Dean Sundaram emphasizes nimble innovation, defense of strengths

Leanna Bornkamp and Dan O’Brien, 

Editors-in-Chief, MBA Class of 2018

On January 1, 2018, Raghu Sundaram assumed the role of Dean for the NYU Stern School of Business. Sundaram, the Dean Richard R. West Professor of Finance and the Edward I. Altman Professor of Credit & Debt Markets, received his B.A. in Economics from the University of Madras, India, in 1982, and received his M.B.A. from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in 1984. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Cornell University in 1988.

He joined Stern in 1996, and was the Vice Dean of MBA Programs from 2016 until he began serving as Dean earlier this year. Although he has only just begun his new role, he has already begun navigating the dual responsibilities of the position.

“A business school is part of a larger university, and the dean is representative of the school’s voice to the university,” Sundaram said. “A dean is also the face of the school to the outside world, like alumni, donors, trustees, the corporate world; within the business school, the dean is the person who guides ideas, allows them to develop, and provides support.”

Business schools like Stern are not immune to the many technological advancements occurring in—and impacting—industry.

“The world is changing incredibly rapidly around us—faster than ever before,” Sundaram said. “We were relatively immune, in higher education, but we’re seeing the changes catch up to us.”

Stern, in particular, has a different set of advantages and challenges to work with, in the face of such innovation. Stern, for example, is often knocked for its lack of a real campus; however, Sundaram noted, this is to the benefit of its students.

“We don’t live in a cocoon,” Sundaram said. “Our experience is closer to ‘real life.’”

The size of the school, in addition, sets it apart in program variety and breadth of faculty and research strengths. These resources are crucial to curating a curriculum that stays ahead of the curve.

“People think of large organizations as slow—but we are nimble because we are so large,” said Sundaram. “We have experts in many places. So size makes a difference, but so does the fact that we’re in NYC.” Stern has used its agility to innovate quickly in its Masters programs, like the development of the Master of Science in Business Analytics a decade ago. As Sundaram said, “academia can lead the change.”

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT IN A CHANGING LANDSCAPE

Stern, among its other successes, has been known for rapid program development in recent years. In his previous role as Vice Dean of MBA Programs, Sundaram was involved in the creation of the new specialized one-year MBA programs in Tech and Fashion & Luxury, and in new tech-based startup initiatives like the Creative Destruction Lab. In his new role, he notes, he wants to continue Stern’s role as a proverbial “University for the 21st Century.”

Such rapid development can come with concerns about brand dilution, and concerns about stretching resources too thin. New program development at Stern, however, isn’t pursued at the expense of Stern’s current pool of resources, Sundaram claimed.

These new programs, he noted, highlight the strengths that Stern already has, improving the visibility of these resources in a way that attracts new employers for recruiting across all programs, new and established. Companies like Paypal and Microsoft, for example, started recruiting with the Langone and Full-Time MBA Programs after becoming familiarized with the newly-minted Tech MBA. These programs have incentivized industry partners that extend even beyond the Stern alumni network; the Andre Koo Tech MBA, for example, boasts a broad advisory board, robust beyond the NYU community. Only two board members are Stern alumni.

He cited some of the core requirements of a new program initiative as they are followed at Stern: proposed programs, as noted earlier, must play to and highlight Stern’s existing strengths, and must also pull from resources already available at Stern. In other words, no programs are to be launched if the best faculty for the job aren’t already at NYU. In addition, new programs must create positive externalities for already-established programs; they cannot cannibalize current programs.

Finally, the benefits of New York City must be a core component of a program’s competitive advantage. The tech- and fashion-based core competencies of many new Stern initiatives seem to have an organic connection with New York City, both for recruiting and for potential adjunct faculty and other program collaborators. As student interest is difficult to quantify in such an early stage, industry traction and recruiter interest can serve as a proxy for demand during strategic planning.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

As he is only a couple of months into his new role, Sundaram is not ready to list the specific goals that he intends to act upon during his tenure. He was, however, ready to note the general priorities that he expects to emphasize.

“We have many different kinds of enormous strengths, and we have to be careful to safeguard, retain, and consolidate them,” he said. “We will definitely make sure we don’t weaken them.”

Some of these strengths, such as academic research and Stern’s reputation in finance, are examples of what Sundaram intends to protect and develop.

Beyond program growth, Sundaram also plans to safeguard Stern’s promotion of diversity.

“Inclusivity is our soul,” Sundaram said. “That will remain a key priority.”

STUDENT COLLABORATION

One challenge that Sundaram is aware of is the difficulty that MBA students face while trying to built a network with each other across programs.

“Collaboration is always better than competition,” Sundaram said, noting that after graduation, Stern connections aren’t limited to people who participated in the same MBA program (i.e. Full-Time students interacting only with other former Full-Time students). “I recently visited companies including Blackstone, Morgan Stanley, Deloitte, et cetera, and met with various Stern alumni while there. And in these groups are people from all programs. There’s something particularly delightful about that commonality.”

Sundaram sees this is as a problem to be resolved by the students in these very programs, with the help of the administration. Although he has suggestions for ways to bridge the gap and incentivize cross-program collaboration—such as functional, interest-based small meetings that welcome students from all Stern MBA programs—he believes that the heads of student government must get the ball rolling on such initiatives.

CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION

Sundaram noted that he misses the student engagement of teaching multiple large classes, and that he wants to continue hearing from members of the Stern community. He will hold standing office hours on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30pm; interested students can set up an appointment with Ryan Cavin at rcavin@stern.nyu.edu.

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