Karthik Kannan was born to be an innovator in education.

“I’ve had a history of people ­— my forefathers — who have been in education,” says the dean of Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. “My great-grandfather on my mother’s side started a school called E.R. Higher Secondary School in Tiruchirappalli, India. That school has been in existence for 125 years and has produced talent which impacts the city, the state and the country. Also, there are teachers who have impacted kids on my father’s side. So I think it’s partly genetic in terms of how I think about education and how I got into the education sector.”

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Kannan is a thought leader in digital transformations, analysis of digital traces and strategic foresighting. He has published numerous papers in leading management journals and was awarded the prestigious Jefferson Science Fellowship by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. In August, he took over as dean at Eller, which is home to 5,800 undergraduate and 750 graduate students who work at a crossroads of entrepreneurship and research.

Az Business talked with Kannan to find out how he is looking to further enhance Eller’s stellar reputation as a top-notch business school.

Az Business: What are some strengths you bring to Eller?

Karthik Kannan: There are three pieces I see as relevant to being successful at Eller. One is looking at problems from an interdisciplinary standpoint. As we think about business schools, as we think about businesses themselves, they are going to be siloed less and they must have a broader connection. So at Eller, there are strengths that we need to adapt and grow. That’s one of the elements.

AB: What else?

KK: The second thing is being able to find unique opportunities and drive those opportunities. I’ve been very creative in the past. I’ve had successful programs that were started at my previous institution. I want to bring that creativity to Eller — to think about new programs, to think about the way we interface with people.

And three, at the end of the day, it’s also being empathetic towards people and having a true leader who cares about the success of their people. I want to bring that. Those are the three big elements I want to bring to Eller.

AB: How do you hope to build on Eller’s success?

KK: Eller has strengths in management information systems, entrepreneurship and economics. But there are also domains where we need to have a huge presence and quickly scale up our offering. One of the important ones is business analytics and we will be significantly pushing business analytics. The second aspect is something Eller is good at, but we need to strengthen: Eller’s relationship with the community and businesses. We will be creating something called the Eller Partnerships Office, which will double down our efforts in building connections with companies. 

AB: What are you most looking forward to about being a leader at Eller?

KK: We have talented faculty. We have all the right ingredients to make this a huge success. We have a great community here. We have the opportunity to think about what the business school of the future will look like and create it.