Joanne Lawrence is the global professor for corporate responsibility and social innovation at Hult International Business School, where she is keen to instill a sense of purpose, possibility and responsibility in the current and next generation of global leaders.
In her spare time, Prof Lawrence enjoys cycling, skiing, tennis and yoga and she recently finished co-editing a book called Global Responsible Leadership: Managing According to the UN Global Compact.
1. Who are your business influences/heroes?
At my first corporate job, a senior female executive – of the very few senior women executives at the time – provided a wonderful role model. I learned that things weren’t always fair and that women probably did have to work harder than men just to hold their positions and stay in place, let alone get ahead. But she managed it all with dignity and grace and was very kind and generous with her insight. It was then that I made the conscious decision to ‘pay it forward’: to help mentor other young women as my own career progressed.
2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
The students – watching as they ‘get’ it. There are some you immediately connect with and it is a joy to watch as they integrate what they are hearing in the classroom into their own experiences. I love it when I get a question a few days later that shows they have been thinking; mulling over some of the issues we have raised in class. It is reaffirming.
3. Do you have a teaching routine?
Generally, we start with considering what’s in the news that relates to our topic: it is amazing how much there is! We then go through some principles to create some context, which I illustrate in practice through real examples and personal experiences. I try to have a guest speaker who can bring to life the issues we are addressing or an in-class assignment that gets students to experience first-hand what we are discussing. Finally, I like to ask questions that do not have defined answers but really gets students to think.
4. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when teaching?
Asking my students in a social innovation class to create a business using an aluminium can. I think they thought it was pretty strange too, but their solutions were very clever! I think they amazed themselves – which was the idea behind the assignment!
5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
My MBA from Stern. Having been a liberal arts undergraduate, it seemed daunting at the time, even more so since I went to NYU at night while working full time at a Fortune 500 company. In the end, I was the commencement speaker at my campus.
6. What is the worst job you have ever had?
In my corporate career, the worst was working in a job for a year even though I realised that the job was wrong 10 minutes after I walked in. It was a great company, just not the right one for me. It was too bureaucratic at the time, too staid. I felt stifled. The lesson learned from that experience is one I pass on to students: choose your environment well. If it doesn’t feel right and you are not comfortable, then it probably isn’t the right place for you.
7. What advice would you give to women in business?
I have summarised my beliefs into what I call the five E’s to success: continuously educate yourself, seek out what you don’t know, build on what you do and learn from everyone you meet.
Set high expectations for yourself and your team. All too often we stop short. I did it myself: I saw myself as head of the department, which I achieved, but not as head of an operating unit, or the company.
Pursue excellence – this is not to say be a perfectionist, but it does mean don’t settle for less than what you are capable of doing, or what you know your team can do.
Choose an environment where you can be yourself. In the right place, you will thrive. In the wrong place, you will slowly wither.
Be enthusiastic and enjoy the journey.
8. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
If it is male dominated, open and supportive, then with dignity, patience, humour (very important!) and grace; carrying a ‘soft stick’ rather than a big one. If it is male dominated but not open or supportive, then I would leave and seek somewhere that allowed me to thrive.
9. What is your favourite business book?
There are so many! And each was my favourite at the time I read it. But some classics that I still keep on my bookshelf are: Self-Renewal: The Individual and Society by John W Gardner; Jim Collins’ Built to Last, Sumantra Ghoshal and Chris Bartlett’s Managing Across Borders and The Art of Leadership by Max De Pree. More recently, it has been CK Prahalad’s Bottom of the Pyramid.
10. What is your life philosophy?
My favourite quote sums it up: “You are not here to merely make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision and a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand.” - Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the US and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke