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Universities spend a lot of time advocating cross-disciplinary research and teaching, not to mention the value of professors who can move easily between academia and the world of practice.

The problem is, there are few educational institutions that practice what they preach and few individuals who can meet the challenge these aspirations pose.

Step forward Merit Janow. A lawyer by training and a business person and academic through inclination and experience, Prof Janow has a list of personal and professional accomplishments to die for. A fluent Japanese speaker, she combines her Asia knowledge with a deep understanding of international markets, trade, mergers and antitrust law.

It is not surprising, then, that in 2013 Prof Janow was appointed dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (Sipa) the New York school of public policy and international affairs set up 70 years ago.

The outlook of Sipa is inherently cross-disciplinary, says Prof Janow. At its core, 50 per cent of its teaching is in economics and development, but layered over that is knowledge of international security, public/private partnerships, energy and the environment, and urban policy. “Students can acquire specific business skills and blend them with a regional concentration,” says Prof Janow.

This nuanced approach to business and economics is a combination that business people need to acquire as much as public administrators, she believes. “Business leaders today have to be very thoughtful about policy issues. To be effective in the world they have to understand the regulatory and geopolitical climate.”

Many graduates reach the upper echelons of central banks and treasuries, others go to energy companies, non-for-profits and social enterprises. As in business schools, graduates of Sipa are increasingly looking at entrepreneurial careers, says the dean.

Some of the most successful of Sipa’s 20,000 alumni are in elected political roles. New York mayor Bill de Blasio and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti are both graduates of Sipa, for example.

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