New B-School From Scratch

Johns Hopkins Builds a B-School from Scratch


For years, Johns Hopkins' business offerings—mostly part-time degree and certificate programs—lingered in the shadow of the university's internationally renowned medical and public health schools. That all changed in 2006 when the university received a $50 million gift from banker William Polk Carey, leading to the founding of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in 2007 and a new lofty mission to become one of the world's leading business schools. That vision will be put to the test this August when the school launches its new Global MBA program, with a curriculum that the school's inaugural dean, Yash Gupta, says seeks to reinvent the modern MBA.

"Since we are the new kids, we don't have to change culture; we are building a culture," Gupta says. "We are trying to change the mold."

All eyes in the management education world will be on the new B-school in the coming year, as Gupta essentially builds a new MBA program from scratch, a daunting task that few universities have been eager to take on in the last decades. The Carey School is seeking to distinguish itself by designing a curriculum that will capitalize on Johns Hopkins' strength in fields like medicine and public health, have a focus on emerging markets and ethics, and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

To accomplish this, the school has recruited Gupta, a B-school dean with a proven fundraising track record and 14 years of experience, and installed him in leased office space in Baltimore's Harbor East area that Carey now calls home. Gupta's most recent deanship was at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business (Marshall Full-Time MBA Profile), where he helped raise $55 million. Since his arrival at Johns Hopkins, Gupta has spent much of his time recruiting students, designing courses, and hiring a new cohort of top research faculty, with the ultimate goal of putting the Carey School in a position where it can compete with the world's top B-schools. The school is in the process of obtaining accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), an essential credential that the school will need to get students and the business school community to take it seriously. Says Gupta: "We want to play in that sandbox."

Challenges Ahead

It's an ambitious goal for a fledgling business school, which still faces a number of significant challenges ahead, says John Fernandes, the AACSB president. The school already has a number of things working in its favor, perhaps the most important being the world-renowned Johns Hopkins brand, which will help the school establish itself as a serious player early on, and what appears to be a unique niche focus for its MBA program, Fernandes says. But in the next few years, the school will have to obtain accreditation, launch a major fundraising campaign, build up its alumni network, ramp up its career services offerings, and continue to attract top-rate faculty. Says Fernandes: "It's not an easy task to go from nothing to a top school in a very short period of time."

The last large university to open a new B-school was the University of California, San Diego, which opened the Rady School of Management (Rady Full-Time MBA Profile) in 2003 after receiving a $30 million gift from businessman Ernest Rady. Robert Sullivan, the school's inaugural and current dean, says he faced numerous challenges: hiring faculty for a school with no track record; launching an executive education program to help pay the bills; and raising $110 million for a new building and other expenses, no small feat when you have no highly placed MBA alumni to tap for cash. He even had to borrow faculty from other schools. Says Sullivan: "It was really kind of Band-Aids for the first year."

Gupta will face many of the same challenges and then some, Sullivan says. It's already been difficult finding students willing to sign up for an unproven program, says Gupta, but finding senior faculty willing to come to a new business school has been by far the "biggest challenge." Since he was named dean, Gupta's been courting academics and selling them on the school's vision. The school currently has 31 full-time faculty , including top scholars from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile) and Purdue University's Krannert School of Management (Krannert Full-Time MBA Profile), with the ultimate goal of having 90 in five years as the program grows, he says.

Startup Spirit

One of his recent hires is Ravi Aron, who spent seven years at Wharton and a year at USC's Marshall School before accepting a job at Carey as an assistant professor on the research track. Aron says he jumped at the chance to be at a university that places a strong emphasis on the life sciences and medicine, as much of his research focuses on technology, health care, and globalization. He also was attracted to the unique structure of the school; unlike most B-schools, at Carey there are no departments or department chairs, allowing professors more academic freedom, Aron says.

"The school has a 'pull yourselves up by the bootstraps' spirit of a startup and a certain flexibility that I find absolutely exhilarating," Aron says.

While it still has a number of hurdles ahead, the school has managed to accomplish one significant feat: attracting the school's first Global MBA class, which will arrive on campus in August to start the program. To recruit students, the school sent Gupta on an international media tour, tapped into Hopkins' overseas clubs and alumni groups, and participated in MBA tours. This year, 500 students applied for the school's 80 spots, Gupta says. The school's inaugural class is a diverse group; half of the class is international and—almost unheard-of among full-time MBA programs—half the class is female.

Students say they are intrigued by the school's take on business education, which deviates from the traditional core curriculum taught at most MBA programs today. All classes are co-taught by faculty and there are no "typical courses like 101s and 102s" that students must take, Gupta says, though students are required to take a class on business essentials their first semester. Every Friday, the school will invite guest speakers to talk in a seminar setting about topics as varied as politics, ethics, cognitive science, and drama. First-year students are required to take a class called the "Innovation for Humanity Project," where they study emerging markets and later spend three weeks over winter break tackling a business problem in a developing country like Rwanda, Kenya, or Trinidad. Another class, the "Discovery to Market" course, sends students to the medical school to study research and inventions; in their second year, they're expected to take a scientific discovery made at Johns Hopkins and bring it to market. Students will also be required to pick a specialization in their second year, such as life science, energy, or the environment.

Different Approach

Shahd Alshehail, 24, an incoming student from Saudi Arabia, says she was drawn to the program because of its emphasis on emerging markets and entrepreneurship. Before coming to Carey, she helped her family launch a fashion house that helps women in small villages earn money from their needlework, and she wants to return to Saudi Arabia to work as a social entrepreneur. Most of the MBA programs she researched catered to Wall Street or consulting types, while the Carey School seemed to have a different take on business, she says.

"It doesn't feel like a traditional MBA to me, which was a big attraction for me," she says. "It's not just a business degree. There's a social and humanity aspect to it, which is something you can't find anywhere else."

That's not to say students don't have doubts about being the guinea pigs as the school struggles to gain its footing. Aaron Landgraf, 26, a Johns Hopkins alumnus with a master's degree in environmental planning and management and four years of work experience at a software company specializing in online college applications, says he had some concerns about the school before enrolling, including the scope of the alumni network and the caliber of the faculty. But, after spending time at the school this spring and talking to faculty and staff, those worries quickly disappeared, he said. Says Landgraf: "I expect the school to try very, very hard to make sure we are successful because our success is their success."

Damast is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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