Who Taught Wharton’s Business School Dean Some Important Life Lessons

In Personal Board of Directors, top business leaders talk about the people they turn to for advice, and how those people have shaped their perspective and helped them succeed. Previous installments from the series are here.

As a young Ph.D. student, Erika James wasn’t sure she wanted to work in academia. Three decades later, she sits atop one of the nation’s most prestigious business schools.

In 2020 Dr. James became dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, becoming the first woman and person of color to hold that post in Wharton’s 140-year history.

“What’s salient for me is the recognition that so many people are watching,” she says. “I want my life to have meant something, and if there are people who can feel inspired by what they’ve seen me do, then it really doesn’t get any better than that.”

Dr. James started in the footsteps of her parents. Her mother was an educator and her stepfather was a clinical psychologist, so when she went to college she majored in psychology. She was fascinated by human behavior, but realized early on that she wasn’t interested in the clinical track.

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