Coming Home Again
By Lea Hart
Karen Jansen is no stranger to crossing the ocean for professional opportunities.
Her next transatlantic hop will bring her to North Carolina State University this summer when she becomes head of the Poole College of Management’s Department of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The role is a homecoming of sorts for Jansen, who spent six years in the Triangle working for IBM after earning an undergraduate degree in computer engineering.
While at IBM, she took on roles that provided more and more client interactions and consulting opportunities. She quickly realized that her passion lay in finding ways to solve some of the problems IBM struggled with at the time, specifically, how to change and adapt their culture and motivate their employees as the business changed.
“They struggled a lot in the time I was working there,” Jansen recalls. “I wanted to understand why they brought in consultants to address each topic — my head was always spinning with ideas.”
When her then-husband’s job in the military took them to Germany, Jansen decided to pursue her master’s degree and went on to earn a Ph.D.
“I knew I wanted an academic career,” she says. “I don’t want to retire, ever, and I was looking for a career where I could work as long as I wanted to.”
Earning her Ph.D. also provided the opportunity to study those topics that had fascinated her while at IBM. Her research focus is on change and person-environment fit — how change dynamics play out over time and how organizations can best navigate those changes.
“I always take a dynamic lens on how people fit in at work — How can we individually and collectively navigate changing skill demands and growth and development needs to sustain long-term fit over time?” she says.
She held academic posts at Penn State, the University of Virginia and a two-year visiting post at James Madison University.
By that time, her two older children had flown the nest and Jansen says she and her youngest daughter, who was still at home, were both up for an adventure.
The two moved to Australia, and Jansen spent four years serving as an associate professor at Australian National University.
When her daughter returned to the U.S. for college, Jansen took a post in the United Kingdom, where she’s been ever since. There, she serves as professor of leadership and change for the University of Reading’s Henley Business School, and leads her department’s research division as well, in charge of enhancing the research culture.
Her role as professor there was originally just about leadership, but she lobbied to add “change” to the title.
“Change is such an important part of what I do,” Jansen says.
She wasn’t actively looking for a new role when the position opened at Poole College, but says “my goal was always to get back to the U.S. at some point.”
She knew of Poole College’s reputation and had served on a board with Brad Kirkman, General (Ret.) H. Hugh Shelton Distinguished Professor of Leadership with the Department of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She got to know other Poole faculty as well over the years. What’s more, North Carolina still holds a place in her heart.
“My kids and I vacationed at Sunset Beach every year,” she said. “North Carolina — I just can’t get it out of my blood.”
Still, Jansen says she wouldn’t have gone just anywhere for her next, role and Poole College was at the top of the short list. She knew her next move needed to be to a place where the faculty are hardworking, caring and interested in helping the overall organization.
“The people make the place,” she says. “That’s hard to find sometimes.”
Jansen says there’s so much potential for growth within Poole and at the university as a whole, and NC State’s Think and Do mentality very much fits with her personal style.
“The dean has great vision,” she says. “It’s a place where you can make a difference, and it’s a place where you can try new things.”
Jansen also admires the diversity within the dean’s executive team. As a female in her new leadership role, Jansen recognizes she may be a role model for others.
“There is a subliminal impact,” she says. “Every person who does take one of these positions is saying to others, you can do that too.”
As she looks forward to getting started as department head, Jansen said she has some ideas for the department but looks forward to healthy discussion.
“I’m a collaborative leader,” she says. “I do have some ideas and I’ll float them, but then there will be a lot of discussion.
“Innovation happens with collaboration.”
This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.