Erika James Becomes the First Black Woman to Lead a Top MBA Program

Erika James
Photograph by Jim Carpenter

Emory University’s Goizueta Business School named Erika James dean yesterday, marking the first time a top 25 MBA program has put a black woman in its top leadership position, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

James, who will start work on July 15, currently serves as senior associate dean at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where she oversees the school’s executive education programs. She has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan and has done scholarly work on crisis leadership. In 2008, James was named Darden’s first associate dean of diversity, charged with creating a more inclusive environment for students, staff, and faculty.

“Erika James has all of the qualities that we want for a leader at Goizueta,” says Emory Provost Claire Sterk in a statement. “She brings a background of impressive scholarship and strong skills in academic administration, and she will work collaboratively with faculty, students, staff, alumni and supporters to take the school to the next level.”

Data on the number of black MBA candidates is difficult to come by. A study conducted in 1960, nine years before Harvard Business School awarded an MBA to a black woman for the first time, found that less than half a percent of the nation’s 12,000 MBA students were black. In 2005, a survey of 24 top business schools showed that 4.4 percent were black, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Besides Goizueta, at least three other schools have black female deans, according to Amy Ponzillo, a spokeswoman for the AACSB: the University of Louisville’s College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business, and Columbus State University’s D. Abbott Turner College of Business. None of those schools were included in Bloomberg Businessweek’s most recent rankings of top full-time MBA programs.

James replaces Maryam Alavi, interim dean, who is moving into the top spot at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Goizueta’s last permanent dean, Larry Benveniste, stepped down last year after eight years in the job.

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