then in Texas, where she eventually graduated from high school.
James studied psychology at Pomona College in Claremont, California as an undergraduate and later received her master's and Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan.
Though she studied diversity in the workplace as a graduate student, James discovered her academic focus, the intersection of crisis leadership and workplace diversity, during her first teaching job at Tulane University.
While teaching an evening class of MBA students, a prominent oil company was in the middle of a major class-action race discrimination lawsuit. By coincidence, many of her students were employees at that company.
During class discussions about the lawsuit, James recognized that her personal interest in diversity applied to larger challenges that organizations were facing in adjusting to a new, more diverse environment.
This led her to focus on issues of crisis leadership and workplace diversity, and often, where the two intersect. Some of her published papers include: "How to Display Competence in Times of Crisis," and "Diversity Crises: How Firms Manage Discrimination Lawsuits."
James was a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business between 2001 and 2012, as well as a visiting associate professor at Harvard Business School for a year, according to her LinkedIn profile.
In 2014, James became dean of Emory University's Goizueta Business School, the 21st best business school in the country, according to a U.S. News & World Report ranking.
While at Goizueta, James grew the faculty size by 25% in her first term, spearheaded an initiative to build an innovation and entrepreneurship lab, and also led workshops on unconscious bias for students and professors.
During James' almost six years of leadership as dean, Goizueta continued to improve student career success and diversity. The business school reports that it has one of the most gender-diverse faculties with a 25-34% female population, as of May 2019.
James describes herself as a "virtue capitalist," which means that she believes that business can benefit both industry and society.
Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, said that Erika's interdisciplinary outlook and focus on how business education can benefit communities makes her "exceptionally well-prepared to lead Wharton into the next exciting chapter of its storied history."
The Wharton School, founded in 1881, has over 235 faculty members and 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Some of its notable alumni include Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Sundar Pichai, and Donald Trump.