May 17, 2010

Dean Yash Gupta of the Carey Business School

Carey School’s dean talks about reinventing the education model

Yash Gupta, inaugural dean of the Carey Business School, will soon welcome the Global MBA program’s first students. Photo: Will Kirk/

Yash P. Gupta laid out an audacious vision when he became the inaugural dean of the Carey Business School on Jan. 1, 2008. In short, he wanted Johns Hopkins to reinvent the model of business education.

In doing so, he said, the new Carey Business School would become one of the most innovative and prominent schools of business in the world. The school would produce a new breed of world-savvy business leaders who possessed a fundamental professional acumen, critical cross-disciplinary knowledge and a strong sense of values.

Gupta says the school is on track to achieve all of this.

In the fall, the school will welcome the charter class to its innovative Global MBA program, which breaks away from the long-standing technique-based model. The two-year full-time program will feature a curriculum designed to be global in perspective and interdisciplinary in orientation and emphasis. He has also led the redesign of the school’s part-time programs.

This summer, the Carey Business School will move into 80,000 square feet of space on four floors of the new Legg Mason Tower at 100 International Drive in Baltimore’s Harbor East. The state-of-the-art waterfront building will house classrooms, student space and offices for the dean, the faculty and staff.

Gupta, who was educated in his native India and in England, is a widely published scholar in operations management. He came to Johns Hopkins with a track record of innovation.

Just prior to joining the university, Gupta served from 2004 to 2006 as dean of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He had previously served as dean of the business schools at the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Washington.

At USC, Gupta created research centers focused on areas such as global business, bio-business, sports business and brand management. He also developed a new innovation-focused MBA curriculum. During his tenure at the University of Washington, Gupta led the redesign of the school’s MBA program to enhance students’ global perspective, and the school established a technology management MBA for scientists and engineers.

The Gazette recently sat down with Gupta to discuss the Carey Business School’s first years and what the future has in store. Here’s a hint: more innovation.

Q: What is your favorite part of being dean?

A: The best part of my job is that since it’s a new school, everything is new. You have to build from the ground up. Nothing is given. Nothing is taken for granted. It’s a program we’re going to build together. It’s a school we’re going to build together. Whatever we do will reflect on the values of the Johns Hopkins of today. It will reflect on what we can be and what we should be. And that is a lot of fun.

Q: Does being a fledgling school give you more creative freedom?

A: Yes, it gives you a lot of flexibility to be creative. But, in being a new school, you have to worry about hiring faculty, hiring staff, new students, new facilities and new programs. You have to worry about everything. So, yes, it’s exciting. You can mold it, you can shape it. But the other side is enormously challenging.

Q: Why such a challenge?

A: One reason is that in the United States there are 2,600 business schools, and some of them have been around for over 130 years. Wharton was created in 1881. That is a lot of history. We have an enormously competitive landscape in the business world.

On a global level, there are 11,600 or so business schools. So you’re not just competing for students locally, you are competing for students globally. You also compete for faculty globally. The competition for talent, no matter where you are or who you are, is as intense as it gets—no matter if you’re one day old or 100 years old.

Q: Tell me about some of the faculty hires so far.

A: We have hired some incredible people, and part of me wonders why they came here. I’m joking, of course. But I’m sure part of it is the prospect of working for Johns Hopkins. It’s a huge selling point. One should never take it for granted, working for one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the world, and the opportunity to work with such talented people. How many places can you be where you have a short drive to the leaders in health sciences, engineering or, in the case of Peabody, music? There are not many institutions that can offer that. I think this is an ideal place for the scholar who wants to work on the frontiers of knowledge.

Second, a lot of people come here because it’s brand new. Elsewhere they might be just another professor. Here they get to define, shape and mold a class, a curriculum, a whole program.

Thirdly, they consider the future: what they will be able to produce in 10, 20 or 30 years. Why do people come to academia? They come because they are a class of people who really want to make a difference. They expect their students to accomplish even more than they did. That is one way we gauge results. When we go out and recruit, we tell people to come here and be the explorer, not just another faculty member. We offer a new way of thinking. Come here and create with us.

Q: Tell me about the hopes for the Legg Mason building and what you hope to build there.

A: We think this will be an incredible place for us. From an aesthetical point, when you see water, you think calm and tranquillity. When you see the other side, you see the urban part, the renewal that has happened here. You see the hope for what can be. The progress and the zeal of America. That area of town being new is consistent with the newness of the business school.

Also, look at the occupants of the building, Legg Mason for one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to interact with them, to have this transparency of companies in the building who meld with the school?

Look at medical schools; the great ones have great hospitals attached. The business schools are in a similar place. Business schools need to partner with businesses where their students can learn. And here we have a major business in the same building. I think this is a huge advantage for us. There tends to be a disconnect between practice and the teaching, but not here. This is a great opportunity.

Q: When you arrived here, you said you wanted to forge a new type of learning. Can you give me an example of that?

A: Many things. Let me start with the full-time MBA program. It’s as interdisciplinary as it gets. It has tenets anchored in liberal arts, medicine, engineering and public health.

We have pushed four major things. One of them is intellectual flexibility, the ability to think and embrace a variety of disciplines. Think of someone like Leonardo da Vinci, who was trained as a military engineer but then learned the treatise of geometry, the use of colors and medicine. That is what we need to do to train the future business leaders. Our people will be strong in multiple disciplines.

Second, it’s important to enhance a student’s ability to do critical thinking with empathy. When I was growing up, maybe you had five friends, 20 tops. You talked to them in person, or called them on the phone or, if they lived far away, you wrote them a letter. Today, an 18-year-old spends so much of his or her awake time on the television, on the phone or online. Kids today have 2,000 friends through places like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, you name it. They have the ability to make friends and communicate with a lot of people. How do you do that without empathy? You can’t. They are grown in the culture of empathy. They want to reach out and make a difference.

The third element is global understanding. Business is about people, what inspires them, what is the good and bad in people. I really believe that students need to understand world view, historical perspectives and the culture of other societies to connect with future customers.

The last element, the fourth, is innovation. We need to create knowledge and inventions and have them help humanity. We need to make that happen.

Q: Tell me about the first class of Global MBA students.

A: We are recruiting right now. We will have the final composition very soon. The class is looking very good. We have a great mix of domestic and international students, genders, backgrounds and ethnicities.

Q: What is a typical business

A: There is not a single type. For example, look at the first three students we admitted. One comes from Holland, one comes from Indonesia and the third from right here in Baltimore. All three are very different. One has a lot of experience with NGOs. The student from Baltimore has a brilliant academic record but limited work experience. The other person has a lot of business experience. There is no single basic profile; that is a mistake many business schools make. You want a mix.

Q: You want this diverse

A: We want the 20-year-old, the 30-year-old and the 40-year-old all learning together, and to have those people come from different backgrounds and countries. That is exactly what we were looking for. We have to think out of the box and be innovative to be No. 1. When Johns Hopkins was created, it changed the landscape of higher learning. We have a similar task.

Q: Are there any preconceptions of a Johns Hopkins business school that you are trying to fight?

A: We hear the refrain of you’re Johns Hopkins, so that must mean health science. People ask me, Are you going to graduate people to be health administrators or heads of NGOs? No, that is not my objective of this program. It’s about creating thinkers and people who want to innovate. Are you telling me that innovation only happens in hospitals [laughs]? Of course not. Innovation happens anywhere.

Q: Tell me the type of graduate you hope to produce.

A: I want students to leave here and be tagged with the label of “high potential.” We want to produce the types of individuals who are targeted by firms. I also want people to be the new-ideas person, to be agile and able to pitch in any way you could imagine. I want them to be innovation officers. Let me give you an example. We met recently with some representatives from IBM. We thought they would ask us how many IT people are we producing. But that is not what they were after. They wanted people who are thinkers, who are doers, who have the ability to change.

Q: Give me one reason to be positive on the economy. Do you see any markers?

A: Well, yes. The key thing to any economy is optimism. When people are pessimistic, they won’t spend, and productivity goes down. What you are seeing here is the dawning of optimism. This is philosophical. I can give you a lot of broad indicators, but once you start with optimism, it’s infectious.

Q: And a good economy is good for a business school, certainly.

A: Of course, absolutely. Look at executive MBA programs; when the economy goes south, the employers don’t support them. They downsize. They are not paying for people to get advanced degrees. And when an individual is out of a job, he or she can’t afford this type of education. Or the person is in a job, but instead of 10 people there are five people doing the same amount of work, and taking time off for a degree is not an option. They say maybe I shouldn’t go to school, or put it off. But, yes, if the economy is good; we are all smiling.

Q: There have been several stories of how we got into the economic mess in the first place. Do you see any inherent flaws in our system?

A: The biggest issue in my opinion is the singular focus on shareholder value maximization. When you do that, you tend to ignore the customer. You tend to ignore your employees. You tend to ignore your community. When you view the shareholder as supreme, you become more inward looking and go from quarter to quarter.

Why? On average, a shareholder only holds your stock for 18 months. They don’t care about your five-year or 10-year strategy. They care about the next quarter. As a result, the manager is focused on the next quarter and is not looking forward to the future.

Q: Yet companies like Apple are so successful. They seem to be constantly moving forward. They start trends.

A: Absolutely. They are so innovative. So was Starbucks. They wanted you to come and sit. They were the third place: home, work and here at Starbucks.

Look at GE. They are a very big company. One thing they do is manufacture ultrasound machines. But how many people can buy an ultrasound? It’s very expensive, somewhere in the range of $300,000, and therefore a very limited market. So what happened? Someone said let’s try to find a new market and design an ultrasound for only $10,000. We will do the business differently.

So, they redesigned the style. Yes, it doesn’t have the same degree of accuracy, but it works. They wanted to sell it in China and elsewhere but also right here in the United States. It’s compact and now used in road accidents. You see, that is innovation. Think differently. That is what I’m talking about in terms of our students. Don’t accept a given. I tell our students, invest in tomorrow or enjoy the present until it becomes past.

Q:  Whereas a company like Blockbuster perhaps lived in the past.

A: Exactly. They didn’t grow. They didn’t innovate. They didn’t invest in video on demand when the time was right. Good companies never stop innovating. Could you now imagine Apple without the iPod, iPhone or iPad? Could you imagine that?

Q: Can you talk about some of the changes you made to the school’s existing programs?

A: We have re-engineered all the part-time programs. We started with the premise that God didn’t decree that all courses need to be worth three credits and come in 16-week programs. Especially in a time of downsizing, and when people want to take less time to get training, I thought there has to be a better way.

What we did was change the frequency of the courses, and we also took out the redundancies. We said let’s change courses to one-credit, two-credit or three-credit, whatever makes sense. And who says you need to meet for 16 weeks? Maybe eight weeks will do. Then we can produce more courses and give more options to people.

Same thing with the master’s programs. We standardized the master of science programs to 36 hours. Why did one have to be 54 hours and one 36? We realized it didn’t need to be that way.

We are also piloting two courses focused on discovery to market. They are about how you grasp science and technology, and then take that idea or invention successfully into the marketplace.

Q: How do you unwind?

A: I used to run a lot. I read a lot now, but I have to get back to my running.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: There are several books. I have actually four books active right now. One is The Great American University by Jonathan Cole. I’m also reading a biography of Lincoln. I’m not sure I’ll get through all of them, but I will try.