Nancy Jacob: the Foster School’s “Trailblazer of the Century”

When she was named the ninth dean of the UW School of Business Administration in 1981, Nancy Jacob (BA 1967) became the first woman to lead a major American business school.

It was, perhaps, her most towering glass ceiling in a lifetime of shattering.

As an undergrad at the UW, Jacob was one of few women to study finance, even co-authoring an early book on the economics of digital computing with Nobel Prize-winner William Sharpe. After earning her PhD in financial economics at UC Irvine, she became one of a select few of women teaching finance at the university level. In 1978 she became chair of the Foster School’s Department of Finance, Business Economics and Quantitative Methods.

During her productive eight-year tenure as dean (1981-1988), Jacob introduced the Executive MBA Program, centers for banking and retail management, and the Business Education Opportunity Program, established to promote economic, racial and gender diversity and increase enrollment and support of underrepresented students.

Jacob’s leadership was an early step in the school’s emerging diversification. William Bradford became the first person of color to serve as dean of the Foster School in 1994, his decades of groundbreaking research in minority business development catalyzing the Consulting and Business Development Center and earning him a place in the Minority Business Hall of Fame. And Yash Gupta became the school’s first South Asian American dean in 1999, bringing an entrepreneurial focus and grand ambition to reinvigorate the school around technology management and world-class facilities.

In her retirement from academia, Jacob founded and led two successful investment firms and continued her 40-year service as a trustee of TIAA-CREF.

Nancy Jacob received the Foster School’s Distinguished Leadership Award from Dean Jim Jiambalvo in 2014.

When the Foster School honored Jacob with its 2014 Distinguished Leadership Award for her influence on the school and her subsequent finance firms, she reflected on the journey. “We make a big deal of the glass ceiling for women executives,” she said. “But that’s misleading because life is not a vertical climb. It’s a multi-dimensional trip. It doesn’t come with an easy button or a fair button. It is what it is. But when one door closes, another opens. You have to be flexible. And you have to be willing to deal with adversity.”

At the 2017 Century Leadership Celebration, Jacob was named the Foster School’s “Trailblazer of the Century.”

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