Cornell Hires Soumitra Dutta to Head Johnson Business School

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Soumitra Dutta, a professor at the INSEAD graduate business school in France, will join Cornell University this summer as dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Dutta will take over on July 1, replacing Joe Thomas, who has led Johnson since 2007, Ithaca, New York-based Cornell said yesterday. Dutta’s appointment marks the first time that a Top 20 U.S. business school hired a dean from an institution outside the country, according to Cornell.

Dutta, an expert in the intersection of technology and business innovation, is coming to Cornell as the university prepares to establish an engineering and applied sciences campus in New York City in a venture with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. As head of the business school, Dutta -- who now serves as director of a new media and technology innovation lab at INSEAD -- plans to help shape how the Johnson school is involved with the development of the New York campus.

Dutta has held executive positions at INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus, serving most recently as dean of external relations. In that role, he raised awareness of INSEAD’s brand by working with alumni, fundraising and forming partnerships in emerging markets.

The Johnson School has put emphasis in the past few years on emerging markets, expanding the school’s global footprint and heightening awareness of its brand. The Indian-born academic received his master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, and worked in the U.S. for General Electric Co. before joining INSEAD’s faculty in 1989.

‘Intimately Involved’

Dutta spoke in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek about his new role and plans for the Johnson School. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation:

Q: Cornell has been in the news lately after the recent announcement that the school, in collaboration with Technion, will be building a New York campus. What role do you expect the business school to play in this new initiative?

Dutta: The business school will be a very important part of that because the technology campus in New York City is really about applying technology and science for entrepreneurship and creating new businesses. We will be very intimately involved in this, so that is what makes the job exciting for me. We will look to offer programs that support the mandate of the new technology campus, and we will probably create programs and offer courses along that dimension. Today, the Johnson School already has an Executive MBA program in Palisades, near New York City, and it is quite likely that the portfolio of executive programs in New York City will be enlarged, with the new campus being out there.

‘Tough Decision’

Q: You have a long history with INSEAD, where you’ve been a professor for 22 years and held a number of top administrative roles. Why did you decide to leave Europe to become the dean of an American business school?

Dutta: It was a tough decision to leave INSEAD for Cornell. I’ve had a wonderful career and wonderful life out here, but then the Cornell opportunity came along and it was too good to let go. There are a number of reasons why I perceived it was a very good fit between my own background and Cornell and the Johnson School.

There is an increased focus on globalization and emerging markets inside the business school, and a lot of my own background is very international, having lived and worked both in Asia, Europe, and often, America. Secondly, over the past 20 years, I’ve done research on applied technology in business and this combination of business and technology is something that is certainly an emphasis at Cornell and the Johnson School. That was an immediate fit, especially in light of the new campus in New York City.

‘Reaching Out’

Q: What was your reaction when you learned that you’d been offered the job?

Dutta: I was very pleased in a way because it is the first time a major U.S. school has taken the step of going outside the boundaries of the U.S. to look for a dean, and that is a good sign because it shows the U.S. is reaching out. Today, especially, America and the world realize that one country alone cannot lead the way in everything -- and even America, being the leading economic and military power, has to reach out and be more inclusive. So I think the fact that the school decided to seek leadership from outside is a sign of strength.

‘Build Links’

Q: How do you see the Johnson School in relation to the rest of Cornell University?

Dutta: Cornell represents a great brand and the Johnson School represents a great community of business leaders, faculty, and students. You really can’t think of the Johnson School in isolation as it is really in the middle of one of the greatest universities in the world, so the question is: How do we leverage all the school’s great strengths? I’d like to try to see how we can build links across Johnson and all the other colleges at the school. For example, Cornell has a strong medical school and health care is an important area for our economy, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, so I’d like to see if we can have more collaboration with the school of medicine. Cornell also has very strong schools of engineering and agriculture and life sciences, so I’d also like to see the Johnson School work more with them as well.

Q: From 2006 to 2009, you oversaw global operations for INSEAD as dean of external relations, a position in which you did everything from manage the school’s Abu Dhabi campus to set up strategic partnerships, like one between the school and the World Economic Forum. How do you think your global perspective and background will help you enhance Cornell’s global brand and offerings?

Foreign Students

Dutta: In that role, I learned about emerging business education in many of the new emerging economies, like India, China and Brazil, which puts me in a good position to help Johnson globalize some of its offerings. I think that is something I can bring to the role. We have to define some of these initiatives more precisely, but I already have some sense of what Johnson is engaged in and where that can be expanded. For example, foreign students in both the MBA and executive programs can be increased.

Johnson can be a leader in immersion programs for MBA students, and many of these programs can be done internationally. The Emerging Markets Institute -- set up recently by the current dean -- is an excellent initiative in which you can create new research related to emerging markets. I think there is a space that is still open for a leading business school to take a leadership position in undertaking some of these emerging-market issues. What I will try to do is use the Johnson platform to bring the world to Johnson and take Johnson to the world.