The Birth of Cornell’s College of Business

Soumitra Dutta, dean of Cornell's new College of Business

Soumitra Dutta, dean of Cornell’s new College of Business

It’s been four whirlwind years since long-time INSEAD professor Soumitra Dutta stepped into the dean’s role at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

In that short timespan, the school has raised $200 million, broke ground on a new six-story building, revamped its full-time MBA program, launched a one-year tech MBA in New York City along with a dual-degree program with Tsinghua University in China, and recruited some 25 faculty members. No less critical, Dutta also has just completed a controversial merger that brought together, with Johnson, the university’s School of Hotel Administration and the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Formally completed on July 1—Dutta’s fourth year anniversary in the job—the new integrated school has been named the College of Business.

What’s to come is as audacious as what has transpired in the past four years. Next July, the Johnson School will have a permanent home in New York, dedicated space on Cornell’s new campus on Roosevelt Island in New York. Within five years, Dutta expects to increase the size of his New York faculty to 18 from the current half dozen who now teach out of temporary quarters in Google’s New York building. Dutta envisions as many as a quarter of the full-time MBA students on the main Ithaca campus spending up to six months in its New York facilities. Also next July, the school expects to double the physical footprint of the Johnson School in Ithaca with the opening of the new 76,000-square-foot Breazzano Family for Business Education building, the result of a $25 million gift from David Breazzano, a 1980 alum and co-founder and president of DDJ Capital Management.


But Dutta’s primary challenge will be making the once controversial merger of three Cornell schools work. The summer merger brought together the faculty, students and alumni of three distinct cultures and institutions. The 1,087 students enrolled in the Johnson School were working toward either master’s (1,040 students) or PhD (47) programs. Both the School of Hotel Administration and the Dyson School were largely populated by undergraduates, with 707 business majors at Dyson and 941 hotel administration majors at the hotel school. Dyson and the hotel school also taught 1,344 additional undergraduates who minored in their subjects.

The newly combined College of Business now boasts roughly 2,940 students, including 1,193 master’s candidates and 99 PhDs, and will teach another 2,290 students in minor programs. Together, the faculty numbers 220, including 87 from Johnson, 74 from the School of Hotel Administration, and 59 from Dyson. The College of Business now boasts the third-largest business faculty in the country, behind Wharton and Harvard, and the fourth-largest business school budget, behind Harvard, Wharton, and the University of Chicago. As the dean of the new Cornell College of Business, he quickly needs to demonstrate that the sum is more than its parts and that the mashup will have immediate benefits to both faculty and students.

“Our goal is not to become another generic business school,” insists Dutta in an interview with Poets&Quants. “The goal really is to do things that other schools would not be able to do easily. Each of the three schools bring some unique strengths. The silos inside universities are pretty high and pretty strong. Faculty don’t come together naturally, but now that they are part of the same college, there will be a natural tendency to become stronger. I am seeing that happen as faculty come together and discover things they can do that they could not do individually.”


Dutta sees natural synergies, particularly in such fields as sustainability and entrepreneurship. “The School of Hotel Administration is one of the world’s leading schools in hospitality and services, and hospitality and services are exploding throughout the global economy,” he says. “If you look at Dyson, it is unique as a shared school with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. So it has enormous strengths in sustainability, international development, as well as food and agricultural economics. These are areas in which most traditional business schools don’t really have much breadth and depth. Johnson has been a more typical business school with all the rigor and academic discipline that you see in traditional business schools, but in recent years the Johnson School is developing in New York as part of Cornell Tech.”

Dutta envisions more course offerings and programs, more faculty collaboration across disciplines, and deeper relationships among undergrads and graduate students. “I met a student the other day in the School of Hotel Administration who just graduated,” recalls Dutta. “He told me that one of this best experiences in the last year of his program was a mentor relationship he developed with an MBA student in finance. That is an example of the kind of programming we intend to have. There will be more formal mentoring schemes between MBAs and undergraduate students. It is a leadership development opportunity for MBA students to coach and mentor someone else.”

None of this has come easy. Over the past four years, Johnson slipped three places in Poets&Quants‘ MBA rankings to 14th from 11th, largely because MBA applications to the school’s two-year residential MBA program declined. Critics, largely from the School of Hotel Administration, argued that the merger would diminish their school’s identity and stature. Some faculty claimed that they weren’t given early enough notice of the change. “Hotel students and alumni are very passionate about the school and the experience they have enjoyed,” explains Dutta. “The graduating students of the hotel school have among the highest satisfaction ratings at the university. It’s often easier to split than to bring units together. and bringing them together often creates concern about whether the values that made the school special will be retained in the future. We have been explicit in saying that we are not only going to preserve and keep intact what you most cherish, but we are going to enhance the school of hotel administration so it remains dominant in the 21st Century.”

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