Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison grew up with an insatiable curiosity and a dream to make the world a better place.
No surprise, then, that she ended up at Berkeley—first as a double major in history and economics and later, after receiving a PhD in economics from Princeton, as a professor in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics from 2001 until 2011. She then joined the World Bank as director of development policy and after that the Wharton School of Business, where she gained international acclaim for her research on foreign investment and multinational firms. On January 1, Harrison “came home” to Berkeley once more—this time to serve as the 15th dean of Berkeley Haas.
She recently spoke to BerkeleyHaas magazine about her early years on campus, her groundbreaking research, and her plans for strengthening Haas as a leader in 21st century business education.
What was your experience as a Cal undergrad?
Being a Berkeley student and growing up in the Bay Area pretty much shaped who I am today. I had an independent streak and had hiked all over California by the time I was in junior high. I remember campaigning door-to-door in support of a statewide ballot initiative to protect our coastline. When I came to Berkeley, I lived in a co-op on the North Side. I was—and still am—into modern dance and loved that I could take dance classes on campus from former stars with the Martha Graham company and go to Zellerbach Hall and see great performances. I wrote dance reviews for the Daily Cal and was elected to the ASUC senate.
How did you get interested in economics?
I started off as a history major with a plan to go to law school. But then I took economics and loved it. One day I saw a posting for someone to do the grading for Econ 101A and the professor, Leo Simon, hired me—although he was taking a bit of a risk since I was an undergraduate. He became my mentor and convinced me to get a PhD. He really changed my life. After college I became a health economist at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. It opened my world to the power of data. Kaiser had millions of members, and I would stay in the office until 10:00 p.m., just analyzing the data.
How did your time at the World Bank shape you as a leader?
It taught me diplomacy, patience, and how people can do amazing things when they have the will to work together. After the financial crisis a decade ago, the bank’s lending tripled but its overall budget stayed flat. So, there was a lot of competition internally for fewer resources. The different parts of the bank were able to overcome that because of the strong relationships between people.
You are a much-cited scholar in your field. What inspires your research?
As a trade economist, I’m interested in real-world questions and their policy implications. What I find most interesting are big-picture policy issues. During my first business trip to India in 1986, I was part of a team that helped the Indian government formulate policies to increase competition and reduce monopoly power. To be able to take part in a project that helps economies solve problems in real time is very satisfying.
The question I have been most obsessed with recently is whether rising international competition has led to job losses and stagnating wages for the American worker—and whether free-trade economists miscalculated the costs of globalization or whether trade is just a scapegoat. I’ve concluded through my research that China is not the culprit. The cause of all those job losses is automation. The Factory-Free Economy, a book I co-edited with French economist Lionel Fontagné, looks at what will happen to high-income economies when many tasks become automated and jobs that used to exist are done by machines.
Read the full interview here.