Dutta: Planning for College of Business is 'on track'

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John Carberry

Soumitra Dutta, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, recently spoke with the Cornell Chronicle about his new role as dean of the Cornell College of Business. The newly established college will comprise the university’s three accredited business schools: Johnson, the School of Hotel Administration and the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Soumitra Dutta
Robert Barker/Cornell Marketing Group
Dean Soumitra Dutta

What’s the latest news on the College of Business?

We are at an extremely exciting juncture in the college’s development. The planning committees, charged with more fully defining structure and policies, have reported back with meaningful and substantive narratives guiding the next steps in forming the college. The Steering Committee is delighted that this inclusive, extensive process has proven to be a dynamic, constructive and remarkably successful undertaking.

We are especially encouraged by the definitive and enthusiastic affirmation of the college emerging from the Faculty Governance Committee. It has established central principles, policies and processes reaffirming the continuity of each school’s separate mission, programs and faculty expectations, while working toward college cohesion underpinned by fairness and transparency.

Open forums and committee reports
The college leadership and planning committee members will be on hand at two town hall meetings to answer questions and listen to feedback about the next phase of the college’s development. These forums will be live-streamed via CornellCast.

Faculty and staff forum, Tuesday, May 10, 12:15-1:15 p.m., in 228 Malott Hall. Watch the live stream.

Undergraduate and graduate students forum, Wednesday, May 11, 2-3 p.m., in 228 Malott Hall. Watch the live stream.

Online-only alumni presentation, Thursday, May 19, noon-1 p.m. Details will be forthcoming on how to view this event.

Summaries of committee reports can be found at business.cornell.edu, along with more information about the benefits of the College of Business.

We are also setting up additional focused task forces on specific themes such as admissions and career services with the involvement of key colleagues from the schools.

Given this preparation, the college is on track to launch during the coming academic year. By that point we’ll have in place the college’s vision, mission, values, preliminary business plan and other specifics, especially in student services. We’ll also have academic and administrative leadership in place, including an interim dean at the Hotel School and a permanent dean at Johnson.

This extensive engagement process has set us up for success as we enter the next phase of a creating a unique business college that will draw from the strengths, resources and assets of each school.

How does the outside world currently perceive business education at Cornell? How will the new college improve this profile?

Today business education is fragmented across Cornell, and the world typically perceives only a piece of that puzzle. The general public doesn’t think about looking for a great undergraduate business program as being in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which is home to Dyson, or they don’t necessarily perceive the Hotel School as being a business school. That will be corrected by the College of Business, because the world will see the entirety of our strengths in business education and research.

As it stands now, can students take classes in the different schools?

In principle, it’s possible. In reality, it’s often not easy. Students from outside a school might get lower priority for acceptance into a class. Sometimes there aren’t enough course sections. The course schedules are not coordinated. There are all kinds of logistical and practical barriers. But in the future it will become seamless for students to access richer programming across the three schools that will prepare them for success in their chosen careers.

How do you predict the college will affect our rankings?

Business schools rely on strong rankings to attract talent in both faculty and students, and ultimately rankings play a significant role in the school’s identity and position in the market.

Rankings are driven by three factors: the quality of faculty and their academic reputation, the quality of the students and how well the curriculum prepares them for successful careers, and the quality and strength of corporate relationships. I believe the College of Business will strengthen all three factors for each school.

How will the College of Business affect corporate and alumni relations?

The college will help us to have a broader, deeper network of executives and alumni in companies who feel part of the same college. It’s much better for a company to manage one strong relationship with one college as opposed to three relationships of varying degrees with three schools. I recently spoke to the global CEOs of two large companies – EY and A.T. Kearney – and asked, from their perspective, whether the college will be a good thing. Their answer was a definite yes, because they will have a clearer frame of reference for business education at Cornell.

Each school will also benefit from new corporate relationships. For example, Cornell Tech, which has a strong relationship with Johnson, has been developing some unique relationships with leading firms from the technology sector. Many hospitality companies might be interested in working with these firms to better understand the impact of technology transformation. It will be a win-win-win, for students, the companies and the university.

We have a tremendous network of alumni in each school – the Hotel School has a strong connection to the hospitality industry, the Dyson School has a robust connection to the agriculture sector, and Johnson has a very close connection to the finance and technology sectors – but each will benefit from the additional networks to which it will have access through the College of Business.

Some Hotelies have expressed concern that the college will dilute their school’s unique brand. How will the three schools maintain and build on their distinctive identities?

I have spoken to many students and alumni leaders as they have had concerns, which have often been the result of a lack of information. Once you sit down with them and explain the goal is to really help ensure that the Hotel School remains the most dominant hotel school in the future, they are supportive.

The goal is to retain the uniqueness of the Hotel School and the other schools as well. If anything we’re looking to enhance what they offer.

How will you reconcile the school’s different philosophical approaches to business?

The College of Business will respect each school’s industry-specific connections, because those are valuable assets. Research often happens at the boundaries of disciplines and sectors. For example, think about bringing together faculty in such disparate areas as finance and sustainability or entrepreneurship and agriculture economics. College of Business faculty members will maintain their areas of expertise, but I predict their interactions will also invigorate their individual and collective research agendas.

You’ve said the college will facilitate expansion of global initiatives. Can you tell us more?

Johnson has an MBA program with Tsinghua University in Beijing, the leading technology university in China, and with the College of Business, we can enhance that relationship. We have tremendous potential there, thanks to Tsinghua’s location in the heart of China’s Silicon Valley. Sustainability, agriculture, technology, innovation – those are our areas of expertise and some of the top priorities in China right now. There is also an explosion in the hospitality industry in China and many other emerging markets. Our strengths in the Hotel School can be leveraged in these markets.

What do you see as the college’s biggest challenge?

When you are striving to accomplish something on this scale, the biggest challenge is the human aspect. We all belong to the Cornell family, but invariably we end up living inside our own silos. Once faculty and staff from each school get to know each other better, trust each other and work together on new projects, we’ll start unlocking our collective potential. 

What strengths from your background and as Johnson dean have been helpful in your new role?

I come from a computer science background but spent my whole career in a business school. In a sense, the notion of spanning boundaries and being able to thrive with different points of view has been a natural part of my career for the last 30 years. This respect for different disciplines and boundaries is what I hope I can bring, and I hope it becomes part of the college’s identity and DNA. We will have different elements that will work together and create a union that is more than the sum of its parts.

My global background will also be important for the College of Business. I’ve been fortunate to have a very global background in terms of not just my birthplace in India and my education at the University of California, Berkeley. Before coming to Cornell, I spent 23 years as a professor at INSEAD, which is truly one of the most global schools in the world.

Last, we have a great team of faculty and staff here, and to work with them is both a privilege and a pleasure for me. I learn from colleagues at Cornell all the time. Hopefully I will be able to leverage the talent around us, and together we can achieve the goals of the College of Business and of Cornell.


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