Professor Darren Dahl was appointed Dean of the UBC Sauder School of Business in June 2022. In addition to Dean, he is the Innovate BC Professor in the Marketing and Behavioural Science Division, and is affiliated with the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group.

When he arrived at UBC as a consumer behaviour PhD student in 1992, he could never have predicted his career trajectory which has seen him hold a number of roles including Senior Associate Dean, Faculty and Research; Senior Associate Dean, Faculty, and Director, Robert H. Lee Graduate School; and most recently, Senior Associate Dean – Special Projects (COVID Response). Professor Dahl has also received a number of awards including the Killam Research Award and a 3M Teaching Fellowship.

Q1. What quality do you most admire in a leader?

DD: I admire integrity. Leaders who are there for the right reasons, who are honest and have a purpose for good. I also admire leaders who are good communicators, who can clearly communicate their vision, especially during a crisis. Finally, I admire humility. There is huge strength in being able to admit when you are wrong.

Q2. What makes you laugh?

DD: I know many people say this, but it is honestly my kids. I have two teenagers and a pre-teen and I find it fascinating watching how they interpret the world around them. They have a zest for life and find enjoyment in things I wouldn’t even think of.

Q3. Who inspires you, and why?

DD: There are so many people who inspire me. If I had to single someone out, it would be former US President Barak Obama. He has been ground breaking in so many ways. He is an exemplary orator and was able to inspire people for good, to give people hope. He wasn’t perfect, and he didn’t achieve everything he set out to, but he was a true trailblazer.

Q4. For you, what makes UBC different?

DD: I think the culture and attitude of UBC set it apart from other universities. UBC is a place for ideas and for challenging the status quo. There is an appetite to do things differently, which I value, and I hope we never lose that spirit. UBC creates an environment of openness that allows ideas to flourish.

Q5. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned, in your career to date?

DD: I think it is the importance of leading by example, of putting yourself out there and being willing to do the same things you ask of your colleagues and teams. Just because someone has something in their job description doesn’t automatically mean they will do it. As a leader in a business school, I have learned that in order to move it forward, I need to be at the front. It’s about modelling leadership for others to follow, being true to the vision we are all striving for.

Q6. How do you like to recharge?

DD: I enjoy sports, whether it’s volleyball, hiking or softball. I play in UBC’s graduate student softball league, for the Commerce Cubs. I also curl as part of the Granville Island Curling League, and coach girl’s volleyball at J.N. Burnett Secondary School in Richmond.

Q7. What is the best advice you were ever given?

DD: Slow down! I tend to get worked up by things and want to go fast, and I remember the former Dean of UBC Sauder, Robert Helsley, telling me to slow down, listen and not rush to action. I remind myself of this advice every day, and how important it is to take a step back and reflect in certain situations.

Q8. What do you value in your colleagues?

DD: I value colleagues who work hard and actively contribute ideas. It blows me away, just how much people that work at UBC Sauder give to the business school. I also value disagreement, as you always learn from different ideas and perspectives.

Q9. What do you hope will be your lasting impact at UBC?

DD: I hope that the UBC Sauder School of Business is seen as a world-class institution, where people are proud to send their children. A place where change-makers come, with ideas that impact the world for the better. I hope that during my time as Dean, I can contribute to the progress of the business school on this important journey.

Q10. If you could have a super power, what would it be?

DD: It has to be time travel! I have always had an interest in history and would love to experience the reality of living in Roman times, or during the Renaissance. History is an enjoyable way to try and understand the human condition. I may also take some trips into the future – you never know.

Q11. Your journey at UBC is unique, going from PhD student in 1992, to Dean of the Faculty in 2022. How has this shaped you as a leader?

DD: I think the best way to describe my experience is that it has taught me to take chances, and also embrace failure. My journey at UBC has certainly not been a straight line, and I would never have predicted becoming Dean of a Faculty. There has been a lot of randomness during my time at UBC, where I took chances as they arose. I also have experienced my fair share of failure along the way. In my current role, I have to remind myself that my journey wasn’t typical. In many ways I have the advantage of bringing these approaches to my role as Dean – I can encourage the business school to take chances and try new things.

Q12. Looking ahead, what do you see as key priorities for the UBC Sauder School of Business? What role do you see it playing in the evolution of higher education?

DD: For me, the focus remains on creating an environment where our students, faculty and staff can thrive. It’s about creating meaningful experiences for people.

I want people to be excited to be part of the UBC Sauder School of Business, to say what an awesome place it is. I want the business school to give our students more ‘wow’ moments, and to keep challenging them. I often use the analogy that we are personal trainers and our students are our clients. Yes, sometimes it can be challenging and sometimes we push them, but it’s all designed to help them become the best they can be.

Interviewed by: Kate Hunter, UBC Internal Communication

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