Sunil Kumar Named New Dean at Chicago Booth

Yesterday the University of Chicago Booth School of Business announced that Stanford GSB’s Sunil Kumar will assume the role of Dean at the school. Kumar’s appointment ends a search that began seven months ago, after Edward A. Snyder announced in December that he would leave the school at the end of the academic year after serving nearly two full five-year terms at the head of the school.

Kumar, who is currently the Fred H. Merrill Professor of Operations, Information and Technology at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, will begin his five-year term at Booth starting January 1, 2011. He brings with him an extensive resume of thought leadership in the operations management space. Kumar also is familiar with the role of leading an MBA program, currently serving as Stanford GSB’s Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

This is an interesting appointment on multiple levels. For one, while longtime Chicago Booth faculty member Harry Davis never seemed to be a front-runner for the job, his extensive experience at the school made him someone the search committee had to at least consider. Davis was one of the key players who led the development of Booth’s relatively new LEAD program, which represented a very significant change to the school’s curriculum. Anyone who thought that Davis would be “too much of an insider” (i.e., unwilling to shake things up if needed) wouldn’t need to look any further than that program.

Additionally, over the past decade Booth has certainly spread its wings beyond hardcore quant and finance to gain a more well-rounded reputation among applicants and leaders at other schools. Appointing an “ops guy” like Kumar suggests that the school is comfortable with how far its reputation has come recently, and doesn’t feel a need to go any farther than it already has. Ten years ago, we wonder if the school, which has been interested in broadening its branding beyond the stereotype of hardcore quant-types, would have made this same appointment. That’s not to say that Kumar’s leadership will put a damper on the school’s other departments — everything we’ve seen about him suggests that he’s a well-rounded leader who happens to have a PhD in Electrical Engineering — but it’s an interesting signal about what the search committee thinks the school needs more right now.

Kumar had this to say about his appointment in Chicago Booth’s announcement:

“I am excited to become dean of Chicago Booth,” Kumar said. “I share the school’s passion for the pursuit of ideas that hold up under careful scrutiny. I look forward to helping strengthen and enhance Booth’s outstanding research environment and its rigorous, discipline-based approach to business education. I am eager to get to know the faculty, students, alumni, and staff of the school, and to engage with the business community in the city of Chicago.”

No doubt about it, Kumar has some large shoes to fill. Snyder’s tenure at Booth was arguably the most successful run by any business school leader over the past decade: In 2008 alumnus David Booth donated $300 million, a staggering sum that led to the school changing its name from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business to Chicago Booth. The school also opened its new state-of-the-art Harper Center, which has significantly improved the quality of life for the student body. And, Chicago Booth’s global footprint has also grown significantly over the past decade, with a new campus in London and a planned campus expansions in Singapore. It’s hard to argue that any dean has had more of an impact on his or her school over the past ten years than Snyder had.

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