March 25, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Suggestions for the business dean search committee

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To the Editor:

As jarred Cornellians across the globe felt in 2016, the formation of the University’s College of Business was characterized by haste, cryptic explanation, and — without exaggeration — heartbreak.  The pain of betrayal by a loved one does not diminish on its own, even with time. So it is with cautious optimism that I write: now can be a time of hope.

With the sudden resignation of Dean Soumitra Dutta, perhaps the University can slow down, and throw open the shutters to sunshine and breeze. The next dean must do no less than: 1. Heal a battered community, 2. Assess the mission and resources, and 3. Grow three unique schools while forging a new unified culture.

I implore the Search Committee to recruit the next dean to:

First, heal.

Choose someone familiar with both what was lost and feared-to-be-lost.  Clearly the most vociferous outrage came from Hotelies. The new dean must understand why what appears as a “narrow” curriculum at the Hotel School produces alumni extraordinarily effective in broad areas of business, law and public service.  Similar to an accomplished cellist successfully undertaking flute lessons, the secret sauce is experience achieving excellence. If you’ve been to the mountaintop once, you know what it takes to get there again.

We also need a great communicator who will spend due time listening, meeting and winning-back faculty, students, staff and alumni who felt shunted and managed-by-press-release.  This person must be someone not only with industry chops, but also a friend who sows trust and honors legacy.

Second, assess.

Empower a CEO with mastery in his or her emotional attunement. An intuitive learner who does not rush to create a neat-and-tidy SWOT for the College of Business. Instead, someone with a solid foundational belief regarding the College’s role in today’s messy, fascinating and interconnected world.  What does the candidate see as its raison d’être? Can this person give voice to our higher calling?

Third, grow.

We want a tribal leader who is comprehensive in seeking fresh ideas, yet clear-eyed enough to take firm steps forward. They must never lose sight of why change is important though in the short term; feathers will be ruffled and not everyone will wish him or her well.

Like a parent in a healthy household, I see the next dean fostering the unique personalities of Dyson, Johnson and Statler.  A custodian whose sacred responsibility is to fan the flames of curiosity, create a safe haven and hold family accountable for reaching deep inside to give their very best to each other.

If he or she starts with the above, I believe the College of Business will be a force-multiplier — much greater than the sum of its three parts.  Proving to skeptics that Cornell continues to be the education of choice for tomorrow’s John Zimmer, Josh Tetrick, Abby Cohen and Ratan Tata — gamechangers making an indelible dent in the universe of business.

Choose wisely & good luck.

Esther Tang ’04