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School’s Annual Leadership Lecture Series Explores Science and Decision Making

April 19, 2016
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johnson edosomwan jaeli

The Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute
was established with an initial grant from
Edosomwan.

Science and facts provide a better guide to making decisions than emotions, according to three distinguished speakers at an April 14 lecture hosted by the School of Business Administration and The Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute

“When I was younger, my decisions were often based on my gut feelings,” said Jorge Mas (BBA ’84, MBA ’86) co-founder and CEO of MasTec, a leading national construction infrastructure firm. “But as I have gotten older, I realize you get better outcomes by analyzing situations based on the facts.” 

Mas was joined by John Mezias, professor of management at the School of Business, and Scott Huettel, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, for a thought-provoking panel discussion on “When Science Meets the Boardroom: How Leaders Make Decisions and Enhance their Strategic Thinking.”

jaeli 2016 speakers

Panelists from left to right: Jorge Mas (BBA ’84, MBA
’86), John Mezias, and Scott Huettel.

Gene Anderson, dean of the School, welcomed more than 100 attendees to Storer Auditorium for the leadership event. “We appreciate the opportunity to bring great speakers here to share their thoughts and enrich our students’ lives,” he said. Thanking Johnson A. Edosomwan (BSIE ‘79, MSIE ‘80), a pioneer in performance improvement and author of nearly 400 books and articles, for his support of the lecture series, Anderson added. “A university is a gathering of gifts, and this is one that keeps on giving.”

Before the discussion, Anderson awarded the 2016 Edosomwan Leadership in Excellence Award to Frances Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa (BA '77), CEO of Banco Itau International and former interim dean of the business school. Briana Scott, a senior accounting and visual journalism major, received the Student Leadership in Excellence Award, for organizing the student-run Women in Business organization, participating on the School’s Hyperion Council, and her leadership in the Association of Black Accountants. 

frances wins jaeli excellence award

Frances Aldrich Sevilla-Sacasa (BA '77) receiving
the 2016 Edosomwan Leadership in Excellence
Award by Johnson A. Edosomwan and Gene
Anderson, dean of the School.

“We need to challenge our assumptions, because they shape our mental models,” said Mezias in his talk on individual decision making.  “If we can do that, we are in a better position to improve our performance.”           

But while it’s easy to say, “think outside the box,” Mezias added that individuals first have to realize that they are in a “mental box” and then build a plan to get out of the box. “Our experiences shape the way we make our decisions,” he said. “Try to look at the situation from other perspectives, because that can help you see your own assumptions.”

Huettel explained how scientific studies of the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other technologies can provide insights into the decision-making process.  “There is a spot in your prefrontal cortex that tracks the utility of different objects, from money to food to shelter,” he said.

briana scott wins excellence award

Briana Scott receiving the 2016 Student Leadership
in Excellence Award by Johnson A. Edosomwan and
Gene Anderson, dean of the School.

Laboratory studies also help neuroscience researchers understand how people process social information, such group biases and behaviors that influence decisions.

“Neuroscience is a great tool for understanding the mechanism of the brain,” Huettel said. “It complements traditional analytics, helping us to see individual preferences and predict consumer behavior.”
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