Paola Dubini
Paola Dubini: "I fight rarely, but when I fight I fight to win"

Paola Dubini is an associate professor in business administration at Università Bocconi in Italy, including SDA Bocconi School of Management. She is also director of the bachelor of economics and management in arts, culture and communication course, through which she is collaborating with several other universities in Milan to create the Interuniversity Centre for Gender Cultures. The centre aims to raise the issue of women’s representation and make demands for a greater recognition of feminine dignity.

Prof Dubini studied business at Bocconi and spent a few years doing part-time research internships at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She was also a visiting faculty member at New York University’s Stern School of Business and EMLyon Business School in France.

In her spare time, Prof Dubini enjoys hiking, travelling and collecting pop-up books.

1. Who are your business influences?

I remember the top manager of the biggest refrigerator factory in eastern Europe at the time of its acquisition by Electrolux as a truly charismatic person, able to work with his collaborators while supporting the turnround of the company after the acquisition. Good managers in cultural institutions are remarkably rare. Stéphane Lissner – general manager and artistic director of the opera house La Scala – for example, is another manager I have learnt to appreciate in his role, granting artistic excellence on the one hand and sustainability on the other.

2. When did you know you wanted to teach?

My mother was a university professor, she taught chemistry so I always had teaching as an option. But I really decided I wanted to pursue an academic career when I went to NYU as an exchange student and met Prof MacMillan, who was teaching a class on entrepreneurship. I was writing my thesis for Bocconi then. I asked for an appointment [with him] then asked him some extremely vague questions. He basically kicked me out of his office. The following day in class he mentioned he needed a research assistant and I volunteered. Working at his centre made me understand that was my professional life. I still fully enjoy it.

3. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Being with students, because it forces me to stay young inside and be forward looking. Being in academia, because I can satisfy my intellectual curiosity. There is always someone you wish you had time to go and listen to, a path to explore. I doubt I could have the same freedom in a company.

4. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

Having contributed to building a curriculum and set up a degree in management for the arts, culture and communication some 15 years ago, I am fortunate enough now to be the director of this programme and it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see that the intuition of leveraging the arts as a source of knowledge in a management curriculum was right and fruitful.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

A situation is not lost until the very last moment. If you think a cause is important you have to go for it until the very end. The fact that a battle is lost does not mean the war is lost. But of course this means that we are never humble enough. Sometimes we give up due to pride.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

I think this is a great moment for smart young women. But women need to work on their personal and professional life plan early on. So my advice is that it is never too early to go out and get whatever experience you feel you are prepared to take. And never underestimate your potential.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

I fight rarely, but when I fight I fight to win. And I am the type of person who does not like conflicts. I leverage on tenacity and on humour. Also, I try to find areas that are not particularly crowded and work there. The world is big and there are tons of interesting things to do.

8. What inspires you?

The beauty of a landscape or a monument inspires me. Being Italian, I think I am fortunate in this respect, because beauty soothes and Italy is beautiful in so many different ways. I think success is a long-term, multifaceted achievement. Family, career, social life, personal life need to be aligned for me to feel achievement is obtained. It is not easy but very rewarding.

9. How do you deal with pressure?

I become very task oriented and hyper-efficient. Normally it works.

10. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

Overall, I think I would do some specific things differently, particularly at early times in my career. I received some advice that proved very wise in the short term, but not in the long run; looking back I should have known. Yet, in spite of this, I think I got the fundamentals right: I chose a career I knew would fit with my personality and my wishes and over time I succeeded in working on incredible projects with people I like and respect deeply. More importantly, I made the perfect choice family-wise.

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