When Mary Crossan was an undergraduate student at Western University, she was a varsity volleyball player with hopes to become a physical education teacher. By happenstance, she enrolled in a business course, and her career trajectory changed. “Back in the day, business courses were not mainstream anywhere. It wasn’t in high schools and because I had no exposure to business, I never even thought about it. When I took that class, I thought this is pretty intriguing.”
Taking that business course opened the door to new possibilities and led her to eventually pursue an MBA and PhD from Western University’s Ivey Business School, where Mary is now a Distinguished University Professor– Western University’s highest honor recognizing excellence in teaching, research, and service over a substantial career. Nominated based on recognition of her many achievements and pedagogical innovations, especially to develop leader character, Mary Crossan is the winner of the 2023 Distinguished Educator Award, presented during the Annual Meeting in August 2023.
“For me winning the award is incredibly special and humbling. I think it says to people like me, who don’t necessarily fit a particular mold, that you can make a difference in the academic profession. I have often pioneered new research areas and pursued innovative teaching methods in a very inter-disciplinary fashion. Ivey is a place where I have learned with, and from my colleagues about the synergistic effect of teaching, research and practice - domains often seen as in tension, whereas the synergies can be so enlightening and inspiring.”
The Distinguished Educator Award is one of four lifetime All-Academy career achievement awards presented annually. Over the course of a career, the Distinguished Educator has made significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: developing doctoral students, teaching effectively, fostering pedagogical innovations, and/or developing effective methods, structure, and designs.
“I walked into the classroom [as a teacher] for the first time, and I still remember the feeling I had. I had some challenging jobs before that, but I'd never done anything that felt it fully absorbed everything I had to give it. Teaching seemed to tap into something within me that challenged me, and I have to say, even to this day, that's still the case. That’s never changed.”
Mary has had a broad impact as an educator. Through her research, she explores ways to develop and elevate character alongside competence in higher education and organizations. She and her colleagues have developed innovative courses, cases, assessment tools and an app to develop leader character. She has written over 50 cases and her Starbucks case alone has sold over 100,000 copies, with Case Center recognizing her as a top 40 case writer over the past 40 years. Mary has also published an influential textbook, Strategic Analysis and Action, which is currently in its 10th edition. She co-developed the Leader Character Insight Assessment and pioneered the Leader Character Practitioner Certification Program, which are additional evidence of the impact and wide reach of Mary’s work.
Mary recalls learning about AOM as PhD student through its journals, and then attending her first Annual Meeting circa 1990. “I have found the Academy of Management Annual Meeting to be incredibly influential in my learning. It is a place where I could explore things not only in my field of expertise but new ones I wanted to explore. It feels like a bit of a kid in a candy store where, you can go to this interesting session and explore something that you may never even study, but it influences the way you see and think about everything.”
Mary is a member of the Organization and Management Theory (OMT) and Strategic Management (STR) divisions. In 2009 she received the decade award from Academy of Management Review for her article “Towards a Framework of Organizational Learning”, which had been published in 1999 and in 2014, she won the Best Article Award from Academy of Management Learning & Education for Developing Leadership Character in Business Programs.
“A key piece of advice that I would share with others is to imagine the difference you seek to make. Sometimes it feels in this profession that you must do things a particular way. It feels like you lose agency about what you really want to do. There's so much room and scope in this academic profession to do what you want to do and what you believe to be important.”
Mary was born and raised in London, Ontario, and currently resides in the Ottawa Valley with her husband. While she never became a physical education teacher, Mary continues to stay active. In her free time, she enjoys playing golf, swimming and has coached volleyball in the past. She has two grown children.
“My personal and professional life have always been intertwined and I have never felt I sacrificed one for the other. The flexibility our profession affords meant that I could enjoy the big and small moments in my family life. My daughter earned a PhD in kinesiology, working in the same space that I do from a different angle, so I work with her pretty much every day. I ended up studying my son’s university formula race team, for which we published an article about elevating character alongside competence in engineering projects.”
Each year leading into the Annual Meeting, several All-Academy awards, including the Distinguished Educator Award, are selected by committees comprised of AOM member volunteers. The 2023 Career Achievement Awards Committee included: A. Paul Spee (Chair), The University of Queensland; Jacqueline A-M. Coyle-Shapiro, California State University; Ann Langley, HEC Montreal; Stephen Mezias, INSEAD Middle East Campus; Georges Romme, Eindhoven University of Technology.