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Five minutes with Soumitra Dutta

Soumitra Dutta, former founding Dean and Professor of Management at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, and Chair of the Global Business School Network

How did you discover the case method, and what is it you like about this form of learning?

I have a PhD in computer science and so I was not exposed to the case method during my graduate studies at UC Berkeley.

My first exposure to case teaching came during my years as a young Assistant Professor at INSEAD. As part of the induction process of new faculty, I was invited to sit in on the classes of senior faculty, and many of them used the case method. I immediately liked the interactive method of teaching facilitated by the case method, and decided to learn more about it.

Early in my career I participated as a guest faculty member in an executive programme at Harvard Business School. This showed me how the case method is effective in drawing out the experiences of seasoned managers, and integrating them into the classroom learning process.

Why does the case method work so well in the area of management?

Management education is inherently application orientated and context sensitive. Many participants in management programmes (MBA students and executives) come with rich backgrounds of work experience in firms around the world.

A case study often provides an excellent platform for students to provide their varied perspectives on issues being discussed in class. Frequently there is no one right answer in management and case discussions allow for this. Context is also important for making management decisions and cases help these nuances to surface.

By allowing different perspectives to be exposed during a case discussion, the learning process can be made richer for all. Real learning often happens at points of insightful friction – by analysing and trying to understand why a colleague thinks differently, or makes a different recommendation for action, compared to what you may think or how you may choose to act.

As the Chair of GBSN's board, what are the organisation's key short-term aims?

Founded by Guy Pfeffermann, GBSN has achieved a lot over the years.

The mandate of GBSN is to help develop cross-border connections across business schools, and to help build management capacity in emerging markets. I intend to continue working towards this goal in my role as Chair of GBSN.

Previously I was the Vice-Chair and Chair of AACSB and saw first-hand how much more effort is needed to help build the capabilities of business schools in developing markets. While there has been considerable progress made in some developing markets such as China and India, a lot remains to be done both in these economies and other regions like Africa, Latin America and Central Asia.

I would like to expand the network of business schools in both developed and developing markets and create more programmes of effective capacity development. I would also like GBSN to build stronger links with corporations, as they are the immediate beneficiaries of improved management skills in developing markets.

humanitarian aid

If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?

I would like to be transported into the world of humanitarian aid for refugees. I think there is an important role that education can play in the integration of refugees into society, and to help them build sustainable lives. I would like to understand the issues here better and how business schools and organisations such as GBSN can play a constructive role.

How do you relax?

For physical exercise, I like to go for walks in forests and swim. I also like to do repairs and “bricolage” in my homes. I find that satisfying, creative and also, in an interesting way, relaxing. I used to paint earlier in my life but have not done so for many years – I hope I can restart this hobby in the coming years.

Do you have a favourite quote or guiding principle?

Whenever I have faced a difficult situation in my personal or professional life, I have found it useful to identify a key central stake in the ground, then make other difficult decisions around it. Forcing this important discipline of identifying the stake in the ground, around which you can make other trade-offs, has helped me to tackle difficult situations.

About Soumitra

Soumitra Dutta was the Founding Dean of Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and is now Professor of Management at the College. He is currently Chair of GBSN’s Board of Directors.

Specialising in technology and innovation policy, Soumitra is a member of the Davos Circle, and has engaged in a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives to shape global, regional and industry agendas.


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