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Barbara Kahn is professor of marketing and director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She rejoined the school last month, after having spent the previous three and a half years as dean of the University of Miami School of Business Administration.
A noted scholar, Prof Kahn has been published in top-tier journals including the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. She is also the co-author of the 1997 book, Grocery Revolution: The New Focus on the Consumer and has won numerous grants, academic and teaching awards.
Prof Kahn has a PhD in marketing and an MBA both from Columbia University and a BA in English literature from the University of Rochester.
Q1. What does it mean to be an academic?
Being an academic is the best job in the world. You get to work on research projects that you think are interesting and challenging. You can play an important role in influencing and mentoring bright young students. You are always surrounded by interesting, creative, intelligent people. And being around students keeps you young!
Q2. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
According to a 2008 Journal of Marketing paper I am the world’s seventh most published author of articles in the most prestigious marketing journals between 1982 and 2006 and I am the highest ranked woman on the list.
Q3. What is the best piece of advice a teacher gave you?
The best piece of advice I received came from my doctoral advisor, Don Morrison, at Columbia University. As a PhD student, I was intense, worked hard and found everything very stressful. I was particularly nervous about whether I would pass my comprehensive exams, my oral exams and whether I could write a good dissertation. My advisor told me to concentrate on the tasks at hand one at a time and not to worry about any particular future event until right before that specific event. Amazingly, it worked; knowing that I could “worry” at a specific controlled amount of time, allowed me to concentrate on what I had to do. I have since remembered that advice and any time I encounter a particularly stressful situation - it helps me approach things calmly and not engage in dysfunctional self-doubt or anxiety.
Q4. How do you deal with pressure?
Exercise. Membership in a gym is a priority for me.
Q5. What is the worst job you have ever had?
The worst job I ever had was a summer job I had in high school. I typed labels for a book club 40 hours a week.
Q6. What is the last book you read?
The last book I read was The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman.
Q7. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
One of the important lessons I learned happened shortly after I became dean at the University of Miami. The university’s president, Donna Shalala, who was secretary of health and human services under Bill Clinton, told me that while long-term strategy is critical for making a difference, it is also very important to have concrete immediate successes that visibly make a difference. For example, right after she arrived she noticed that the campus, while beautiful, did not have enough chairs and tables outside to encourage students to work and socialise on campus. She immediately ordered green lawn chairs and tables and soon after put a Starbucks on campus - both of which dramatically changed the look and feel of the campus by encouraging vibrant student activity. I think of this as the “green chair strategy,” and it reminds me that while long-term planning is critical, people are always looking for immediate changes.
Q8. What advice would you give to women in business?
Resilience is key. I’ve seen many women drop out as the environment became more challenging. These women may be happier with their life choices, I don’t judge that, but they may not have achieved the business success they would have otherwise.
Q9. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I find that respect follows from results.
Q10. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would try to be more flexible, earlier on in the process.