Women's Inspired Leadership

Women’s Inspired Leadership Award Honoree

Dr. Deborah Crown



(March 2020) – Ask most people what they wanted to be when they were kids, and they say teacher, firefighter, pro athlete, doctor, nurse, ballet dancer. At age 6, Deborah Crown wanted to be president of the United States. Later, she thought maybe she’d like to be the general manager of a National Football League team. It didn’t matter that a woman had never held either of those roles — and still hasn’t to this day.

“I love that society has moved away from the belief that education only comes during early stages of life. We have been working with professionals and executives who are passionate about lifelong learning.”

“I did not have the typical aspirations,” Crown said. But it worked out just fine. As dean of the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, and throughout her career, she has been able to live her dreams by helping students achieve their life goals and guiding organizations toward excellence.

“I have pure joy in watching what students do and the successes they’ve had – and that’s true whether they’re in the NFL or the telecom industry,” she said. “It is one of the benefits of being in higher education. I think I have the best of all worlds.”

Crown became the dean at Crummer in July 2016. She was recruited away from her position as dean at the largest private university in Hawaii. And even after working in Silicon Valley and in numerous countries around the world, she is steadfast that Central Florida is her favorite business community, and Rollins is a special institution.

When Rollins was interviewing her for the job, she noticed something different about Crummer right away. It’s a place, she said, where academic and business leaders collaborate to solve problems together and uplift the whole Central Florida community. Crummer is focused on shaping the leaders of tomorrow, yes, but also the leaders of today through its executive MBA and DBA programs.

“I’ve been told I am tirelessly passionate about helping to develop, harness and participate in activities in using business acumen and assets for community good,” she said. “Our students and clients participate in advancing our community as a part of their learning experience. In all of our programs, it’s a major component. Having students learn to positively impact the community as an ongoing part of their lives is central to our mission.”

With an undergraduate degree in psychology from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and master’s and doctoral degrees in business administration from the University of Colorado, Crown has developed an extensive resumè that includes numerous awards for teaching, research, mentoring and service. Her expertise has been showcased in professional journals as well as media outlets including CNN, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and Entrepreneur magazine. She started her career at the University of Alabama, and promotions took her to San Jose State University, Ohio University and Hawaii Pacific University.

Her grandmother, who died when she was in high school, inspired her to go after what she wanted in life. Her father’s mother arrived in New York as a young girl after many of her family members lost their lives in the passage aboard a ship from Italy. The young immigrant found a way to get an education and go into the workforce as a nurse before marrying and raising a family.

Crown remembers her grandmother saying to her, “Don’t ever be afraid to use your mind. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”

“I was quite young, but that really stuck with me,” Crown said. “Both of my parents are very strong on, ‘You have an obligation to serve others.’ Coupling those two things together, that taught me you should make sure you are availing yourself and learning as much as you can but doing it in a way that serves others.”

Today, as a single mother, Crown makes time for physical exercise in the morning, even if it means getting up at 4:30. That’s a time for what she calls “head up” activities that help her be strategic and visionary and prepare her for the daily grind of a demanding job. And every night, before she goes to bed, she takes time to reflect on the joys of the day.

“Some days it’s a little harder to find the joys than others, I will confess,” she said, laughing. “But there hasn’t been a day when I couldn’t find some element of joy. Reflecting on that and savoring it helps me get up the next morning with a sense of not just enthusiasm, but purpose and passion and a sense of privilege for being here and being able to be part of an amazing team.”

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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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