Meet the dean

By Jacqueline Molik Ghosen

Ananth Iyer by the windows in Alfiero Center.

Photo: Tom Wolf

In August, Ananth Iyer was named dean of the School of Management. He was selected from a highly competitive pool of candidates after a national search.

An accomplished scholar in operations and supply chain management, Iyer served previously as senior associate dean at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Business. Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with Dean Iyer about his vision for the school.

Q. What are your immediate and long-term plans for the school?

Iyer: In line with UB’s flagship status and goal to be a top 25 public research university, we need to invest in and focus on areas where we can be leaders and make significant contributions. So from my perspective, the question is, how can we enable such contributions in the field of management knowing we have thousands of other schools out there competing in the same space? The way I see it, we have to leverage our ecosystem — our faculty, alumni, students and the rest of the university — to find a way to make it work.

One thing we’ve already done is talk with our faculty and alumni to develop four strategic initiatives: the business of climate change; the social impact of business; business analytics; and innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership.

So over the long term, by inspiring conversation and collaboration across departments within the school, the university and the business community, the goal is for us to make deep, relevant contributions, impact policy and be a leader in as many of these areas as possible.

The immediate goal, of course, is the resource plan that will enable these things to happen. We need to expand our ranks of tenure-track faculty, while at the same time expanding our footprint in the academic programs we deliver.

Q. What do you see as the school's greatest strengths and greatest opportunities?

Iyer: There’s a strong, collegial atmosphere across various departments, and people know a lot about each other and what they are working on. I also see a lot of integration of our tenure-track faculty with our clinical faculty and practitioners. This is a real asset and it’s very different from much larger schools, where people just stick within their own departments.

As for opportunity, I’ve been particularly struck by how fondly a lot of our alumni remember their experience here and how willing they are to explore ways they can help us. Our big opportunity is to leverage this ecosystem and the goodwill of our alumni to make things happen quickly.

Q. You are a renowned professor and prolific researcher. Tell us about a research topic that interests you.

Iyer: One paper I just finished with my former PhD student and now colleague, Aditya Vendantam, was driven by work we did with the U.S. Department of Energy on critical material supply chains. These days, everybody is looking at renewable energy and more sustainable transportation, but as we move into this field, we need materials that we previously didn't use as much. In this case, it really it comes down to batteries and magnets, and there are constraints based on where the material for these batteries and magnets comes from. Lithium is primarily sourced from Chile, cobalt is sourced from the Congo and refined in China, and the success of these initiatives is a function of availability throughout the world.

Should you care that the cobalt needed for your car battery is supporting a bunch of warlords? Or should you say, “I’m going to procure from people whose values align with mine, even if it's more expensive.”

You can think about this with all other supply chains, as well. What happens if consumers start caring about the entire chain of custody, from growing the product, to consumption, to post-consumption waste and the environmental footprint? The answer has a lot of policy and regulatory implications. It's not clear that everybody will care about everything, but the fact that laws get made that hold companies responsible for the entire chain of custody will change how sourcing happens, and how and where things are produced.

This, to me, is a really exciting development in the supply chain world.

Q. What advice would you give to a new business student or recent grad?

Iyer: I have a rule that every Friday I ask myself what I learned this week. It’s a question you can ask regardless of where you are in your career. It’s a way to understand how you as an individual can contribute, because we are recognized by the value of what we bring to the table.

Up Close and Personal

Age: 62

Hometown: Mumbai, India

Family: Wife, Vidhya, and two adult daughters (one works for Google and the other is in law school)

Interests: Reading, walking

Tell us something about yourself that’s not on your CV: Once I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote a novel in 30 days. It was an amazing challenge, because I did it while I was doing everything else, but it was actually a wonderful experience. I never submitted it for publication, though I may revisit it someday.

Favorite place you’ve visited: Alaska — it's an order of magnitude more beautiful than any pictures I've ever seen.

Favorite cuisine: We like to cook, and we have found some good Greek, Indian and Mexican restaurants in Buffalo. We are still looking for a great Middle Eastern restaurant — so if any of our alumni have suggestions …