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NYU Stern’s Dean Talks Big Data, Machine Learning, And The Tech MBA

Rangarajan Sundaram is the dean of NYU Stern School of Business. He’s looking to cutting-edge technology to take the finance-focused business school forward

By  Thomas Nugent

Tue Oct 20 2020

Speaking to Rangarajan Sundaram, the dean of NYU Stern School of Business, you don’t get any sense of the weight that sits on his shoulders.

And why would you? After all, “it’s a wonderful time to be leading the most exciting business school in the world,” he says.

Leading a school like NYU Stern requires constant innovation, as the world around us is challenged to adapt to the rapid way machine learning, big data, and the future of tech are changing the way we learn. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been pushed rapidly innovate to ensure continued education for their students amid the crisis. 

Transforming the NYU Stern MBA

For Rangarajan, his school, and business schools like it, have a responsibility to ensure the next generation of business leaders aren’t just part of the change, but lead it.

NYU Stern is well placed to lead innovation in new technologies. It has introduced a Fintech specialization into its MBA program. It offers electives on FinTech Analytics, Digital Currencies, Blockchains and the Financial Services Industry, and Risk Management for FinTech.

New York’s startup community is also flourishing. Endless Frontier Labs (EFL), a program for early-stage science- and technology-based startups, launched at NYU Stern in 2019. The nine-month program sees entrepreneurs work with mentors to hone and scale their startups. 

Mentors include experienced entrepreneurs who have built and exited successful companies, world-renowned scientists and technical experts, and well-known venture capital and angel investors. Startups making progress are able to attract financing from investors in the program. The first cohort graduated in May 2020.

"We are creating the premier ecosystem of entrepreneurship education and programs here on the east coast, in the heart of New York City, that fuels the demand for highly inspired ideas with equally high potential for impact,” says Rangarajan. “I am excited by the strides Endless Frontier Labs is making in taking us closer to this vision.

“We are in one of the world’s greatest technology and entrepreneurship hubs, and we want to bring that to the school. It’s a work in progress, but because of our location we can dive deeply into businesses on many levels, allowing students to engage with them as part of their MBA."

The next step, Rangarajan adds, is to focus on the school’s new one-year Tech MBA, which launched its inaugural class in May 2018. It was created for candidates with a strong tech background who want to augment their skills to accelerate their career in tech. 

The course was refined by NYU Stern with the school's Tech MBA Advisory Board. It draws on the expertise of industry experts in and around New York, to ensure content is kept relevant and fresh. Executive in residence at Lerer Hippeau, Greg Coleman, executive chair of the board at Deloitte, Janet Foutty, and CTO of Citadel, Umesh Subramanian, are just three of the sitting members.

Learning from industry experts to build a career in tech

Rangarajan walked into the dean position at NYU Stern at a time where the school isn’t just jumping on the tech bandwagon; it’s holding the reins.

Sat in the front carriage are a group of students who will be guided through the world of business by industry experts—Greg Coleman, Rangarajan informs, has been teaching media and technology at the school for eight years.

Students also have the chance to immerse themselves in one of the largest venture capital firms in the New York Area, Union Square Ventures. The MBA’s Tech and the City elective is led by one of the firm’s managing partners, Albert Wenger. He leads candidates through the startup journey, from idea inception to growth.

“There will also be a bunch of courses introduced around machine learning and big data,” adds Rangarajan. “Over the last several years our curriculum has been driven by the needs of industry.”

Rangarajan will also be keeping one eye on the business school rankings. Currently, NYU Stern is ranked among the top-25 MBA programs in the world by the Financial Times.

“[The rankings] are hugely important because they are a one-point summary to the world of how Stern is viewed,” he explains. “We are trying to make our education more relevant, more current for students and employers, and that strategy will naturally result in a move [up] the rankings.”

NYU Stern is seen as a “finance powerhouse”. But, the latest developments in tech and entrepreneurship at the school are an attempt to position NYU Stern as an all-rounder—according to Rangarajan, NYU Stern boasts one of the largest collections of data scientists out of any business school in the world.

Opportunities at the school are ripe for the picking then. You get the sense, from Rangarajan, that this is the natural result of forming close bonds with the corporate community in New York and harnessing lasting relationships with alumni.

“We learn from our alumni, and that engagement continues to be incredibly important to us,” Rangarajan concludes. “Students are the focus of what we do. They don’t stop being out students after that graduate, they are our students for life.”