Dean Interview: Cornell’s Vishal Gaur Unveils the Dynamic Future of Business Education in 2023
In this interview, Vishal Gaur, Dean of Cornell University’s Johnson School, explores the importance of an MBA in today’s business world, emphasising its crucial role in nurturing career growth.


The face of the MBA has undergone a profound transformation, transitioning from a traditional status symbol to a dynamic catalyst for growth and success. As the academic world keenly observes this evolution, one seasoned visionary emerges to share invaluable insights. Meet Vishal Gaur, the distinguished Dean of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, who brings a wealth of experience and a sharp eye for emerging trends. 

In this exclusive interview conducted by Allwin Agnel, CEO and founder of, we explore Dr. Gaur’s perspectives on various critical topics, ranging from the shifting demand for MBA programs in the United States to the profound impact of online education. He emphasises the significance of in-person interactions, discusses the challenges MBA programs face today, and navigates the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship. With a finger on the pulse of recent industry developments, Vishal Gaur also offers valuable advice to prospective students and recent graduates. Join us as we embark on this enlightening journey with Dean Vishal Gaur, uncovering the profound significance of the MBA in today’s dynamic world.

Q1. What ignited your passion for academia and pursuing a career in MBA-focused business education?

After completing my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and starting my career in the industry, I observed quite a few challenges in the banking space. What surprised me was that technology did not always increase productivity, which got me interested in further exploring these issues. As I gained experience in banking operations, it became clear that academia can play a vital role in solving problems in productivity, technology, and business models more thoroughly, which can lead to better results for organisations as a whole. I also realised that being in academia would allow me to combine my MBA education with my engineering degree from IIT Delhi and to work on problems I was genuinely interested in to have a broader impact beyond just one organisation. That’s what made me decide to pursue a career in academia – the ability to do research, be independent, and solve problems that matter.

Over time, I’ve come to see that academia is quite similar to entrepreneurship. It involves identifying problems, coming up with innovative solutions, and positively impacting the world. However, there’s a difference as well. In academia, the focus is on creating knowledge rather than tangible products, like in business ventures. It’s unfortunate to see a decline in PhD enrolments from India, especially in the field of business research, considering how similar it is to entrepreneurship and how it can pave the way for rewarding careers. I wish more bright students from India would consider careers in research and academia.

Dean Interview: Cornell’s  Vishal Gaur Unveils the Dynamic Future of Business Education in 2023
Meet the bright and inspiring faces at Cornell’s MBA Class of 2024

Q2. Do you notice a decrease in the demand for MBA programs in the US, while India experiences an upward trend with an increase in the number of MBA enrolments over the past three years?

The MBA is the best degree program for career switchers. In my opinion, it stands out not only because of its comprehensive curriculum and career programming but also due to various other factors. It has the remarkable ability to profoundly transform students and mould them into better leaders, making it one of the best graduate programs available for career advancement.

However, it is true that the MBA degree is facing increased competition from various other specialised degrees in the United States, leading to a fragmented market. It’s a different scenario in India and the rest of the world, where the MBA degree continues to experience growth. As we navigate this changing economic environment and evolving technological needs of business, it reminds me of the transformative times in the 70s and 80s when new career paths emerged for MBAs, like in investment banking and capital markets, which then fueled the financial advancements on Wall Street.

With the growing importance of technology today, MBA programs are having to adapt and evolve accordingly. Schools have embraced technology and integrated it into their curriculum to stay relevant. While there has been a drop in GMAT takers over the recent years, I believe it’s a temporary trend. 

Q3. How do you plan to design Cornell’s MBA courses to accommodate the transition from online to offline or hybrid models post-COVID-19 pandemic?

I value and desire in-person interaction in the classroom, and I know that both my students and faculty share this sentiment. Face-to-face engagement offers greater enrichment and quality compared to virtual experiences. However, the return to normalcy is taking longer than expected as we all adjust to pre-pandemic routines. Nevertheless, this is a temporary situation, and with time, more people will gradually return to in-person interactions.

The shift to online education during the pandemic taught us important lessons. We had the opportunity to experiment with various online delivery methods and learned valuable insights from the process. Looking ahead, I envision a combination of online programming and in-person experiences. Some subjects, such as statistics, can be effectively taught online with the help of various tools. Online platforms offer instant feedback and customisation, which enhance individual learning experiences.

At Cornell, we are already embracing this blended approach and carefully reviewing our curriculum to explore further possibilities. Our faculty members now have valuable online teaching experience, which will undoubtedly benefit our educational endeavours.

I strongly believe that we will become more adept at leveraging the strengths of both in-person interactions and online education. At Cornell, we are actively pursuing this direction, and the insights gained from our experiences will shape our future educational approach, ensuring an even more dynamic and effective learning environment for everyone involved.

Dean Interview: Cornell’s  Vishal Gaur Unveils the Dynamic Future of Business Education in 2023
Cornell’s on-campus classes come alive with vibrant summer colours.

Q4. With students now returning to on-campus learning, how do you foresee the evolution of online MBA programs?

Despite its advantages, online education will only partially disrupt the traditional education system. While it has its place, I don’t think it will ever fully replace the traditional model. However, it does serve as a significant disruptor when it comes to non-degree programs and certificates. Through online platforms, faculty members can reach a global audience with their exceptional material, extending beyond the confines of their own institutions. Popular courses like machine learning and Python programming have become accessible to learners beyond specific academic institutions.

Nevertheless, a purely online degree program can only partially replicate the value of a traditional degree. The expected disruption has not occurred to the extent people anticipated, as in-person interactions are essential for intellectual growth and leadership development. A prime example is Cornell’s online business analytics masters program, which offers most of its curriculum online but incorporates regular in-person or synchronous interaction with faculty each week. This blended approach creates essential connections and interactions that students highly value.

Fundamentally, education revolves around these personal interactions, and a purely online product without any touchpoints fails to adequately meet students’ needs. Therefore, while online education is making strides in specific areas, it still has its limitations in fully replacing the comprehensive experience offered by traditional education.

Q5. How is your MBA program adjusting to the evolving landscape of MBA education? What obstacles are you encountering, and what strategies do you have in place to enhance your program?

It is true that the requirements of MBA education are continuously evolving. Our strategy to enhance our program is driven by our immersion curriculum, in which first-year students take practice-based courses and work on corporate projects in the second semester of their first year. Because they are connected to practice, the immersions keep changing with the priorities of companies and prepare students for success in their internships.

Another pillar of our strategy is being a part of a new College of Business at Cornell, which has brought together three business schools under one roof. The college has opened opportunities for our students to connect with a much larger network of alumni and faculty. We plan to continue developing new programming that leverages the college of business resources for our students.

MBA continues to serve as a gateway to new opportunities in various industries. To stay relevant, we actively foster interdisciplinary connections and are continuously expanding our curriculum to cover emerging fields like product management. By doing so, we ensure that our MBA program remains adaptable and prepares our students for success in the ever-changing business landscape.

Q6. How do you see the end of affirmative action affecting MBA admissions? 

Our university is actively evaluating and understanding the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Our university president has addressed this matter, highlighting our unwavering commitment to abide by the law in any form it takes. Notably, when Cornell was established in 1865, it was founded on the principle of inclusivity, famously known as “any person, any study.”

Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognise the value of diversity in the business world. This is now well supported by numerous academic studies. In my area of operations management, research has shown that teams of doctors from diverse backgrounds achieve better surgical and patient outcomes than teams with homogeneous backgrounds. Similar findings have also been observed in emergency response teams, ambulance crews, and software development teams. As a result, businesses increasingly understand the importance of embracing diversity in all its forms.

These two aspects, our historical commitment to inclusivity and the proven benefits of diversity, are difficult to deny. They remain essential pillars of our university’s ethos and shape our approach to education and community-building.

Inclusivity and diversity at Cornell Johnson
Embracing Diversity and Inclusion at Johnson Graduate School of Management

Q7. Based on your journey at Cornell SC Johnson College, where you have consistently championed innovation in the MBA curriculum, such as the Digital Technology Immersion from 2014-2019 and your role as the director for the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA), what plans do you have in store for the business school in the next 2-3 years that prospective applicants should be aware of?

I strongly believe that as an MBA graduate, it is essential for our students to have a sufficient understanding of data, analytics, and technology. The increasing significance of AI and the pervasiveness of data in our lives make it crucial for management professionals to be equipped with these skills to effectively perform their jobs.

For instance, when I interact with consulting graduates or those working in the management consulting industry, they often mention projects related to Industry 4.0, automation, digital transformation, and other technological aspects. Mainstream companies’ students, on the other hand, discuss their involvement in digital marketing, the need to leverage customer data for deriving value, establishing e-commerce platforms, complying with ESG regulations like EUDR and traceability, or implementing carbon accounting. All these scenarios require the setup of appropriate technological infrastructure. 

I believe technology offers solutions to many of the challenges we currently face in society. However, the goal should not be to convert MBA education into software engineering or data science, but instead to train smart users of technology and creators of a tech economy. To illustrate this, I would like to draw an analogy to Formula One racing. A Formula One driver does not need to be an engineer capable of building a car from scratch, but they must understand how to push the car to its limits and harness its power during races. Similarly, as an MBA graduate, you should have a similar interface with technology. You may not need to know the specifics of a particular Python library, but you should understand the capabilities of technology and how to utilise it effectively.

Cornell MBA students visited Nasdaq
Cornell MBA students visited Nasdaq Closing Bell with Cornell Blockchain, an organisation dedicated to blockchain education and hands-on projects.

Q8. With the growing impact of AI on students’ learning methods and project preparation, how does Cornell’s faculty address the challenge of effectively motivating and guiding students to ensure they do not solely rely on AI to evade the actual work required for their projects?

We are currently discussing the integration of ChatGPT and generative AI in our curriculum. Our conversations revolve around two main perspectives. Firstly, we aim to prepare students for the evolving world and equip them with the skills to leverage these advancements. Secondly, we are gathering innovative ideas from colleagues, such as exploring virtual worlds for research and learning. Grading methods are also undergoing significant changes, with some colleagues already incorporating ChatGPT into assignments for problem-solving.

Nonetheless, we need to exercise caution regarding the potential risks tied to these technologies. Although we are enthusiastic about the opportunities they present, the ease of access to technology also brings challenges concerning grading and exams. As part of our proactive approach, we are actively delving into potential solutions, such as exploring traditional assessments and thoroughly understanding the limitations of ChatGPT.

These ongoing discussions genuinely underscore the complexity of this topic, and my personal commitment lies in ensuring that our students view these tools as aids rather than relying on them entirely.

Q9. In light of the recent questions surrounding the value of an MBA and return on investment, what is your perspective on the current ROI that an MBA offers?

 I have personally observed growth in career paths and noticed shifts in the companies that actively recruit graduates from our program. Traditionally, banking and consulting have held dominant positions and approximately 60% of our graduates’ secure placements in these industries. While banking remains relatively stable, there are evident changes occurring in investment banking, driven by the growing demand for fintech knowledge. To address this evolving landscape, our curriculum now includes fintech courses.

Consulting, while strong overall, is also undergoing changes in terms of assignment types. Meanwhile, technology has emerged as a rapidly growing sector for MBA placements, offering roles in product management, tech operations, and digital transformation. General management and brand management roles have taken a backseat to these tech-focused areas. In response to the demands of students pursuing careers in technology, our institution has introduced new curriculum offerings over the past 7-8 years, such as the digital tech immersion program and our one-year MBA degree program at Cornell Tech.

Banking, consulting, and technology remain the primary domains for the majority of our MBA class. However, some students also choose dual careers in fields like human resources management, healthcare management, and the energy industry. While human resources have been a longstanding choice, the others are newer yet rapidly growing fields.

It’s important to acknowledge that not all career paths offer visa sponsorship, particularly in banking, where only a few banks provide this support. As international students, you need to exercise caution and diligence when seeking opportunities to ensure you make well-informed decisions about your career paths.

Q10. How does your institution foster entrepreneurship among its students? And How do you stand apart from other institutions that also focus on entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is highly valued in our MBA program. Many of our students initially pursue other career paths after graduation but eventually venture into entrepreneurship. We had a graduate from Orissa, India, who started in consulting, quickly achieved partnership, and then left to start his own venture. Such cases are common among our graduates. We believe that all MBA students, even if not immediately pursuing entrepreneurship, should possess an entrepreneurial mindset and product sense. To support this, we offer entrepreneurship courses like “Actualising Your Startup” and “Business Idea Factory,” allowing students to develop their ideas and continue with comprehensive coursework. 

Additionally, we harness the extensive resources available at Cornell University to foster collaborations between MBA students and those from various fields, including engineering, sciences, agriculture, and health care. We have achieved remarkable success through partnerships focused on disease-resistant crops and 3D-printed human cartilage tissue. Our Bio entrepreneurship Fellows Program and Green Tech Program pair MBAs with PhDs to commercialise technology and offer an interdisciplinary curriculum that warmly welcomes students from diverse backgrounds, with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and product management.

Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator team at Cornell Johnson
Now in its fourth year, the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator (JSSA) selected a record 25 startups to participate in its 2023 cohort.

Q11. Recent decisions by prominent brands like Tesla and Facebook to not hire MBAs have raised concerns. What is your perspective on this, and how does it impact the MBA scope?

Tech companies are increasingly looking for MBA graduates who can blend business acumen and technical skills. While some tech leaders have negatively commented about MBAs, these remarks should not discourage aspiring MBA students. Instead, you should view these remarks as a motivator to develop the skills and attributes that tech companies are looking for. These skills include being self-reliant, capable of taking the initiative, and having a deep understanding of both business and technology. I have many former students who work for companies like Tesla and Meta, and are highly successful.

In addition to the technical skills that are typically taught in MBA programs, aspiring MBA students should also focus on developing their soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. These skills are essential for success in any field, but they are especially important in the tech industry. The tech industry is constantly evolving, so it is important for MBA students to be adaptable and willing to learn new things. You should also be passionate about technology and have a strong desire to make a difference in the world. 

Q12. What are the 2 main pieces of advice you would give to Indian MBA aspirants who are considering MBA options in the United States?

I strongly believe that Indian students and graduates are making significant contributions in various fields, both in the United States and India. They are working in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and their work is benefiting society and strengthening the business landscape.

  1. A two-year MBA program offers numerous benefits. In this program, students have the opportunity to acquire both theoretical knowledge and practical experience. The first year focuses on laying the foundations of business fundamentals, while the second year provides valuable hands-on experience through internships. This combination of knowledge and experience can greatly enhance students’ chances of securing good jobs after graduation.
  2. I encourage students to go beyond coursework and recruitment. While coursework and recruitment are essential components of an MBA program, it is equally vital for students to engage in extracurricular activities. These activities can play a pivotal role in developing your leadership skills, facilitating networking opportunities with fellow students, and gaining a broader perspective on the dynamic world of business. Engaging in extracurricular pursuits can enrich your overall MBA experience and make you a more well-rounded professional. At Cornell, we provide a lot of support to our students to engage in professional clubs, as teaching and research assistants, and as business consultants to Cornell researchers and non-profits.

Q13. What are the most important lessons your MBA students should take with them once they graduate from Cornell SC Johnson College of Business?

One remarkable quality in Cornell graduates is the strong sense of community cultivated by our location in the small town of Ithaca, NY. Our students wholeheartedly embrace the campus as their home, forming close connections with one another. Even after graduation, our alumni frequently return to campus for various purposes, including recruitment, guest lectures in classes, or simply to engage with faculty. This unique characteristic sets us apart from many other business schools, and our graduates carry this sense of community with them throughout their careers.

 In today’s job market, it is crucial to possess the skills necessary to be self-sufficient. Companies are actively seeking individuals who can not only manage tasks but also proactively contribute to their work.

A prime example of this importance comes from a visit to our campus by the CFO of Amazon. During his visit, he raised a question: Why did some interns convert their internships into full-time offers while others did not? Upon interviewing the students, it was discovered that those who successfully converted their internships had knowledge of SQL, which allowed them to directly access Amazon’s data set and efficiently complete their tasks. On the other hand, those lacking this skill had to depend on others, leading to wasted time during their internships, reducing their overall effectiveness. This example vividly illustrates the significance of equipping oneself with relevant skills to excel in the professional world. Being proactive in acquiring essential skills can undoubtedly make a substantial difference in one’s career journey. 

Q14. What does the statement ‘It’s not just about managing people anymore; it’s also about doing the job’ mean, and how can this message be effectively communicated to an increasing number of prospective students and recent graduates?

Effective communication in the pursuit of an MBA relies on a thoughtfully designed curriculum and comprehensive career advising services. These essential components provide students with the necessary support and information to make well-informed decisions about their academic and professional paths. Additionally, companies actively contribute to this process by engaging with students and offering valuable insights and opportunities.

Media platforms also play a vital role in disseminating information and shaping the narrative surrounding MBA programs. They showcase success stories, share industry trends, and highlight the experiences of MBA graduates, empowering aspiring candidates to make more informed choices.

External advisors, such as PaGaLGuY, wield significant influence over the choices MBA candidates make. Your platform provides valuable advice, resources, and a supportive community, offering firsthand experiences and expert opinions to aid students on their journey.

The collaboration between educational institutions, career services, companies, media outlets, and external advisors creates a vibrant ecosystem where stories, knowledge, and insights are shared. This collaborative effort empowers individuals on their MBA journey and enriches the overall educational experience.


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