Meet Caron Beaton-Wells, the new Deputy Dean of Melbourne Business School
For Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, becoming part of Melbourne Business School is a family tradition.
"Melbourne Business School is in my DNA, literally. Both my parents taught here for many years – my father in strategy, my mother in organisational behaviour – and my sister is an alum," she says.
"It seems I'm the one who got away – at least until now."
Caron will join Melbourne Business School as its new Deputy Dean this month, following the retirement of Professor Paul Dainty.
Her relocation will only be to the other side of University Square – for many years, Caron has been a leader at the Melbourne Law School, where she began as a student and then lecturer before rising to hold a series of Associate Dean positions as a member of its executive team.
"My area of academic specialty is what's called competition policy and law, and in fact that's more about economics and business strategy than it is about black letter law in itself," she says.
"Highlights of my academic research experience have involved engaging with business people to understand how they see the law, how it affects their businesses and how they respond to that as an opportunity, or as a challenge."
The twin tracks of Caron's academic career have been as a world-renowned subject matter expert as well as a leader capable of bringing together diverse groups of people to work on innovative projects.
As Australia's top competition policy and law academic, Caron is a member of several global advisory boards and receives regular invitations to speak at the OECD, United Nations and ASEAN.
In 2019, she was appointed as a lay member of the Australian Competition Tribunal, the body that reviews key decisions by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
As a school leader, Caron is known for uniting academic and professional staff and launching initiatives like the Competition Law and Economics Network – an interdisciplinary centre convening experts from law, economics and business disciplines and cultivating relationships with industry.
Caron says the overriding sense of purpose that runs through both tracks is the importance of engagement.
"I see academics as being in a unique position to bring together stakeholders with different voices and different interests, which are sometimes conflicting," she says.
Diversity and digital learning
One of Caron's biggest achievements at Melbourne Law School was leading the development of a world-first suite of online master's courses, the Global Competition and Consumer Law program.
"It was the Law School's first online master's program, and the first in the world to be synchronous – which means it involves real-time, live interactions between academics and students," she says.
"I learned a lot from the experience of developing that program, especially the value in building high-performing teams that bring a diversity of perspectives and experience.
"In our team, we of course had the academics as subject matter experts, but we also had online learning designers, educational technologists – I didn't even know those existed before then – creative producers and student advisors.
"It was that combination of skills and experience working together that I believe assured the success of the program."
For Caron, taking a lead role on the project meant challenging herself when it came to adopting new technology.
"When I embarked on the project, I had no appreciation of what it involved, let alone experience of teaching online – and it's not as if I'm particularly technologically savvy. My children are better at PowerPoint than I am," she says.
"The fact that I was prepared personally to take that step well out of my comfort zone meant my colleagues were prepared to step up with me."
Caron has since embraced digital in more ways than one – she is also the host of Competition Lore, a podcast designed to make the latest academic thinking on topics like big data, algorithms and platform business models accessible to a broad audience.
Guests on the podcast have included Matt Perault, former head of global policy development at Facebook, Google chief economist Hal Varian, former Microsoft principal researcher Glen Weyl as well as academics from MIT, Yale and Oxford.
'Don't sweat the small stuff'
Prior to her role as an academic, Caron was a practising lawyer who cut her teeth as a barrister working on one of Australia's most famous cases, the Stolen Generations case.
"My first cross-examination was in fact in the Alice Springs Magistrates Court – quite a baptism of fire," she says.
After a decade in practice, Caron was drawn to academia as a way to broaden her perspective with challenges beyond those presented by the next case file.
That decision led to her becoming not just an integral part of the Law School, but the University of Melbourne more widely. Caron has been an active member of more than a dozen university committees and continues to serve as Deputy Chair of the MSPACE Academic Programs Committee.
Throughout her career, Caron's mix of practical and academic experience has helped her keep things in perspective – as has her family.
"I don't sweat the small stuff – my children beat that out of me a long time ago – and I love to laugh. Generally when I'm laughing the loudest, it will be at myself," she says.
"To my son's great disappointment, I can't balance on a bicycle and I will not follow him down a black run – but I am determined to run the Boston Marathon before I turn 50."
Caron will take up her role as Deputy Dean of Melbourne Business School on 24 February. Visit her faculty profile for more information.