Erika H. James named first African-American, woman dean of U Penn’s Wharton School

Erika H. James (Photo from the Philadelphia Tribune).

By Ayana Jones

Erika H. James is bringing a passion for business education to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she will be the first African American and woman to lead the school in its 139-year history.

“It is humbling to be the first at the University of Pennsylvania in this role, but also invigorating and exciting,” James said in an interview with The Tribune.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the experiences that I’ve had as a woman, as a Black woman in particular, might translate or apply to some of the work that we do together in the Wharton community.”

Penn President Amy Gutmann said in a news release that she believes James is “exceptionally well prepared to lead Wharton.”

James, who is currently the dean of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, will begin her new role on July 1. She will succeed Geoff Garrett, who is to become dean of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

When she arrives on campus this summer, James will first focus on meeting faculty, staff, students and alumni and gaining their perspective on what it means to be part of the Wharton and Penn environment.

“It’s not until I have those conversations that I will glean enough insight to know strategically where there may be some opportunity to advance the school’s mission,” she said.

“As a dean, my job is always to ensure that I am creating an environment that allows students, faculty and staff and alumni to be their best and be the best ambassadors they can of the Wharton brand.”

James said this is an exciting time to be in business education.

“The scope and platform of the Wharton School provides an opportunity to create far reaching impact for students, scholars and the business community,” she said.

James was appointed to lead the Goizueta Business School in 2014. In the last few years, James has redesigned the undergraduate curriculum to incorporate immersive learning and technology. She also developed an innovation and entrepreneurship lab that’s open to all students on campus, and grew the Goizueta faculty by 25% by the end of her first term.

She has led faculty and student workshops on unconscious bias and building trust across divides, and been hired as a consultant by some of the country’s largest firms, Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett said in a news release.

Prior to her deanship at Emory, James was the senior associate dean for executive education at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. She has served as an assistant professor at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business and a visiting professor at Harvard Business School.

James is an active member of the SurveyMonkey Board and the Graduate Management Admissions Council and previously served on the board of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the foremost accrediting body in business education. James is also member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She has received awards for her work in increasing diversity in business.

The 50-year-old native of Bermuda grew up in Sherman, Texas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pomona College of the Claremont Colleges in California, and master’s and doctorate degrees in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.