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Muma College of Business Lands its First World Class Scholar: Sunil Mithas

By Keith Morelli

Sunil Mithas

TAMPA (October 5, 2018) -- The quiet dignity and grace that surrounds Sunil Mithas when he engages a room full of intellectuals is something to see. The academic/researcher/consultant/author speaks in hushed tones with humility and intensity. His presence in the halls of the Muma College of Business was greatly anticipated. He is the college's first World Class Scholar and that's a cause for celebration. He humbly accepts the honor.

"From my perspective this designation puts a lot of burden on those who hold it and to live up to the expectations that it creates," he says. "I am grateful for the confidence shown by the USF leadership, Dean Moez Limayem and welcoming colleagues at the Muma College of Business in bestowing this honor and I remind myself every day to work very hard to meet the high expectations that come with this title."

Mithas joined the faculty in the fall as a professor in the Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department. He brings with him a long list of research papers, books and teaching credentials that demonstrate the recognition and acclaim he has received for his work as an educator and researcher. He ranks among the top three scholars in the world, based on his publications in premier information systems journals, such as MIS Quarterly and Information Systems Research over the past 10 years. He is one of 16 World Class Scholars in Florida.

Mithas has taught at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland and has held visiting professorships at the University of Mannheim in Germany, Hong Kong University of Science ant Technology and in the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis.

For Mithas, learning began at an early age.

"I grew up in various towns in North India," he says "I was influenced by the tremendous support and encouragement I received from my parents. Subsequently, some of my teachers and mentors really shaped my trajectory by taking an interest in me and providing the confidence that anything is possible if one is prepared to work hard enough and gets lucky along the way."

He earned a PhD from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. Identified in 2011 as an MSI Young Scholar by the Marketing Science Institute – one of 20 "most promising younger academics," who are "likely leader(s) of the next generation of marketing academics" -- Mithas is among a group of about 30 authors who are on the MIS Quarterly's "Most Prolific Authors List," which some consider an elite group among more than 4,000 academic members of the Association for Information Systems. He is a frequent speaker at industry events for business leaders and corporate executives.

"I was trained as an engineer and I think that engineering education provided me the majority of tools that I needed to succeed," he says. "My engineering education taught me how to approach problems in a pragmatic manner; how to consider various options with an open mind and based on scientific method and analytics, and then make thoughtful choices to find  solutions..

"My subsequent experience of working with some very smart, inspirational and nurturing managers at Tata Steel, which belongs to the Tata Group, one of the most respected business groups in India, helped me to realize that, although engineering and analytics matter, they are not enough," he says.

In the world of business, managing people with success depends on paying attention to the softer elements that involve creativity, he says. Managing these two dimensions together – hard-core analytics and softer creative talents – is what creates great organizations where employees achieve their potential with a sense of belonging and contributing to a larger purpose.

"It was this realization, based on personal experiences, that led me to pursue my MBA after working in engineering for about six years," he says. "Subsequently, after a few more years in management positions that included serving in the CEO's office and creating and running a profitable operation, I eventually made a choice to explore academic research in business and that has kept me excited and busy since then."

His research now focuses on understanding how individuals, organizations and societies transform themselves over time using information technology-based strategies and interventions. It's an interest that has driven – and continues to drive – his work.

His 27-page vita includes lists of research, articles, media citations, papers, presentations, conference involvements, research funding and grants, fellowships, prizes, awards, editorships and reviewing activities for journals; teaching and advising duties and service.

His work has appeared in premier journals, including Management Science, Marketing Science, Information Systems Research, MIS Quarterly, the Journal of Marketing and the MIT Sloan Management Review. His papers have won best-paper awards. He has also won the best reviewer award at an INFORMS conference.

He is the author of the books, "Making the Elephant Dance," which documented the growth of India's Tata group from a $5.8 billion firm in 1992 to a $103 billion global powerhouse in 2014, and "Digital Intelligence: What Every Smart Manager Must Have for Success in an Information Age." His research and insights have provided a roadmap for other corporations intent on transformational changes in the global economy.

And now, this esteemed researcher, educator and World Class Scholar calls USF his home.

"The biggest attraction to me was the visionary and energizing leadership that I saw at USF and the Muma College of Business and the extremely collegial and supportive environment that USF has created for undertaking impactful research that ultimately benefits students, corporate and government stakeholders," he says. "It is amazing what USF has accomplished in just a few decades of its existence with tremendous resolve and sense of direction. I am excited by the university's vision to pursue research excellence while it remains equally dedicated to student success."

Uprooting family to be here wasn't easy, but Mithas takes a philosophical view of it.

"Human beings are like trees," he says. "They develop roots. If you plant them at one place and then move them, the roots get pulled a bit and it takes a while for them to grow new roots," he says. "I guess adjustments in that sense will continue for a while and I am ready for them, having made such adjustments in the past when I relocated from India to the United States and then from Michigan to Maryland."

Still, being here at this point in his career and life seems right, he says.

"My son is busy with his new job with Google in New York, which he started about the same time I moved here, and my wife and I are learning more about Tampa each day," he says. "We've been busy unpacking our stuff and hopefully we will eventually get time to enjoy the beaches and other good things that Florida offers."


What is a World Class Scholar?

Recognizing the vital role that research "talent" at public universities plays in growing a knowledge-based innovation economy, the Florida Legislature set aside $20 million in 2006 to establish the 21st Century World Class Scholars program. Designed to recruit and retain the very best faculty in the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at universities in Florida, the World Class Scholars program serves to attract new research opportunities and to add prestige to existing university research programs.

As a result of this appropriation, five public universities – University of Florida, Florida State University, University of South Florida, University of Central Florida and Florida International University – have recruited and employed a total of 16 World Class Scholars, whose research encompasses various disciplines ranging from behavioral science to biodefense to molecular genetics to bionanotechnology.

Source: Florida Research Consortium