Coffee on the Third Floor with Professor Sanjay Dhar

Sharan Kumaresan, Class of 2018

Sharan Kumaresan, Class of 2018

As the James H. Lorie Professor of Marketing, Professor Sanjay Dhar’s list of teaching awards alone could fill an entire article, so the irony is inescapable when he says that he used to feel academics was not his calling and that he was always far more interested in playing basketball and getting involved in other social activities when he was younger. Consequently, a whole generation of students, this writer included, are heavily indebted to his friends from college who convinced him to quit his job and apply to PhD programs setting him on the path to becoming an academic.

“A lot of what I’ve done in my life has been a series of opportunities that have presented themselves and I’ve taken conscious decisions to embrace them. My being here in Chicago as an academic came about because of an intense desire to not be an engineer after joining an engineering school for undergrad!” he says. He had initially rejected admission offers from multiple universities after undergrad in favor of taking up a job, but although he enjoyed his time working in the industry, he felt a recurring sense of boredom and was no big fan of the hierarchical authority structure either. This drove him to quitting his job for a change of scenery on the advice of friends.

“Life often leads you to analyze what-if scenarios about the different paths that you could have gone along but I have no regrets because becoming an academic was one of the best things that has happened in my life,” he says. Having signed up for it 25 years ago, he is still just as passionate about teaching as anyone who has been in his class can attest. “My kids don’t listen to me and my sisters don’t listen to me, but my students still want to hear what I have to say and that is very rejuvenating!” he quips.

He feels strongly about the inherent role of mentorship that accompanies being a teacher as the teacher-student relationship bestows him the freedom to have pure and open conversations with students and advise them candidly based on his experience. Academic institutions in general and Booth in particular are unique in fostering those connections and it’s a role that he values highly.

Chicago is clearly very special to him and his eyes light up when he talks about it. He was struck by how naturally he fit in when he started here initially, brought about by the uniqueness of the city as a whole, coupled with students, the faculty and in particular, the staff whom he has relied on over these past many years. As a strongly opinionated independent thinker – he once led his undergrad batch on a strike away from classes – he feels this institution in particular allows him to be himself and retain his uniqueness. “Booth is unique in that it gives you this sort of free market system where it always wants you to do things the way you want and relies on self-monitoring. Chicago teaches you to be self-critical and play devil’s advocate to your own arguments. It’s a characteristic I try to pass that along to my students as well. This institution attracts self-motivated people and being surrounded by the best pushes you to better yourself in a manner that’s most comfortable to you.”

As a note of caution for Boothies though, he does also retain a fondness for California, particularly during the winter months. “I chose UCLA for my PhD because my wife would only marry me if I went somewhere with similar weather to Kolkata which is where I’m from! Sometimes I do still think about taking a quarter off and spending some of my winter months in warmer weather.”

Although Professor Dhar’s marketing strategy class has historically been one of the most popular courses on iBid, he plans to slowly switch his focus towards teaching other elective courses as newer faculty members have come in and put their own spin on the course – the Chicago philosophy, thereby broadening the group as a whole. He is proud of the fact that they’ve shown the importance of marketing, strategy and entrepreneurship in this school, which had traditionally been very finance and economics driven, and of having that balance in a general MBA education.

Professor Sanjay Dhar

Professor Sanjay Dhar

On his vision for the school in future, he mentions that Booth has transformed a lot over the course of his career. While always having been an intellectual powerhouse in narrow areas, as a course of natural evolution, alumni inputs and dean leadership, the school has developed more of a broad based presence now. The faculty that have been recruited and the openness of discussions has attracted top notch talent in all areas. He feels the school has embarked on a good mix of retaining the edge in core areas that we’ve always been known for while also establishing ourselves in additional areas, which he hopes remains part of the culture of the school. He cites the increasing switch in recruiting numbers towards consulting and marketing careers from finance as evidence of the changing demand in the market.  

He also feels, that the school needs to have a strong presence in key areas of growth in Asia and Europe via our campuses in Hong Kong and London, as we have in North America and Latin America, particularly in an increasingly global business world, which is something the school leadership has been very cognizant of, and he hopes that continues.

“Business demand areas are cyclical and as a broad based major school, in the world and not just in the United States, the onus is on us to strive for excellence in all focus areas and geographies.”