This summer Dana Brown marked her first year as Dean of the Sprott School of Business. So, we sat down with her and discussed the year that went by and the one coming up ahead.

A picture of Dana Brown.

Dana Brown reflected upon her first year at the Sprott School of Business and said that the COVID-19 pandemic helped her realize the strength and resilience of the Sprott community.

1) You’ve certainly had quite an interesting first year as the Dean of Sprott. What was the experience like?

It’s been a great experience. It’s been pretty much everything I hoped it would be, with the exception of a global pandemic. Everything since March has certainly been unusual and a great surprise, but I think the experience we’ve had during this period of crisis has really confirmed for me the strength of our community at Sprott and our ability to pull together and do the right thing for our students and our stakeholders when we need to.

The most challenging part of the year for me was being far away from family, friends and my professional network. Distances seemed greater when I could no longer jump on an airplane. Fortunately, I have found the Sprott community to be warm and welcoming, which has greatly helped my transition. I worked hard this year to develop my network in Ottawa as well, and especially to start to forge new ties between Sprott and the local business community, non-profit and government organizations.

2) What did you learn about the Sprott community through this year?

A lot of good things really. We have a really strong culture of mutual support and wellness within the faculty. All of us who work at Sprott and our students have faced new challenges and stresses as a result of COVID and other world events. I have witnessed us pulling together to help our students and one another to get through this. There is a ‘we need to get something done so let’s figure it out together’ mentality here. We are understanding of one another and stand in for each other when it is necessary. I think we are very fortunate to have an extremely supportive environment at Sprott.

We also have a very diverse and exciting environment; the people at Sprott have a lot of different experiences and skills they bring to the table. This is a very professional business school in every sense of the word – and I’m not just talking about our wonderful faculty and their research profiles, but also about our staff and the profiles they bring to their work. We are extremely lucky to have this much talent in one place. So, one of the other things I’ve learned this year is that we have everything we need to continue to be successful and to thrive, even during a very challenging time.

That’s my ambition for the school: that we leverage our talents and strong, people-focused culture to adapt to and shape the future.

3) What is one thing you would say you’re the proudest of after this first year?

I’m proudest of everything we did during the COVID-19 crisis, and our ability to transition very quickly to adjust to a new environment. That would be number one. Also, I’m really pleased that over this year we finished our strategic planning and that we did so in a way that was highly consultative, brought in a lot of viewpoints and just felt really right – we went in the right direction. I’m also proud of all the external connections we’ve built for the school over this past year. We’ve spent quite a lot of our time and energy reaching out locally, nationally, internationally to businesses, other business schools, global partners – so we have really expanded the network of relationships the school has as a whole. We can now leverage these relationships mostly for the benefit of the students – for example for employment opportunities, or for projects for students to partake in.

This was all possible because we have a great team, which is working so hard and so well, and we are all aligned in what we are doing.

A picture of Dana Brown with her husband and three daughters in front of a lake.

Along with Sprott’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic the things Dana is proudest of at the end of her first year are the completion of the school’s strategic plan and the external connections which it has been able to forge.

4) With everything that has happened around the country and the world this year, were your priorities for the school affected? Did it have an impact on the direction the school could and should head in?

In many ways, the events of 2020 solidified and deepened the priorities I had for the school when I came in. One of them was for us to move in the direction of teaching our students to be more critical about the purpose and potential impact of business, and to start to integrate a much greater awareness of the issues around responsible leadership, environmental sustainability and inclusivity into our curriculum and research. These were high priorities for me but there was still a sense, prior to COVID, of ‘we’ll get there’, ‘okay, but…’, ‘do we really need to be pushing so far in this direction’. But since March a lot of peoples’ perspectives have changed; they are a lot more aware of the consequences of the global economy and some of the choices that we’ve made as business leaders, business schools, citizens over the years – and are willing to be a lot more critical of their perspective in these matters. These topics are starting to resonate a lot more. So, all of this has kind of pushed these priorities ahead and it’s allowed me to bring many more of our stakeholders on board.

Likewise, for the issue of inclusion. It was a priority in the past, but now more people realize that a truly inclusive environment is not just nice to have, but is actually critical to success. We need talented individuals to thrive, their ideas to be heard and acted upon at every level of our businesses and organizations.

The other thing I would say, is that one way our priorities kind of shifted or were further embedded was in understanding our relationship to the local business community. There’s always a kind of debate within business schools – ‘are we local or are we global?’. And, I’ve always said they can be both. You can have a global perspective and a global network but still be highly relevant to your local business community. We always teach our students when they’re thinking about building an international business, that first they should achieve success in their local environment. We really needed to reach out to our local business community and start to forge greater partnerships. When COVID hit the need of businesses became starker and we immediately started reaching out and working with the local business community. This has now pushed us in a direction where this will remain a priority for us where we want to be a resource for the local business community.

Dana Brown with her daughter.

The events of 2020 helped solidify and deepen the priorities Dana had for the school, such as teaching students to be more critical about the purpose and potential impact of business and integrating a greater awareness of responsible leadership, environmental sustainability and inclusivity into Sprott’s work.

5) What are some of the things you are most excited for this coming year?

I’m excited about so many things. It has been and will continue to be a difficult year for so many people, but I’m an eternal optimist and I see potential to make many things better than before. I empathize with everything that people are juggling and I am particularly aware of the issues that professionals who have primary family responsibilities are facing. It is not only the practical elements of having kids at home or taking care of elderly parents; it is also managing new emotions and fears in yourself and those you care for.

I believe that we can take the experiences we’ve had and build on them to really make some significant changes in our priorities and in the way that resources are used in our societies to be more equitable and solve some of the social problems that have plagued us for a long time.

On an individual level, our experiences this year are making us more self-aware and honest with ourselves. We have all had to think about our priorities, as professionals, as consumers, family members and citizens. This is bound to have a cumulative impact on the choices we make going forward.  As managers of people and colleagues, we have had to listen to one another on a deeper level, which has often given us more appreciation and understanding of each other. This will likely have a long term effect on how we work and relate to one another at work, creating opportunities for greater workplace wellness and job satisfaction.

I think the year ahead, for the whole world, will be a very interesting one. The year ahead, for Sprott, will be quite amazing. We’re going to roll out our strategic plan, we’re in the process of rebranding, we’re going to open our new building and hopefully return to campus in it, and we’re going to be a slightly different school when we emerge from this crisis. What we had to do in order to shift our classes online, for example, wasn’t just about taking what we do and putting it in a different format – there was quite a lot of deep reflection on behalf of our faculty and instructors about how they teach, how they reach students, how they engage students, their pedagogy, their topics. We’ve had some very big and constructive conversations here in the school, and I think all of this has yielded a stronger curriculum across the piece. I think in the year ahead it is going to be really exciting how students engage with some of these changes and we are also planning a lot of longer-term curriculum reforms which will also be exciting to watch unfold.

I am excited to watch us become a real leader amongst business schools in terms of the creativity in our teaching and the experiential opportunities we are building for our students.

And, another thing, again building on the foundations of what’s happened over the past few months is that our research productivity has been super high, and we’ve won all sorts of grants and awards. A lot of research we were doing touched on areas that are really relevant to companies right now, particularly in the areas of inclusion, work-life balance, transformational change, technology innovation – these are areas that are important topics right now. I imagine we’re going to see a continued acceleration of our research outputs and reputation in that area.

It’s going to be a challenging but good year, as long as we continue to help one another through it.

6) If you were to send a message to Sprott’s students, faculty and staff as the new, rather different, school year is about to start, what would it be?

It’s a typical line which everyone is using, but I do want to say that we are all in this together. Be kind and understanding to one another; most people are trying to do the right thing. We’re all in a new world, with everyone struggling with new technologies, new ways of interacting, new ways of supporting one another – but when our hearts are in the right place, we can achieve anything together.

A picture of Dana Brown with her husband and three daughters wearing masks and standing in an art gallery.

As we move forward in this new normal, Dana is ready for Sprott to become a real leader amongst business schools in terms of creativity in teaching and experiential opportunities available for its students.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 in
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