Cornell B-school hires new dean

January 9, 2012: 11:17 AM ET

INSEAD professor Soumitra Dutta will take over the deanship at Cornell's Johnson School in July, in the wake of the university's successful bid to open a satellite campus in New York City.

By John A. Byrne, contributor

Soumitra Dutta

Soumitra Dutta

(Poets&Quants) -- When Soumitra Dutta was initially contacted by a search firm about becoming a business school dean, he was instantly intrigued by the prospect. The India-born academic had been a professor of business and technology for some 22 years at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, but he had never served as dean of a business school.

What particularly interested Dutta during that telephone call from a Spencer Stuart headhunter last August was the school in question: Cornell University's prestigious Johnson Graduate School of Management. "I was very intrigued because Cornell is a great brand," says Dutta.

Nearly five months later, after four rounds of interviews via video-conference and in person, Dutta was today named the new dean at Cornell, effective July 1. The university said that Dutta's appointment makes Johnson the first major business school in the U.S. to hire a dean from another B-school outside the country. The school boasts a faculty of 49 full-time, tenure-track faculty along with 40 adjunct and visiting members, 73 corporate partners, an alumni network of more than 13,000, an annual operating budget of almost $70 million, and an endowment in excess of $160 million.

Though this is his first job as dean, Dutta has served in various administrative roles at INSEAD, as head of external relations, executive education, and technology and e-learning. But it is as an expert in innovation in the global economy that Dutta has made his mark. One of his public speaking agencies, the Leigh Bureau, describes him as "a dynamic, charming and confident speaker," who is the author of several books and Harvard Business Review articles.

Dutta, who once did a stint as an engineer at General Electric (GE) in Schenectady, N.Y., is yet another example of an Indian academic named to a top business school post, following in the footsteps of the current deans at Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, and INSEAD.

As part of Dutta's offer, Cornell agreed to hire his spouse, Lourdes Casanova, who will join the Johnson faculty as a senior lecturer of management. An expert in emerging markets in Latin America, the Spanish-born Casanova currently lectures in INSEAD's strategy department. "The university offered the option naturally because her profile very much fits the emerging markets institute at Johnson," says Dutta. The couple's daughter currently studies at Oxford University.

Dutta earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology, along with master's degrees in business and computer science and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley. He began teaching at INSEAD in 1989 and most recently was the founder and faculty director of a new media and technology innovation lab at the leading European business school.

"When I look at Johnson, I see a school that has been a little bit shy in some respects to get its name out there," said Dutta in an interview. "The school is doing excellent work. But it has to be much more vocal about its strengths."

Dutta said he plans to launch a strategic review of the Johnson School to, among other things, determine how to make the best use of Cornell University's recent winning bid to open a $100 million New York City campus with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He did not rule out the possibility that Johnson could grant an MBA degree on the New York City campus. Cornell will begin offering classes next year in leased space, before moving onto a campus at Roosevelt Island by 2017.

"The New York City campus is a game changer because it will be a campus of applied technology," says Dutta. "The business school will be a very strong partner in providing programs in business, entrepreneurship, and innovation. My own initial feeling is that it provides a great environment for the full-time MBA students. But my initial sense is that there will be more of a focus on executive education there."

One area that will immediately get more attention, said Dutta, is the school's globalization efforts. "Cornell is a school that has made a number of initial initiatives in globalization that I hope to strengthen," he said. "My own technology background is in line with another of the school's strengths. And the university provides a platform for creating interesting new programs and initiatives with other Cornell schools."

Dutta succeeds Joseph Thomas, who is stepping down to return to teaching after a five-year term as dean. During his tenure, Thomas launched the school's long-term strategic plan and led the creation of the school's Emerging Markets Institute, as well as its Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.

Dutta won the job after a long search process. The 12-member search committee, pulled together last June, was comprised of a senior vice provost, six B-school faculty members, the dean of Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, two senior alums, a current MBA student, and a senior staff administrator.

Before Cornell offered the job to Dutta, the committee went through three separate stages of selection, narrowing the field of candidates from 20 in early October to seven, and then two, finalists. Dutta and the other unidentified finalists then met with Cornell University President David J. Skorton and Provost Kent Fuchs. "The discussions went quite well and the end result was that, after a few meetings, they made an offer a few weeks ago," says Dutta.

"Professor Dutta's appointment is a natural fit with Johnson's increasingly global outlook," said Cornell President Skorton in a statement. "He has expertise in new and emerging media, he has studied the conditions that promote innovation and he has extensive experience on the international stage. Among other qualities, these prepare him well to oversee the education of our next-generation business leaders and entrepreneurs."

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John A. Byrne
John A. Byrne
Contributor , Fortune

John A. Byrne is chairman and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media Inc., a digital media startup that is launching a network of websites for the global business community, including PoetsandQuants.com, a website for analysis, news, and features on prestige MBAs and the best business education in the world. Byrne was until recently executive editor and editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com. Byrne is the author or co-author of eight books on business, leadership, and management, including two national bestsellers.

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