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BW Businessworld

Johnson Gets A New Dean

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Nitin Nohria (Harvard B-School), Dipak Jain (Kellogg, INSEAD)... The world's top B-schools increasingly seem to prefer Indian- origin heads. Now, add another name - Soumitra Dutta, new dean of Cornell University's management school.

The 48-year old IIT-Delhi alumnus will be the first Indian-origin dean at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management when he takes over on July 1.

A professor of business and technology and founder and faculty director of a new-media and technology innovation lab at INSEAD's French campus, Soumitra Dutta was one of two finalists at the end of a long search process that began in August last year. He will be the first dean at a top American business school from outside the US. "Professor Dutta's appointment is a natural fit with Johnson's increasingly global outlook," said David Skorton, president of Cornell University. Dutta will succeed Joseph Thomas, who is stepping down after a five-year term as dean.

As part of Dutta's offer, Cornell will hire his wife, Spaniard Lourdes Casanova, as a senior lecturer of management in the Johnson school. The couple have a daughter, who studies at Oxford University. A call to the man of the hour can be a tricky business; the queue to get to him is long; but significantly, it has dawned on him that he's high denomination. Dutta, though, surprises us when he picks up the cellphone during lunch hour, and says: "Of course we can talk. I have more time for you than what you are asking for." Quickly then, very typical of a new media man, who has linked technology to management, he adds, "Hold on. Let me put on my hand's free."

Born in Chandigarh to an Indian Air Force doctor, Soumitra's first idea of home, the one address you go back to everyday for years, came at the age of 26 when he moved to Fountainbleu, an hour and a half from Paris, as an assistant professor at INSEAD. After the 22-year-stint there, he has neither the famous European indifference, nor a Western accent. "I strongly hold on to two things that I brought with me from India: respecting diversity and the importance of family values," he says. An alumnus of IIT-Delhi from the class of 1985, he completed his BTech in electrical engineering & computer science with a proud second rank.

Soumitra's first school was a tiny one in Jorhat, Assam, and the nature of his father's job took him to various places. What did not change was his academic record. "He never moved from the first rank," his mother Tara Dutta told this paper. In fact, his dad realised pretty early that Soumitra was a bright child and stopped teaching him. "He would ask very tough questions I had no answers for," says retired Air Marshal R K Dutta.

Young Soumitra was no bookworm though, his other passions including bodybuilding and table-tennis. After passing out of IIT-Delhi, he completed his MS in Computer Science, MS in Business Administration and PhD in Computer Science from the University of California-Berkeley.

Dutta, who has published 20 books and monographs, is credited with publishing the Global Information Technology Report (co-published with the World Economic Forum) and the Global Innovation Index (co-published with the World Intellectual Property Organization). He is also seen as an authority on emerging markets having done intense research around the Latin American, Chinese and Indian markets.

Nils Fonstad, an assistant director at INSEAD's E-lab, fondly describes Dutta and Lourdes as the most welcoming couple in Fountainbleu. "They celebrated Diwali and then brought in the New Year in a very traditional French way by celebrating La Galette de Rois. They invited the whole community to their home. They are extremely generous."

Another IIT-Delhi almunus Prof Harbir Singh, Vice Dean, Global Initiatives, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, said, "This appointment is a reflection of the great interest that business schools have in leaders who have had diverse international experience."

I have known Soumitra for many years, and his prior background is perfect for this leadership role."

Spencer Stuart was appointed by Cornell to hire the dean with a 12-person search committee comprising alumni, students and administrators. "The selection process for this kind of appointment is extremely intense and very systematic and most of the times tougher than corporate hiring," said R Suresh from Staton Chase, a global executive search firm. Another Indian-origin academician Bala Balachandran, faculty at the Kellogg School of Management, described Dutta as a fantastic teacher.

(Courtesy: The Telegraph)