Talking with the Eller College of Management’s new dean and Halle Chair in Leadership, Karthik Kannan, means walking away inspired, impressed…and maybe even a little intimidated.
He is seemingly always thinking, always planning and constantly on the move.
The self-described high-performing yet laid-back “non-traditional” academic grew up modestly in a small town in India into a family that prized education. His parents and one of his grandfathers were both accountants. His great-grandfather managed a school, which is still in existence more than 120 years later. Another great-grandfather was a high school physics teacher. "Education is a deep-rooted value in my family,” says Kannan. “And I used it as a tool to build on, as a mechanism for my growth.”
His research has been published in top-tier journals,
including Management Science, Information Systems Research, MIS Quarterly, Review of Marketing Science, the Journal of Mechanical Design and the Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, and he has won many best paper awards. He was awarded the prestigious Jefferson Science Fellowship by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in 2017-2018. "A large part of what I bring to business education is that analysis of what the value add is,” he says.
As Kannan moved through the tenure process and started assuming leadership roles at Purdue University—eventually being named the associate dean for research and partnerships and the Thomas Howatt Chaired Professor in Management—he still stayed active with the research component of his work. “I structure my life very specifically to allow for continued research,” he says. “During the day, at work, I have meetings, partner with companies and talk with my peers. My evenings are reserved for my children and wife. Then I start my research work again late at night until about one or two in the morning. Many of my PhD students work with me this way to make sure we get things done. There are many balls up in the air, and it takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it.”
This discipline combined with his penchant for ideas was a boon for Purdue. There, Kannan helped launch the STEM-certified graduate degree in business analytics and information management, which grew more than 300 percent in enrollment over three years. He also became the director for the Krenicki Center for Business Analytics and Machine Learning, helping to raise more than $5 million to name the center. As director, he led a significant research project with Facebook and established ongoing partnerships with other companies that, over two years, raised nearly half a million dollars. Accenture was one of the first companies to participate.
“The ability to figure out what a company wants and to then frame it and organize engagement with that company in a value-added way comes from having an entrepreneurial mentality,” he says. Kannan calls this a “design for instincts,” and he regularly employs this process to understand what is instinctually appealing and allowing people to respond in an intuitive manner. “As businesses grow in this age of rapid change, they’re having to pivot more quickly as technological innovation impacts everything from creating products to developing systems for protecting consumers’ data,” he says.
One of his many ideas for the Eller College is to enhance corporate engagement—primarily for the benefit of Eller students
“Partnering with industry is about immersion, about getting deep into the educational experience and engaging students in a way that propels them to the future,” he says. “Doing right by and for our students will have an enormous impact on society.” And as he becomes more immersed himself into life at Eller, he’s focused on accentuating the positives: the number one ranked management information systems programs; the booming enrollment in the master’s in finance and master’s in marketing programs; the strong McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship; the Wall Street Scholars program and more.
“Who would have thought I’d be the dean of the Eller College,” Kannan says. “Eller has an amazing reputation far and wide. I am thrilled to be at such an outstanding business college.”