By Carla Carlton
The new dean of the W. Fielding Rubel School of Business traveled quite a path to get to Bellarmine. Dr. Natasha Vijay Munshi, who began her new duties on Aug. 1, was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and received an undergraduate degree in zoology
and biochemistry in that city’s 150-year-old Jesuit institution, St. Xavier’s College. In 1992, she moved to the United States to pursue a master’s in biochemistry from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and
earned an MBA in International Business and Management at Jackson’s Millsaps College. She also holds a Ph.D. in Management from the University of Pittsburgh.
Most recently, she was associate dean of Graduate Business in the School of Economics and Business Administration at Saint Mary’s College of California (SMC), where she oversaw nine graduate programs. She was also a professor in the Department of
Management and Entrepreneurship and a visiting professor at the University of Lugano in Switzerland.
Dr. Munshi celebrates 25 years of marriage this year with Dr. Rajan Munshi, the deputy director of Scientific Program Management in the Department of Radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. We caught up with her for a few minutes while she
was unpacking in her new office.
Where is your favorite place in the world (so far)?
My favorite place to visit is any island beach that allows for snorkeling. Most recently, this was in Maui, where I was fortunate to see whitetip reef sharks and turtles. But I also enjoy just being at home, wherever in the world that happens to be.
What has surprised you the most about Louisville?
I had interviewed on campus in winter, so I had no idea how lush the greenery is anywhere you go in and around the city. It has been a pleasant surprise to see how beautiful and scenic it is, for example, driving along River Road. I look forward to exploring
the region, especially the Bourbon Trail, and learning more about how the bourbon trade differs from Scotch whisky, the latter being a legacy industry with which I am more familiar.
What is something that would surprise our readers about you?
That I am a potter. I enjoy creating pottery from raw clay and that entire creative process.
"At the most fundamental level, I think of business schools as talent accelerators."
Of the programs you developed at SMC, is there one you are particularly proud of?
There were actually two programs that I had a hand in developing that have been highlights for me because they were so mission-centric. One was the Master of Science in Management (MSM) program, which was developed as an affordable, highly
applied business degree program for recently graduated Liberal Arts and Science majors, exclusively. Since its inception in 2016, graduates from this transformative program have placed in some of the best companies headquartered in the San Francisco
Bay area. The second was a non-degree certificate program for San Francisco Bay area companies that were looking to develop lifelong learning opportunities that would aid in their employees’ professional development. This included a Women’s
Leadership Certificate Program in partnership with a company, which has over 20,000 employees worldwide, that was looking to support mid-level women managers’ self-efficacy and aspirations toward leadership roles in this organization.
Your degrees in zoology and biochemistry don’t exactly spell “future business dean.” What were your plans then, and how did they evolve?
While I was conducting breast-cancer research in the Department of Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as part of my doctoral studies, I found myself drawn to the pharmaceutical representatives who would speak with the surgeons about
the new drugs they were introducing to the market. I realized then that I was fascinated by the business of science. Back in the early and mid-1990s, it was somewhat taboo to want to move out of the ivory towers of academia toward anything business-related,
but the practical aspects of new product development and commercialization were interesting to me. This interest eventually led to an MBA degree, which unlocked an entirely new area of intellectual exploration. After an internship in India where I
investigated the market’s acceptance of an anti-AIDS drug for a local pharmaceutical company, and following a brief stint at SmithKline Beecham (now Glaxo SmithKline) in the Sales and Marketing group of their Consumer Healthcare division
in Pittsburgh, I decided
to get a doctorate degree in Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business. My thesis combined the two worlds I had come to experience: I investigated how research scientists in the U.S. and Switzerland
searched for funding to commercialize their inventions and found new ventures, without any prior business experience and in resource-constrained environments. That set the stage for what was to follow: a 20-year career in teaching, research and consulting
on strategy and innovation in Europe, the USA and Asia.
Speaking of evolving, how can business schools have the biggest impact during this “new normal”?
At the most fundamental level, I think of business schools as talent accelerators. Those business schools that are based at liberal-arts institutions are in a unique position to develop future business leaders and entrepreneurs who not only know how
to leverage technology and innovation, but who are also excellent communicators, critical thinkers and problem solvers. Furthermore, a business school at a Catholic institution, like the Rubel School of Business, can nurture in our graduates an
orientation toward caring for underserved and marginalized communities in our societies. Business schools can also partner with corporations to test and pilot transformative social innovations, which are poised to have a tremendous positive impact
on society today and in the future.
Recent research indicates that MBA programs will be among the hardest hit during COVID. What innovative programs do you see replacing them?
Flexibility and adaptability will take precedence, and extant research indicates more flexible MBA formats will emerge, in terms of duration and modalities, to accommodate the evolving needs of new and current audiences. Business schools in Europe
and Asia have been offering a mature portfolio of specialty master’s programs for a while now; I envision that in addition to the variations in the MBA program format, the traditional business school portfolio in the U.S. will also expand
to include varietals of accelerated specialty master’s degree programs, as well as expedited 4+1- or 3+2-type degree program offerings for our home markets.
You’ve mentioned plans for increasing more non-degree and lifelong learning programs at Bellarmine. Could you give examples?
In the San Francisco Bay area, for example, companies like Apple and Google are entering the higher education space through educational technology and through partnerships with local higher educational institutions on co-curricular activities. I anticipate
new permutations of players and partnerships emerging in higher education. As such, I envision less rigidity in when, where, and how education is consumed; “stackables” and modularized learning will become more accessible to untapped
segments of the population than we have seen previously. With new domains of knowledge emerging much more rapidly than can be consumed in a finite period and career transitions occurring more often than ever before, I anticipate education also
being more ongoing and consumed at the time it is needed. This doesn’t apply only to functional upskilling in topics like data visualization and blockchain technologies, but also to leadership and management-related courses such as crisis
management and managing diversity in the workplace.
If you could be anything else in the world, what would that be?
I am currently on the advisory board of a non-profit organization called OASIS Center International, in Santa Ana, California, that provides arts education to kids from underprivileged communities. I have also served on other advisory boards and consulted
with nonprofit and for-profit organizations, higher education institutions and museums. This has allowed me to combine my strategic expertise with serving causes that are dedicated to poverty alleviation, the arts and education. I imagine I would
continue to follow this passion. And spend more time making pottery and snorkeling, of course.