Leadership Lab - Soumitra Dutta

In this episode, Susanna Kempe and Soumitra Dutta, Dean of Oxford's Saïd Business School, explore the intricate dynamics of leadership, the impact of censorship on academia, the importance of social capital for entrepreneurs, and the transformative potential of emerging technologies.
Leadership Lab - Soumitra Dutta

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In this instalment of the Leadership Lab series, Susanna Kempe, CEO of the Laidlaw Foundation, holds a fascinating discussion with Soumitra Dutta, Dean of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Their dialogue delves into how censorship is impacting academia, the importance of building social capital as an entrepreneur, the insights gained from cultural immersion, and the profound influence of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence on society.

With a rich blend of technical know-how and business insight, Soumitra Dutta has made significant contributions to both academia and business. His academic credentials include a B.Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, and advanced degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Dutta’s career includes key positions such as the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and the founding dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. Prior to joining Cornell, he was on the faculty of INSEAD. Beyond his academic roles, he co-founded Fisheye Analytics, which was later acquired by WPP, and the Portulans Institute, a non-profit focused on technology and policy research and advocacy.

During their conversation, Dutta reflects on the transformative journey of self-discovery through international experiences, emphasising, “We don’t usually observe the cultural values that we bring to the table. In an international context, that becomes more visible—so that’s why I think the best learning you get is about yourself. It’s essential for leaders to expose themselves to different views and realities.” This sets the stage for deeper exploration into the transformative effects of such exposures on leadership capabilities.

He also shares valuable insights from his technical background, discussing the unpredictable nature of technological advancements, especially in artificial intelligence. He notes, “We’re seeing behaviours from generative AI that weren’t predicted, which opens up a realm of both opportunity and uncertainty.” This underscores the necessity for leaders to remain adaptable and visionary in the fast-paced digital world.

I particularly appreciated his reminder of the human elements inherent in every leadership role. He poignantly shared, “The biggest regrets in life are often not professional, they’re personal,” and opened up about a deeply personal regret of his own. This episode with Dean Soumitra Dutta not only illuminates the complexities of modern leadership but also offers invaluable perspectives on navigating the challenges and opportunities of our globalised and technologically driven era.


00:25 | How did your leadership journey begin?

2:11 | With your diverse educational background, what key differences have you observed between the countries you've studied and taught in?

5:13 | How do internationalism and globalisation enhance Oxford's purpose?

7:10 | What surprising insights have you gained from living abroad and seeing familiar places through new perspectives?

9:46 | Does the pressure currently faced by US university leaders make you appreciate being at Oxford, on the other side of the pond?

15:56 | What leadership lessons have you learned from navigating Oxford's unique complexities, such as the college system?

22:00 | How has your experience as an entrepreneur, founding Fisheye Analytics and the Portulans Institute, influenced your leadership style?

28:12 | How do you balance receiving funding from the tech sector with potential government regulation?

29:44 | Do you think advancements like generative AI are viewed more as an opportunity or a threat?

39:18 | What should your MBA students be considering now to ensure mindful decision-making as future leaders?

43:26 | Have you noticed any commonalities among the exceptional individuals you've met at Oxford?

46:38 | What's your biggest mistake, and what would you change about it?

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