In the 16 months since Blair Sheppard became dean of the Fuqua school of business at Duke University, he has been uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that when he reveals his plans for the North Carolina business school today he will pull out all the stops.

Sandwiched between videos of business luminaries such as John Mack, chief executive of Morgan Stanley, Richard Wagner, chairman of General Motors, and a host of multi-cultural entertainment – from a Beatles tribute band to a group of Cossack dancers and a Chinese acrobat troupe – he will announce a $500m plan to take Duke global.

Blair Sheppard

At the heart of the scheme is the plan for Fuqua to open campuses in five cities in addition to its home in Durham. They will be in Dubai, London, New Delhi, St Petersburg and Shanghai. Within three years Fuqua will offer two of its part-time MBA programmes in each city, the MBA Cross Continent and the MBA Global Executive.

In this three-year time­scale each of the five new campuses will also offer executive education. Open enrolment and customised programmes will have two academic research centres and their own faculty on the ground and will work with faculty from other Duke departments: law, economics, government, even religion. Within a decade every location could offer a full-time MBA programme.

Prof Sheppard is convinced that this is what is needed if business education is to remain relevant. “I really believe business schools are not preparing the leaders the world needs because of the way they are structured,” he says.

Business schools have traditionally been faculty-centred and supply-led, he argues, which worked well in a world of stable local economies. “What has become clear to me is that that world no longer exists.”

He points to the economic interdependence of countries, as demonstrated by events that followed the subprime crisis in the US. In addition, he says, “policy issues are now business problems” – environmental issues being the most obvious.

All of which may look like smoke and mirrors, or to have little chance of success, especially given Fuqua’s previous attempts at overseas expansion. It had to close its Frankfurt campus because it could not drum up enough business there. But many in the business school world will be reluctant to bet against Prof Sheppard, a Canadian, who in the past decade has been one of the most innovative architects of business programmes.

The MBA Global Executive, launched more than a decade ago, revolutionised this type of programme by replacing evening and weekend study with block weeks, enabling business schools to enrol students from outside their local area. It was Prof Sheppard’s idea. So, too, was Duke CE, which was set up to offer corporate training outside the traditional business school.

Fuqua will not be the first business school to work with multiple campuses. Insead has campuses in France and Singapore, and the University of Chicago runs its EMBA in London and Singapore as well as in the Windy City.

Nor will Fuqua be the first business school to have overseas research centres – Harvard is the master of this approach – or to work with other university departments, pioneered by Stanford and MIT Sloan.

What is different about the Duke model is the breadth and scale of the venture.

Value of location

Prof Sheppard insists that the Fuqua venture will learn from what these other schools have already done. Unlike Chicago, which largely flies in its own faculty to teach just one programme – the EMBA – in London and Singapore, Fuqua will employ local faculty in each location and teach multiple programmes there, rooting the school in that locality. And from Insead, he says, he learnt the value of location: Fuqua will establish itself only in big cities.

One of the key issues for business schools trying to operate outside their home campus is faculty’s resistance to travel. But Prof Sheppard says almost all the Fuqua faculty are in favour of the proposals. “I thought it was going to be a hard sell but our faculty bought it.”

Professors will also come from other Duke University departments such as healthcare, medicine and public policy. In this way Prof Sheppard hopes the scheme will contribute more than just business acumen to the regions in which it operates. In addition there will be local faculty recruits, and in many cases Fuqua will be working with local business schools.

In Russia, for example, Fuqua will partner with the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg State University, one of two schools selected by the Russian government to spearhead the country’s advances into management training. Other alliances may be announced soon.

But the waters are muddied by existing alliances. Duke CE has partnerships with the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, which will not be part of the Fuqua plan, and with the London School of Economics, which may well be.

The LSE already runs its own EMBA (the Trium programme) with the Stern school at New York University and HEC Paris. Trium could end up in direct competition with one of the Duke programmes in London.

So, too, Fuqua has degree alliances with the Goethe Business School in Germany and with Seoul National University’s college of business administration in South Korea. It is not yet clear how these degrees will fit into the overall plan.

Where will the money come from? Traditional fundraising will be part of the picture. Also, says Prof Sheppard, the school has “found partners who are willing to help…and alumni who care about us”.

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