“I am very much an accidental dean,” says Srilata Zaheer when asked if her appointment as Dean at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management was part of a long-held aspiration. “Absolutely not, I loved my life as a faculty member,” she clarifies.
Ms. Zaheer, who grew up in Chennai, is the first Indian to head the business school situated in Minneapolis, U.S.A. Sri, as she is known to friends and colleagues, is the 12th dean in the more than 90-year-old history of the Carlson School.
Brought up in the city, Ms Zaheer studied at Stella Maris College and Women's Christian College (WCC). “I was born in Durgapur, West Bengal, but since my family is from Tamil Nadu, I grew up here,” she says. “I have fond memories of living with my grandparents and cousins in a house in T. Nagar, a stone's throw away from Vani Mahal, and going to school in Church Park convent. I am still in touch with the friends I went to school with in the city.”
She recollects accompanying her grandfather to concerts at the Music Academy, as a child. Her mother Sita Govindaswamy sang on All India Radio. Ms. Zaheer also went to school in Durgapur but returned to Chennai to complete high school at the Good Shepherd Convent, followed by pre-university at Stella Maris and a Bachelors in Physics at WCC.
“My time in Chennai was a lot of fun; acting in plays at WCC, participating in inter-collegiate competitions, and taking French classes at Alliance Francaise,” she says. She went on to study at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and was one of eight women in a class of 120. After completing her studies, Ms. Zaheer worked with several top companies in the country before moving to Nigeria.
“Nigeria is where I got into university teaching for the first time and realized I had found my calling,” she says. Later, when Ms. Zaheer and her husband Aks graduated from Sloan School at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Carlson School convinced both of them to join as faculty.
“We came to Carlson School knowing little about the institute or Minneapolis. The intellectual vibrancy and learning culture at the school has kept us hooked. I relish the challenges as a dean,” she signs off.