February 01, 2021 • By Xanat Hernandez
On Jan 1, Dean Ian O. Williamson began his new role as leader of the UCI Paul Merage School of Business. Like many people starting a new job during the pandemic, Williamson is working remotely until stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. However, Williamson’s transition has a twist—he’s starting his duties as dean from his current home in New Zealand.
From Chicago to Wellington, New Zealand
Williamson was born and raised in Chicago’s South Side—but he is now a bona fide globe trotter. Throughout his career, he has worked in over 25 different countries in six different continents. And his international career all started with the simple chance to pursue higher education.
“Before college, I didn’t even know being a college professor was a job,” explained Williamson. “Getting access to a world-class education is the reason I was able to have a global career because my college education provided me with skills that have global value.”
Williamson was able to attend Miami University through an academic and track and field scholarship, where he studied management. He then received his Ph.D. in management at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Specializing in human resources management, Williamson’s research examines the impact of “talent pipelines” on organizational and community outcomes. Drawing on this expertise he has provided consulting services to the senior leadership teams of organizations such as CBRE, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Lockheed Martin, Accenture, and more.
Most recently, Williamson served as pro-vice chancellor and dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government in New Zealand. This came after a decade of being on the faculty at the Melbourne Business School in Australia where he served as the associate dean.
For Williamson, whose three kids have grown up on the other side of the world, his appointment at the Merage School is a homecoming.
Breaking Barriers & Expanding Access
The reason Williamson pursued a leadership role in academia is simple. His goal is to increase access to a world-class education.
“There are many communities, all around the world, that simply do not have the same level of access as others,” he says. “Increasing access will frame my approach as dean of the Merage School. It’s why I get up every day. It’s why I work as hard as I do.”
Williamson was attracted to UCI’s reputation as a Minority Serving Institution, its Black Thriving Initiative and by the diversity of Orange County itself. The cultural richness of Orange County was made apparent to Williamson when he learned that over 45% of residents speak a language other than English at home. At the Merage School, where over half of all undergraduates are first-gen students, Williamson looks forward to continuing the School’s legacy of expanding access to higher education.
“I want to ensure that all of the communities we serve feel that if they want to challenge themselves and get a world-class education, they will see the Merage School as an opportunity,” he says. “They should feel that their experiences and their cultures will be supported and valued at the School.”
Williamson is also looking to strengthen ties to the Orange County business community and engage with Merage School alumni.
He says: “Our business school will only goes as far as the community within which it is embedded. I am eager to learn what Orange County leaders see as their opportunities for growth. My goal is that the Merage School plays an active role in helping the business community realize these opportunities.”
To accomplish this goal, Williamson is embarking on a “listening series” where he engages with Orange County leaders and alumni that invest in the School by donating their time, hiring students and participating in the Brilliant Future campaign.
He also hopes to share the Merage School’s strong body of research to the broader business community and establish the School as a resource to local businesses.
“I want to highlight the research of our outstanding faculty members and ensure our insights are accessible to the Orange County business world,” he said.
The Merage School, which has been operating remotely for ten months, is welcoming Williamson's ideas for the future.
“We are living through a time where education is being fundamentally disrupted, and not just due to the pandemic,” said Founding Director of the Center for Digital Transformation Vijay Gurbaxani. “Our role as a premier public university is to improve access and provide opportunity for future generations. A silver lining of the pandemic is that it accelerated innovation in the delivery of higher education. Dean Williamson, with his expertise in human resources and talent development and dedication to inclusive excellence, is the right leader to guide us through this time of rapid change.”