Cornell’s Big Bet On New York City

by John A. Byrne on

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.

‘I DON’T THINK MANY OTHER BUSINESS SCHOOLS WILL BE ABLE TO MATCH THIS’

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.

‘COMBINING THE BEST OF TWO WORLDS: NEW YORK CITY AND ITHACA’

“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.”

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  • SUNY_Cornell

    Cornell is exaggerating the importance of this so called tech campus. I just hope that it isn’t a massive disaster. The Cornell brand is already waning and cannot afford another blow to its reputation. Cornell! The only state school in the ivy league!

  • TheOptimist

    @ SUNY_Cornell,
    I could not disagree more with you more – but certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion.
    As a current Cornell MBA candidate, I and many others would argue that the NYC campus merely represents a potential opportunity for growth and excellence and its final outcome is certainly not a foregone conclusion. However, the University and many students and faculty are justifiably excited about this potential – sorry you are not.
    Cornell Johnson is very much a school that is making strong moves in many areas IMO, as has been captured by Businessweek with its recent strong moves in their rankings up to #7.
    Clearly however, you are picking up on a trend that the surge in applications and BW have missed. IMO, readers on P&Q are typically far more interested in facts as they are a highly educated bunch that is interested in learning. The facts do not suport your feelings on this subject even remotely – but again you are entitled to your opinion.
    Also, your “only state school in the Ivy League” comment seems better suited for undergrad applicants who relish in such antics and thus you may generate greater support on College Confidential than Poets and Quants.
    Well good luck to you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    An NYC presence is an interesting and exciting development for Johnson and could indeed help to convince admits who are unsure about spending two years in Ithaca, but the question remains – how does this development translate into a unique selling point for Johnson?

    On the tech front, MIT and Stanford will remain strong competitors, while NYC is also home to another Ivy (Columbia) plus NYU, both of which have seen big declines in applications of late. It seems NYC’s attractiveness as a destination is not what it once was.

    Additionally, Johnson’s current particular strengths, in marketing for example, are not specifically related to tech, although maybe tech marketing could be a good elective class.

    I think Johnson’s problem is that it has always been a Plan C for the very top caliber MBA applicants and I’m not sure how an NYC presence on a tech campus is necessarily going to change that. Stanford, MIT, Columbia and Kellogg are not going anywhere any time soon.

    The school needs to become the Plan A for something but sorely lacks a clear USP.

  • AIG_Quant

    Agreed, Cornell Johnson is very much a mediocre school that thinks its Ivy League status will help it attract top caliber applicants. Take away the Ivy league moniker that they so heavily rely upon to attract insecure applicants and it’s just like any other school ranked between 15-25.

  • Escape from Ithaca

    It all sounded so promising until he said “What we are sure of is that the full-time residential program will stay in Ithaca”. That just killed it. Cornell should just bite the bullet and close its Ithaca program like it did with its medical school which moved to NYC many years ago if it wants to be taken seriously. Or at minimum do something like first year in Ithca and 2nd year in NYC combination to attact more high quality candidates.

  • Robert

    Cornell will never be thought of as a Harvard or Wharton, and it most likely will never reach the prestige level of CBS. But how many b schools will ever compete on that level? The value proposition Johnson offers is also, in many ways, related to how it’s very different from those schools. In terms of Ivy League business schools, Cornell comfortably competes with Yale and there’s no reason the current upward trend can’t help Johnson become more competitive with Tuck. The “Ivy League” monicker is obviously a relic of the past, but don’t underestimate the tremendous advantages of an affiliation with a large, prestigious research university. Calling Johnson a “mediocre school” is simply ignorant. I have numerous connections at Johnson, and if anything, the lack of Wharton-level brand equity causes Johnson to maintain even higher quality educational standards because the school feels it has more to prove. Even if the HBS’s and Wharton’s continue to lead the pack in prestige, why does that mean that Cornell is “mediocre?”

  • ChrissyZZ

    The reason Cornell will not move its full-time program to NYC is the same reason it will often reject applicants with 760+ GMAT scores who don’t fit the Johnson culture. Some things are more important than numbers, rankings and attempting to manipulate some nebulous concept of prestige. Johnson is great for what it is. Why would they want to sacrifice that for some hope of morphing into an ugly step-brother of CBS?

    Also, if you think Ithaca is remote, have you ever been to Hanover, NH?

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    Smart, SMART move. Leveraged properly, this move could help to permanently bump Cornell’s standing into firm contention with the rest of the ivy b-schools.

  • Oakmont

    Wow – hard to take your comments and many others very seriously. I guess some folks just like to hate – so hate on I guess.
    But in using your powerful and persuasive logic – I guess Dartmouth should abandon Tuck and perhaps send it to Boston? Yale might as well finally leave New Haven, Darden should dump Charlottesville, Michigan Ross must vacate to the east or west coast, and Duke Fuqua should jump ship from Durham quickly.
    Cornell Johnson has always been a top 15 +/- player and has been working hard to become a top 10 +/- player – good for them. The world and rankings are not static, nor should they be. Competition is a good thing – it helps raise the bar for everyone. Cornell appears to be being noticed, as an earlier poster mentioned, BW has ranked them #7…ahead of a number of the so-called automatic favorites…so what. Cornell may or may not hold, improve, or lose some ground but good on them for making a strong effort.
    A NYC campus addresses a long need and want of many who prefer an urban location and could complement the University’s strength in engineering and science…not sure where the big issue is that people are complaining about in these posts.

  • Escate from Ithaca

    The difference between other remotely located schools and Cornell is that schools
    like Duke, Tuck and Virginia are not building a $2billion campus in NYC!! It’s a new campus people! not just a building!
    Cornell has an unprecedented opportunity to move its business school to the largest
    business hub in the world but sounds like its more important for them to keep status quo and continue being 15ish school in the middle of nowhere.. all in the name of
    keeping Johnson’s tradition of.. being remote.. other shools would kill to get an opportunity like this..

  • Oakmont

    We agree the opportunity is indeed unprecedented – but from there we unfortunately depart, which is fine, I respect the difference.
    I think that Cornell and Johnson are as expected, very excited about the future of this opportunity – but I think they are wise not to abandon their roots overnight – a gradual and prudent exploration of all this can be seems a reasonable approach. Flipping the switch all at once seems a bit too extreme. I am willing to bet that this has been well thought out and will be even more so with the benefit of time and planning.
    My instincts tell me that you would have likely complained no matter what decision was made by Cornell with respect to this new campus – you seem predisposed to dislike Johnson @ Cornell for some reason…
    Cheers

  • David

    This shows a complete lack of knowledge about Universities. Cornell is the most complete ivy league University. Top engineering program, top med school, top law school, top business school, top science/humanities. When you look up programs where it’s great- Labor relations is top notch, real estate/hospitality is the best, they are not part of Johnson, but they are very much an integral part of business education. I’m not affiliated with cornell, but cornell has a lot to offer. Another thing it has going for it strategically is small class size, it doesn’t take a huge boost in application for it to go up a lot in selectivity, then all the prestige whores will start to salivate.

  • SJL854

    Interesting Cornell strategy to focus on technology management for its NYC Tech campus. Thank God Cornell does not morph into another finance school and try to compete with CBS/NYU. What track record does Cornell have in tech management? I know it has an engineering and BSchool, but other big hitters come to my mind first in tech management such as Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, UMichigan and CMU. It looks that each Cornell faculty is run as personal fiefdom without much cross departmental cooperation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    I absolutely agree that Johnson is a decent choice and I would rate it higher than top 25. The students also seem to achieve very good outcomes employment-wise.However, I think the school has missed a lot of marketing opportunities over the years in terms of the school’s positioning – unless, of course, Johnson is perfectly happy to remain a Tier 2 school. It’s just not really “the best” at anything and the NYC news is not really going to change that wider issue in the slightest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    I agree that Cornell has a lot to offer, but Johnson has been very slow to take advantage of that. The new NYC campus is only going to complicate things because many of those top departments you mention will remain in Ithaca, potentially posing logistical issues for deeper integration with either campus..

  • llife

    After years of research and anaylsis to make Johnson more competitive, all it did was change the logo (by making Johnson bigger to mimic Wharton’s logo) and declare that it’s great at developing leaders.. that’s their niche.. nice.. thank god dean Thomas is gone.. hopefully the new dean can actually make some meaningful progress.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    You are right that not every school can be an HBS or Wharton, but certain schools could be major contenders if they really tried. Cornell Johnson has many of the right attributes to be a major player, if they really gave it their best shot. Johnson should be a lot closer in status to Tuck at the very least. It will be interesting to see how well Cornell Johnson will hold its own against Yale SOM under Dean Snyder, who has moved to Yale from Chicago Booth. Yale SOM’s average GMAT score has recently shot through the roof – I believe it’s now the second or third highest of any program – and their swanky new Norman Foster-designed b-school campus will open shortly. Johnson seems to move at a much slower pace than many of the other schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    I am personally very fond of Johnson but I don’t see what is keeping it in Ithaca. As the new dean has noted, Johnson is not integrated at all with the rest of Cornell, so it’s not like it would be breaking any existing bonds by upping sticks to NYC. It almost sound like the new dean is caught between trying to leverage the rest of what Cornell has to offer up in Ithaca while also somehow leveraging the new NYC campus. Or perhaps Johnson would rather remain the number 1 b-school in Ithaca instead of becoming number 3 in NYC

  • DisappointedCornellMan

    I am a Cornell undergrad, and I wouldn’t advise anyone to attend Cornell for college or grad school. There is a very pervasive sense of insecurity on campus. It seems like no one truly wants to be at Cornell. From anecdotal experience, I only chose to attend Cornell because I was rejected from my top three schools (Yale, Stanford and Duke). Ithaca is also a really depressing town. I mean it is beautiful on certain days, but those days are few are far between. I personally wouldn’t want to live in a town like this after graduation. Just my two cents.

  • Shaniqua James

    This is three pages of Dutta thinking out loud in the vaguest possible terms and you write: “It’s rare when when a business school truly has a game changing strategy.” If I were trying to decide where to send an R3 application, this article would have no effect whatsoever.

  • 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! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    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

    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! :)

  • GAILFORCE

    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.

  • 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.

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