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He Peeled Potatoes, Plays Hockey & Now He’s Dean Of Cornell’s Business College

Cornell’s Andrew Karolyi

For its new dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University has chosen a long-time highly respected academic who has played an instrumental role in the school’s efforts to expand the globalization of its curriculum and experiences. Andrew Karolyi may also be the only dean of a business school who once peeled potatoes and mopped floors.

As deputy dean and dean of academic affairs since 2018, Karolyi has played a key role in the business college’s leadership team, working with former Dean Kevin Hallock, the three constituent school deans, and seven associate deans whose purview ranges from budgets to diversity and inclusion. He was named the acting dean when Hallock stepped down in March to become president of the University of Richmond in Virginia. Karolyi will fill uot the remainder of Hallock’s term through June 20, 2024.

In naming Karolyi to the post, Cornell University Provost Michael Kotlikoff called him “an extraordinary scholar, leader, and strategic thinker who is internationally respected for his research contributions. Having served as the deputy dean for nearly three years, there is no one more familiar with the initiatives and challenges facing the college.”“I am honored and grateful to serve as the next dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and have the opportunity to continue to work with this incredible community to keep us moving forward, advancing as a college,” said Karolyi in a statement.

‘WE KNEW WE HAD TO PICK UP THE GAME’

A dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., he joined Cornell in 2009 as a professor of finance and international business after a 19-year stint at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. Karolyi was recruited to Cornell as part of a plan to substantially expand and deepen the business school’s global efforts (listen to Poets&Quants‘ interview on Global Perspectives and International Experiences). “We knew we had to pick up the game,” Karolyi told Poets&Quants.  What we really needed to do at the time was build out our co-curricular experiences so that we could harvest this knowledge and share it.”

He became the founding academic director of a newly created Emerging Markets Institute and oversaw a competitive research grant program for faculty and Ph.D. students Among other things, he helped to create a selective Emerging Markets Fellows Program for MBA students who want to pursue global careers, with courses, seminars, lectures and on-the-ground treks in countries around the world. Students are on-boarded in the second semester of their first year, with a typical cohort of 20 to 25 MBA students a year. “We often call them the Navy Seals in the MBA program, those who can take the textbook learnings in the MBA program and apply them to the most uncomfortable and difficult environments in the world in these complex emerging markets,” says Karolyi. “There was no substitute for on-the-ground.”

Highly personable and passionate about research and teaching, Karolyi is the son of Hungarian immigrants who escaped an autocratic government, through refugee camps in Austria and German, before landing in Canada in the late 1950s. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school and worked in the family’s restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia.

PEELING POTATOES AND WASHING THE DISHES

“It was understood that it was our obligation as family members to be actively engaged in it,” he told an interviewer recently at Cornell for the school’s website. “From peeling potatoes in the back kitchen, to working as a sous-chef, to bussing, to washing the dishes, to mopping the arcade, to doing the books in the office, to carrying the soup from the kitchen over to the fast counter, there was there was no job there that I didn’t do. It was the same for all of us in the family. I worked in the restaurant pretty much all the way through high school and even into university during the summers.”

That work may have inspired him to go the academic route. Karolyi earned his Ph.D. and his MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 1989 and 1987, respectively. He also has a master’s in economics from the University of Ottawa in Canada and a bachelor’s degree in economics from McGill University.

Karolyi said one of his main priorities will be fostering a sense of community and belonging at the college. “To reach new heights, we need to be recognized as a place where people want to work, study and exchange ideas,” he added. “Our college is stronger together. I truly believe we need a renewed focus toward building a culture that is inclusive, that is respectful of our diversity of views, and that draws upon the wisdom of our individual voices.”

THREE PRIORITIES AS DEAN

In his interview, the new dean cited three priorities for his deanship: 1) to study and brainstorm how business education needs to change and adapt to the modern realities of business; 2) to streamline the college infrastructure in the aftermath of the 2016 merger of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management with the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration, and 3) to strengthen the culture of belonging in the college.

“I hear still from many faculty and staff about how hard the integration has been for them,” he said. “Too often, they still feel disconnected from the overall mission of the college, which is to seize the distinct and yet common strengths of our three schools to be so much more. I know I need to focus my energies on building a work environment to help us all celebrate our diversity of backgrounds and histories and to build up our sense of belonging and inclusiveness in the college. I am eager to advance this priority.”

A fanatical fan of hockey, Karolyi has played the game since the age of five.  “I’ve been a registered USA hockey referee and coach. Both of my sons played and I was actively involved in their hockey life. I am a fan of the sport and the game. I love the atmosphere of Lynah Arena. I love everything about the sport. Playing it. Watching it. The speed, the elegance, the agility of the men and women as athletes captivate me. It’s free-flowing, dynamic, and I just revel in the strategies embedded in all that.”

DON’T MISS: KAROLYI ON CORNELL’S GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE AND INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCES or MEET THE CORNELL JOHNSON MBA CLASS OF 2022