Cornell SC Johnson: performance with passion and purpose

Soumitra Dutta, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, reflects on the accomplishments of the college’s first year and some goals for the year ahead. 

How has the gift from Fisk Johnson and SC Johnson been a game-changer?

Soumitra Dutta
Robert Barker/University Photography
Soumitra Dutta, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

We are extremely grateful to Fisk Johnson ’79, M.Eng. ’80, M.S. ’82, MBA ’84, Ph.D. ’86, and the SC Johnson company for their generous $150 million naming gift. This extraordinary gift makes an important statement of belief in the unique potential of our college. Besides increasing our endowment by $100 million, the gift has a $50 million matching component, which gives us the potential to raise another $150 million in endowment over the next few years.

In addition to this exceptional gift, we are on track to raise around $50 million this year in new gifts and commitments from alumni, exceeding our targets for all three schools. One notable gift will provide $1.5 million annually for the next 10 years to support at least 50 multiyear scholarships across the college. The momentum of fundraising demonstrates the real commitment of our generous alumni and donors to the creation of Cornell SC Johnson. This validation is a very important achievement of our first year. 

What other highlights would you mention from the past year?

The cultural coming together of our three schools is a significant achievement. I am particularly grateful to the deans of the three schools – Mark Nelson (Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management), Kate Walsh, MPS ’90, (School of Hotel Administration) and Ed McLaughlin (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management) – for their leadership during this period of transition. The faculty, students and staff have come together in a variety of very positive ways, whether to create new programs, join formal working groups or work on any of a number of other initiatives. That cultural foundation is critical, because without it nothing else can be built.

We have the third-largest business faculty in the country; these faculty members include Lynn Perry Wooten, the new dean of the Dyson School. And we have almost 6,000 students in our majors and minors. The touchpoints we have across campus are extensive, and this is an important manifestation of Cornell’s strength in business education.

Our new Master of Professional Studies in management with a concentration in accounting is a very good example of collaboration across the three schools. It’s a Johnson degree directed by a Dyson faculty member and taught by faculty in all three schools.

What opportunities will come this summer with the opening of the Cornell Tech campus?

Our presence at Cornell Tech gives us a unique opportunity to be a leader in the business school world. Through our links with Cornell Tech, Weill Cornell Medicine and the entire Cornell network, we can now leverage our strengths in technology, business, health and hospitality and create an amazing new presence for the college in New York City, which is the most important economic hub in the world. We will fully leverage this opportunity, and be unique in the country, in having one college with two fully integrated campuses.

How will the next school year be different for students of the college?

This year was the first time that students applied to Cornell SC Johnson. Our duty is to ensure that we are able to deliver the benefits of the college to them. The curriculum can benefit our students by the sharing of faculty, courses and learning experiences across the different schools – we’re bringing down barriers. Students will also benefit from greater sharing of resources in corporate recruiting. For example, we will now have a single undergraduate career center to serve students in both the Hotel School and Dyson.

You recently said, now the question is, ‘What can we create together?’” How would you answer that question?

At a faculty meeting in May 2016, we asked ourselves, “What do we want to be when we grow up? How are we going to be different from our peers?” There are different ways to answer that question, and we have to find our distinctive answer. More and more, faculty members are gravitating toward the idea of performance with passion and purpose.

I hope we can create new areas and new fields that leverage our uniqueness. For example, let’s take the business of food. We have unique strengths in the Hotel School, on the distribution side, and in Dyson, on the production side. Combining the two, we can create something unique. In hospitality, the Hotel School is a service-sector leader, and service industries represent 80 percent of the economy in most countries today. Cornell Tech is a campus focused on technology, and technology is disrupting services completely. Put the two together, and you have the potential to create a world-leading expertise and a center on digital service excellence.

At the same time, we want to leverage Cornell’s land-grant mission and have a more powerful impact on the world around us. Colleagues in Dyson are already leading with many great examples, such as supporting farmers across New York state. We are also planning a seminar in summer 2018 for deans of business schools in emerging markets. The idea is to help them create and run better business schools in their own countries. We can have a stronger impact through them and a positive multiplier effect on those societies.

What goals are you focused on for the next year?

One important goal is to develop our operations in New York City as part of the Cornell Tech campus and start to build a brand there. We have to keep making good progress in fundraising. We must continue to meet the targets we set for student enrollment and faculty hiring.

We still have a lot more that we can do together, in all the three schools combined. We have so many potential opportunities for synergy. We have to build stronger industry connections and make sure that the power of the merger becomes real for our students in terms of learning experience, corporate outreach, jobs and so on.

On the whole, I’m very grateful to the school deans and my faculty and staff colleagues for what we have achieved together over the last months. There is a lot more to be done, but it’s all exciting, good stuff. I am looking forward to the continued progress that we shall make together in the coming months.

Jeannie Griffith is senior writer and editor in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

The full text of this article is available at the Cornell SC Johnson website.

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