An engineer by training and a teacher by vocation, Sunil Kumar thought long and hard before accepting the post of dean of the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business in January. He knew it would mean less time for teaching and research after having taught operations, information and technology at Stanford University's graduate school of business for nearly 15 years. However, he also realised it was a great opportunity to develop other talents. With an interest in administration and a practical mindset, he hopes over the next five to 10 years to enhance the Booth School's international profile to attract top faculty and students, and to strengthen its reputation in areas such as organisational behaviour. Kumar, who was in Hong Kong to touch base with Booth alumni, talks to John Cremer.
What priorities did you set in your new role?
One thing I could start on immediately was to increase contact with alumni – a reason for my visit to Hong Kong – and the number of short-term targeted programmes providing special skills for senior managers. As an example, we recently did a multi-day workshop for corporate executives from Mexico on investing in equity markets. Other things are more in the nature of enhancement rather than radical change. I want to get my facts right before making proposals and don’t intend to change things just for the sake of it. The school is already in terrific shape and, by all objective measures, doing extremely well.
Why did you accept the position?
Chicago really values business knowledge and, in many cases, has created what is taught in the programmes. It is also very strong in research. It was a big decision to relocate after putting down fairly deep roots in the Stanford community, but what clinched it was that I felt comfortable talking to the faculty and the role seemed such a good fit for me.
What is your approach as an administrator and leader?
I like to describe myself as combining an insider's values with an outsider's eye. My style is quite deliberative, so I want to understand what the organisation does and why it does things a certain way. Maintaining the status quo or standing still is not a strategy, but making changes just to take the credit is also myopic. I aim to foster a culture of innovat