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Marianne Lewis is the new dean of Cass Business School at City University. Currently associate dean at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business, she will move to London this summer to initially work alongside the current dean of Cass Steve Haberman.

Prof Lewis has more than 20 years’ experience in international business research and education. She grew up in academia as her father taught at Harvard, Stanford and Insead, and studied for a PhD at the University of Kentucky. She also has an MBA from Indiana University.

1. Who are your business influences?

My longest standing and most integral influence is my father Steven Wheelwright, who just stepped down as president of Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Before that he was senior associate dean of Harvard Business School. He has always stressed leading with integrity and authenticity.

Next is Nancy Zimpher, who served as president of the University of Cincinnati when I began as associate dean there and is now president of the largest university system in the US: SUNY. Upon arrival at UC, Nancy demonstrated the power of bold vision and collaboration. The result was an innovative strategic plan that transformed the university.

2. When did you know you wanted to be dean of a business school?

I decided very early in my academic career that while I loved research and teaching, it was their strategic integration that was most fascinating. When an associate dean role opened, I jumped at it. Fellow faculty members called me crazy. They said it was too early as I had not yet been promoted or tenured, and that my research career would end. But I viewed the dean role as the ultimate means of fuelling academic synergies.

3. Why did you choose to join Cass?

The energy and momentum of Cass were highly attractive to me. The faculty, administrators and community supporters that I met exuded commitment — to their work, to student learning, to London and to the business world. Such dedication has positioned Cass for even greater global impact.

4. What is your worst business decision?

My worst decisions came in my first years as an associate dean. I tried to do far too much. Faculty and staff had incredibly creative, untapped ideas and I was determined to empower them all. The results of many were remarkable but some failed. More importantly, the overarching impact was innovation burnout. I learnt the hard way the need for discipline, as well as creativity, to harness energy and focus on those opportunities most closely aligned to our vision.

5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

In my early years as an academic, I won the Academy of Management Review Best Paper award for my research on managing organisational paradoxes. That honour and that article changed my career and my life. Researchers from around the world started [contacting] me and my network and collaborations grew rapidly, particularly in England and across Europe.

6. How do you deal with male dominated environments?

Thanks to wonderful mentors, most of them male, pushing, empowering and cheering me on, I have rarely felt limited by my gender. A few years ago, however, I realised that our male-female student ratio was becoming shockingly lopsided. It was a wake-up call. Through focus groups it became clear that many young women had not had such support. As a rapid response, my dean at Cincinnati, David Szymanski, helped me launch the Lindner Women in Business network. As I reached out to Cincinnati executives, the response was remarkable. Women’s initiatives across major firms opened their arms, welcoming students to join their events.

7. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Nothing great is achieved alone. In looking back at my greatest achievements, I’ve had wonderful teammates. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a management professor, and have had my share of team challenges, so know well the down as well as up sides of teamwork. But bold visions can help connect people’s passions, harnessing our collective energy, while targets, deadlines and metrics keep us focused and moving forward.

8. What is your favourite business book?

I often pick up The Empty Raincoat: Making sense of the future by Charles Handy. Handy is more of a philosopher than a typical ‘business guru.’ His insights shifted my view of management from solving problems to coping with paradox. As he explains, while competing yet complementary demands are perplexing and pervasive, they are also predictable. Indeed, the foreword to his book is now part of my own experience and beliefs:

“There are never any simple or right answers . . . I used to think there were, or could be. I now see paradoxes everywhere I look. Every coin, I now realise, has at least two sides, but there are pathways through paradoxes, if we can understand what is happening and are prepared to be different.”

9. What are your top tips for networking?

I am intensely introvert by nature. My students laugh when I say that because I am very high energy. But early in my career, when pushed into a cocktail crowd to ‘network’, I felt paralysed. What I have learnt, however, is that finding common passions makes conversations enjoyable, follow-up natural and networks sustainable. Most of my networks, whether social or professional, tap into my love of student learning, leadership development and/or exploration.

10. What is your plan B?

I would be a writer. I love to write and greatly admire the experts. Unfortunately, I am painfully slow and tend towards the philosophical, needing large stretches of uninterrupted time to express myself. Last fall, I was blessed to have three months in London as a UK Fulbright. I just wrote and wrote and wrote. My kids joked that I could be the JK Rowling of business.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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