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Wharton dean: The most common theme emerging from our talks with CEOs

As the final quarter of 2022 begins, many questions remain about the future of the U.S. economy. Economists generally agree a recession looms but remain divided on how severe it will be.

For now, the job market and consumer confidence remain strong. But how long can that last?

On a recent episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer," Yahoo Finance's editor-in-chief sat down with Erika James, the dean of Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school. James, who regularly discusses current economic conditions with Wharton’s alumni, says a theme has emerged in their talks.

“I would say that the most common theme is uncertainty,” James told Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief. “Right? Everything is changing.”

The U.S. News & World Report currently ranks The Wharton School the No. 1 business school in the country, tied with the University of Chicago. The school's alumni include Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and former President Donald Trump. James says Wharton faculty regularly consult alumni while conducting research on the U.S. economy and markets.

“Our research is born from access to data and access to information from people who are actually in these companies making real, life-changing decisions,” said James. “So, the more we can stay connected to those leaders, the more we have access to do the data and the analysis that will then inform how we feed back what we feed back to them in terms of their own decision making."

Erika James speaks to Yahoo Finance's Andy Serwer.
Erika James speaks to Yahoo Finance's Andy Serwer.

Americans currently face a precarious economy. The market has a seen a steep decline of 24% in the last year and the S&P 500 is trading at levels last seen in November 2020.

Experts have drawn different conclusions on what the future holds. Legendary investor Stan Druckenmiller recently predicted that the market “at best is going to be kind of flat for 10 years.” In contrast, Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo last week insisted a “soft landing” was still possible, according to reporting by Reuters, suggesting that the Federal Reserve could hike interest rates without triggering a recession.

“Whether you're talking about the economy, whether you're talking about reactions to health issues, and COVID, whether you're talking about the labor market, all those things are just in flux right now,” James remarked.

James, who recently published a book called “The Prepared Leader: Emerge from Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before,” co-written- Lynn Perry Wooten, president of Simmons College in Boston, became dean at Wharton just three months after COVID-19 struck. She led the school through the worst of the pandemic, guiding the faculty as it taught classes virtually. Previously, she served as dean at Emory University Goizueta Business School and at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

“We started to see that I think the pandemic allowed all of us to be very sensitive to a lack of certainty that exists in the world and needing to still operate despite that ambiguity,” James reflected.

The Wharton School's management courses teach students to navigate a trying business landscape. For instance, two of the management department’s areas of expertise are “Human Social Capital” and “Multinational Management,” which focus on managing people and operating internationally under economically risk conditions.

“One of the things that we have to do at Wharton is help our students prepare for it — riding in an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity,” James affirmed.

Before becoming an administrator, James served as a renowned professor and researcher in the fields of management and leadership. At the University of Virginia, she taught courses on leading organizations and crisis leadership. Previously, she earned her B.A. in psychology from Pomona College and her M.A. and PHD in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan.

Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.

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