Q&A With New Board Chair Soumitra Dutta

Q&A With New Board Chair Soumitra Dutta

Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and newly appointed AACSB Board of Directors Chair, Soumitra Dutta, shares his vision for AACSB and the future of business education.

At the start of July, AACSB International welcomed Soumitra Dutta as its new board of directors chair. Dutta, who is dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, has been an active member of the board since 2014 and has a clear vision for not only the organization’s direction but also for the needs of business education globally. Here he shares with us those views.

1.  What is one major accomplishment of AACSB that you hope to see by the end of your term as board chair?

AACSB’s mission and vision is to foster engagement and transform business education for global prosperity. This is reflected in the new brand, “Business Education. Connected.” It is my hope to increase the engagement of leaders and business schools worldwide to further the mission and vision. By enhancing connectivity across business schools, businesses and other societal stakeholders, I hope AACSB will foster an effective and inclusive platform for educating students, conducting research, and seeking collaborative solutions to society’s problems.

2.  What are today's most critical needs in global society that you believe business schools can serve?

Business schools have produced the thinkers and leaders tasked with solving modern society’s problems for decades. The issues facing the world now are increasingly complex, multifaceted, multidimensional, and involve a growing number of stakeholders. If we want to continue being part of the solution, we cannot simply offer the same lessons and skills and expect the future to match our skills. We must seek out in-depth collaborations so we can address global needs in a holistic way. Business schools can be these vital links, partnering across disciplines, industries, and geographies to offer new and exciting MBA programs so students can enter careers with the creativity and collaborative outlook needed to become change-makers.

3.  You have academic degrees in computer science, in addition to a graduate degree in business administration. How do you see disciplines across institutions, like computer science, integrating with business education to help prepare tomorrow's business leaders, and how can business schools encourage more interdisciplinary learning?

Technology has vastly changed the way we educate and do business. This growing intersection of technology and business can be seen in many of our member business schools. At Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, we seized this opportunity and recently created Cornell Tech, a multidisciplinary campus launched in partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Cornell Tech enables us to drive collaboration between our formidable business, engineering, computer science, health care, and law schools in ways that expand on the traditional MBA skill set, encourage interdisciplinary links, and prepare students for the businesses of tomorrow. The proof point is that students working together across disciplines produce a much greater number of innovative ideas.

4.  What are some of the most important skills business graduates need in order to become leaders in the ever-evolving workforce?

Just as business schools need to transition to become nimbler and increase partnerships to meet the needs of evolving industry, MBA students must learn the value of working across disciplines and collaborating with diverse backgrounds. Whether that means learning why data analysts are embracing health care reform, how hospitality marketers are responding to immigration policy changes, or where investors are shifting their energy assets, business school graduates need to be ready to solve unique challenges wherever they may arise.

5.  Do you believe the recent nationalist/populist movements that have occurred around the world are a threat to global business education?

The populist movements across the globe are a challenge that global business education and education writ large are facing. As these tensions heighten and governments struggle with economic challenges, there is a natural tendency to turn inward. Because our member business schools educate global citizens, we cannot allow this to happen. First, and most apparent, this will affect our ability to have diverse international students contributing to the conversation needed to find solutions to the world’s business issues. Second, globalization and technology are important to improving the quality of life around the world. This is why building new networks of leaders and business schools across the globe are so important. We need to bring the new thinking of our students and future business leaders to the world’s economies.

6.  In an ideal world, what would the relationship between business schools and business look like?

While collaboration between industry and business schools has always existed, AACSB and its members are seeking new approaches that can dramatically increase their impact on the global economy.

For instance, AACSB’s Business Practices Council already brings together business leaders and business school deans to improve management education and build new partnerships between them. At the Co-Lab conference educators and practitioners come together to explore how schools and businesses can build partnerships that serve both industry and academia. The AACSB Bridge Program helps senior-level executives become valuable faculty members who can draw on their years of knowledge and experience to show students how theory connects to practice in the real world.

By advancing both business and business school goals, these 21st-century models of collaboration are providing us with new opportunities to educate future graduates to develop the skills and leadership needed to drive change across industries.

7.  What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about business schools to the outside world? How can business schools help change that perception?

In today’s global economy, there are many who are skeptical of business and some of the ethical issues captured in headlines worldwide. Consequently, many believe business schools are less relevant and function singularly, disconnecting themselves from industry, educators, and society. In fact, business schools are more connected with society today than ever before. As a global organization, AACSB works to connect its members across borders. Our programs and events are designed to create and strengthen linkages among individuals, institutions, and industries in all parts of the world. This is even more important as business educators and business leaders address ethics and social impact for the future prosperity of our world.

Soumitra Dutta is founding dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.