Revisiting How India Supplied the US with a Generation of Business School Deans.

Dipak Jain vividly recalls the skepticism he faced over two decades ago when appointed as the first dean of Indian origin to lead a top US business school. His tenure at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management from 2001 to 2009 marked a turning point, paving the way for a notable trend.

Rao Unnava, the dean at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, reflects on this shift, noting the presence of over 80 Indian deans and senior academics in US-based institutions. They maintain a close network, sharing insights and camaraderie.

The rise of Indians in leadership positions within US business schools reflects cultural traits and underscores both the educational opportunities provided by US universities and the challenges within India’s higher education system.

Many of these leaders share a common trajectory: education in prestigious Indian institutions followed by postgraduate studies in the US, where they climbed the academic ladder. According to Paul Almeida, dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the cultural emphasis on education and the allure of academic prestige have been significant factors.

Jain attributes part of their success to India’s historical ties with the English language, coupled with a strong commitment to education among Indian families. Rangarajan Sundaram, dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business, highlights the transformative role played by India’s elite educational institutions in shaping aspirations and fostering a skilled workforce.

Soumitra Dutta, who has held leadership positions at Cornell and Oxford, underscores the ease with which Indians navigate Anglo-Saxon cultures and their affinity for diverse viewpoints, rooted in India’s rich cultural heritage.

Unnava emphasizes the adaptability of Indian academics in the US, noting the shift away from traditional hierarchical approaches. He highlights the cultural values of humility and harmony prevalent among Indians, traits that resonate well within diverse academic environments.

The growing presence of Indian academic leaders in the US has inspired a new generation of Indian students to pursue business education abroad, driven by aspirations for upward mobility and corporate success. However, this brain drain raises concerns about India’s own higher education system and the loss of talent.

While Indians continue to pursue academic careers in the US, Madhav Rajan, dean at Chicago Booth School of Business, suggests that future academic leaders may increasingly come from Europe. Nonetheless, the influx of Indian students into US universities remains robust, with the potential for continued contributions to academia and beyond.

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