Get to know incoming Dean Vallabh Sambamurthy
In January, Vallabh “Samba” Sambamurthy was appointed the next Albert O. Nicholas Dean of the Wisconsin School of Business. He most recently had been associate dean of the MBA and professional master’s programs at the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. He officially begins his role on August 1, but has spent time this spring getting to know WSB. He shared some of his background, as well as plans for WSB and its alumni.
A South Indian name like Vallabh Sambamurthy is a rich legacy, but growing up in North India where the names are short and sweet, I was always known as Samba. People would ask me, “What’s your last name?” and I had to go through all these twists and turns because there are so many letters in my name. Going to Minnesota for a PhD was liberating because there I realized you could have one name, like Prince. I’m used to being known as Samba, so when people sometimes call me Vallabh, it takes a minute to realize they’re talking to me.
Being a professor was not my initial career direction. When I was younger, I was fascinated by automobiles and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. I was going to do a master’s in automobile engineering, but during my senior year in undergrad, I read an influential book by Peter Drucker that got me fascinated about management. That changed my life’s direction as I decided to pivot to business school, earning an MBA with a specialization in marketing. I loved strategy and marketing; however, in the late ’80s, it was clear that information technologies would be a transformational force in our lives. The desire to become an expert on digital transformations led me to the University of Minnesota to earn a PhD in information systems, a field that was very young then.
Today we live in a digital economy, where digitization has become the center of the universe in our economy, society, and industries. Companies are grappling with the kinds of questions that have framed my curiosity: How does technology change organizations and society? What new skills do we require? How do we promote economic growth and equality? My experiences in teaching, research, and corporate outreach have shaped my leadership journey to Wisconsin. I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, growing with very smart people.
— Vallabh Sambamurthy,
Incoming Albert O. Nicholas Dean
My leadership style can be characterized by three words: transparent, collaborative, and innovative. I’ve always believed that the best people who led me were very transparent, that I didn’t have to guess their intentions. I’m a big believer in “we” over “I” because real creativity and problem-solving comes from the power of teams. Innovation is at the heart of my worldview because if we don’t do something new, the world passes us by. The biggest challenge and opportunity for a company is continuous innovation, and I believe we should reflect that within business schools as well.
Connecting the classroom with industry is very important. When I teach, I bring in examples from the real world. I often get emails from former students who will say, “I’m a partner now at my firm, and I just saw some crazy behavior in a meeting. I thought of you because you described this exact situation in class.” That makes me feel good because I know I’m teaching something relevant. I see many stellar examples of how WSB exhibits those values.
WSB has an opportunity to become a hub for lifelong learning, serving alumni who want to learn new skills, gain confidence, and grow into new roles. We can do this by expanding our portfolio of graduate offerings, executive education, and certificate programs. In today’s society there is a continual need for upskilling and reskilling, and WSB is well positioned to nurture the growth of our alumni in many different ways.
I value multi-dimensional relationships with alumni. I want to foster relationships with and between them so that they feel they are part of a broader Business Badger community. Alumni investments can take multiple forms such as sharing skills and experiences, delivering insights and ideas, providing learning opportunities for students, and giving back through philanthropy. We’ll also continue to develop partnerships with alumni to understand the challenges and opportunities they face within their companies, which will help build upon our strong recruiting network.
There are so many great Wisconsin traditions that I look forward to experiencing. I recently saw a video of the Wisconsin “Jump Around,” and I plan to make that part of my fall routine. Walking out to Picnic Point sounds like a great springtime routine. When our girls come home, we plan to show them the lakes and downtown Madison. We are eagerly anticipating our move to Wisconsin.
Meet the Dean
Family: Surrounded by smart women!
Hobbies: Tennis, movies, and “Seinfeld”
First job: Product and brand management
Surprising talent: Singing (at least, I think so!)
Book recommendation: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Best advice I’ve ever received: Recognition lies within you, not in the eyes of others.
The technology I could not live without: Amazon Prime Video