Cornell’s Big Bet On New York City

Johnson Dean Soumitra Dutta

Johnson Dean Soumitra Dutta

It’s rare when a business school truly has a game changing strategy. More often than not, new deans coaxed minor curriculum improvements out of faculty, raise cash for new buildings, or bankroll new marketing campaigns.

But when INSEAD professor Soumitra Dutta moved into the dean’s office at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management last August, he inherited a game changing initiative for both the university and its business school. Cornell already had won a competition for $100 million in funds and $300 million worth of New York City real estate to create a new graduate school dubbed Cornell NYC Tech.

The school, meant to help commercialize science and technology to create businesses and employment in New York, gives the university and the business school a dynamic laboratory for innovation and entrepreneurship. Cornell NYC Tech, which opened its doors in January in 20,000 square feet of space at Google’s New York headquarters in Chelsea, will eventually boast a vast campus on Roosevelt Island in 2017.


Already, though, it’s Dutta’s number one priority. It suddenly opens up a whole range of possibilities for us to experiment in the New York City environment,” says Dutta in an interview with Poets&Quants. “I don’t think many other business schools will be able to match this. The New York strategy is very much focused around technology and Johnson is going to be a very important player in that project. We will be trying to create a whole new class of companies and professionals in New York City.”

No less crucial, it gives an Ivy League business school in rather isolated Ithaca, N.Y., a foothold in the most dynamic city in the world. “Being in Ithaca sometimes can be a disadvantage in terms of remoteness,” concedes Dutta. Cornell NYC Tech will put the school in the spotlight like never before but also will put pressure on the new dean to fully exploit an unprecedented opportunity.

He is ruling nothing out, though concrete plans have yet to be approved. Dutta says it’s possible that Johnson will start a full-time MBA program in New York City. Non-degree executive programs are pretty much a no-brainer. So is using Cornell NYC Tech as a converging point to bring together graduate students in business, computer science and engineering to create new startups.


“The strategy calls for integration on a much deeper merger between computer science, engineering and business,” he says. “It focuses on our attempts to work very closely with those two schools and to use New York City as a base for launching other kinds of programs, including non-degree programs. We do anticipate there will be some special tech orientation to these programs and ways to link up to other activities on campus. What I hope is that in three to four months time, we should be able to bring it together in a more coherent and detailed strategy. The eventual goal is to grow in New York City significantly, to combine the best of two worlds: the best of New York and the best of Ithaca and Cornell.”

  • Robert

    This will be interesting, there are 3 major MBA programs in the city right now ( Columbia, NYU and Fordham), both NYU and Fordham have big part-time programs so Cornell will have to niche it and both offer executive as does Columbia. It will be a crowded space and the immediate power struggle will be Columbia which has a long established role on top of the totem pole ! IESE has a foothold presence also in NYC offering short programs.


    That’s because the other schools don’t offer programs like Labor Relations and Hotel Management. You’re not first if there are no other competitors in the race haha.

  • Oakmont

    Thanks for the response – I understand your points and appreciate your perspective. Let’s agree to disagree though on this one, respectively of course!
    I think Johnson is doing a particulaly good job right now and the reported surge in applications this year (one of the few schools to report an increase) as reported in P&Q and BW, is certainly a key piece of evidence to that end, versus many schools reporting declines.
    Johnson is clearly connecting with prospects meaningfully – perhaps not with 10 or 15 on this particular forum, but this is hardly an accurate barometer.
    I also agree that Johnson does a nice job with its eMBA programs and its accelerated MBA – all terrific programs.
    I think adding a NYC campus is a terrific way to enhance the brand in a dynamic location like NYC, and to leverage the University’s core strengths in engineering, science, and business, in a world class city. It is an opportunity and all opportunities have risks, including the execution risk, to which you speak. I would not hide from this opportunity or risk though. The Cornell brand is extrememly strong globally, and a NYC location that attempts to converge engineering, business, and science seems like a really good idea – execution risk aside of course.
    Why not better serve different market segments and perhaps build a niche. Also, I feel strongly that if the Boston market can handlle business school demand from Harvard and MIT (and BU, BC, and Babson) than NYC can quite easily handle Columbia, Cornell, and NYU without problem.
    And I think Cornell and Johnson will work hard to administer it well…
    Tuck is a favorite of mine – but I do not see meaningful innovation or change coming from Tuck – and I am not saying they need to innovate, as they are doing a phenomonal job as it is. I actually see Tuck and Johnson as very comparable – and personally, I would love to attend either school, but at the moment I would pick Johnson, and so would BW. Tomorrow that could change, so I reserve all rights, as they say. I am glad you like their campus better and think it is more picturesque, but having visited both – I disagree, and rather strongly. But if campus likability is the decison factor than we really agree more than we disagree that they are both excellent schools! Thanks again for a great dialogue! 🙂

  • Hi there,

    I think your point 1) regarding the appeal of the current bucolic location raises the question of how the school should leverage the new NYC campus, if at all, which was largely my original point. It would not be just a new campus for Johnson, it would potentially be a whole new strategy, which could be tricky for a school that tries to be big on community spirit.

    I also think that Tuck has done a much better job of making the most of its location. It has, arguably, a much more picturesque campus than Johnson. I find that Johnson has been poor at marketing itself overall, which is ironic given that it is known as a marketing school and has a lot to work with.

    Regarding your point 2) I also agree with you that a successful history is no guarantee of a successful future, but I do not think Johnson has not been particularly innovative. They have tinkered around with the program content a bit but there is none of the dynamism of e.g. Chicago Booth in evidence. Just as they are finally starting to think about integrating more closely with other Cornell schools up in Ithaca, a new campus in NYC has now come into view. The school seems behind the curve in many ways where the 2-yr program is concerned. It has however shown itself to be much more nimble where its EMBAs and 1-yr program are concerned which is what makes me think it could execute better for the 2-yr MBA as well.

  • Oakmont

    @ Tia Trussardi,
    Very much respect the thoughts and clear difference of opinion – it is what makes these forums interesting. Opinions do vary, but I think we agree that all the schools that are being mentioned on this general post are all excellent, and so anything I say I wish to say that first and upfront.
    Here is where I think we disagree:
    1) I disagree with the whole notion of just get up and move from Ithaca. Why should/would Cornell Johnson leave Ithaca? For the many students who prefer an urban location – there is actually a large number who do not want to be in a city and prefer a more bucolic and close-knit community setting. Phillly can be great for some but it is not for everyone – same with New Haven. Accordingly, Dartmouth Tuck attracts many top students for this reason – the bucolic New Hampshire setting hours away from Boston is not the big obstacle. Michigan Ross, Duke Fuqua, Cornell Johnson, and Virginia Darden….etc all seem to manage very well and have for many, many years, without need to move? Also since BW rankings have been quoted in this post – Duke is #6, Cornell is #7, Michigan is #8, and Tuck is # 12. Not a bad showing for the subrban/bucolic imore isolated schools???? So this argument loses me. Conversely, three more urban schools – Columbia at #14, and NYU Stern at #16, and Yale at #21. Again, each one of these schools is amazing but I just think that the whole Ithaca is a major issue thing, is not really a major issue – it is likely as much of an issue for Cornell, as it is for any other school.
    2) There is an attitude (not saying you – by any means) that I detect in this forum and others that I find understandable on the one hand, but also very unfortunate – it is the: “well that is just the way it is – and always has been” attitude. I think this is a dangerous one. Complacency is very damaging. Take Dartmouth Tuck for example, which is an amazing program and with terrific students…but my point is, that just because Tuck has had an amazing history – it is just that, history – and it serves them very well and they continue to execute very very well, but it does not guarantee such successes in the future (it helps though). However, in the long-run compeitive advantages accrue to those that continuously innovate and try and seek to implement change. Many of the most admired companies in the world are the ones who innovate mightily. The trash bin of history is littered with those nations, empires, and companies who rest on their laurels. My point is that folks should consider being more open minded about great schools like Cornell or Yale or Duke than I often see bashed in these forums – and step away from the safety of what alway is and has been.
    Cornell is attempting to innovate to improve itself which should be applauded not hated…it helps raise the bar for all schools…
    And they are being recognized for it by folks who are willing to look beyond the historically disproven long-term strategy of “well that is just the way it has always been”…how has that worked out for so many???
    And the number 3 business school in NYC??? That is a very debatable question IMHO. I will grant you #2 but #3…not from my desk. And from Businessweek’s perspective Cornell is already #1 in NYC.
    Oh – we do agree that they are the #1 School in Ithaca! 🙂