Opportunity for change

It is not every day that one of the world’s most reputable research universities decides to set up a business school. But that is exactly what Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has done. With a renowned medical school and a global reputation for its teaching in public health and life sciences, it has decided to add a world-class international MBA degree to its list of programmes.

The man chosen to deliver it is Yash Gupta, inaugural dean of the business school. He believes his programme will be the most innovative around when it launches in August. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity to redefine business education,” he says.

Amid the plethora of concerns about the values of management training, competitors and supporters alike will be watching closely to see what this means for the business school, which was established in December 2006 following a $50m gift from William Carey, a New York City investment banker.

One of the biggest challenges for Prof Gupta will be to differentiate the old from the new – Johns Hopkins has been awarding graduate-level business degrees since 1961 and an MBA since 1999. Indeed, it has a range of largely part-time MBA programmes, that will continue alongside Prof Gupta’s programme. There is also a full-time MBA/Master of public health degree and 4,000 MBA alumni.

Robert Sullivan, the inaugural dean of the Rady school at the University of San Diego, empathises with Prof Gupta. “What he has to do is to invent a new degree and a new brand, given the legacy,” Prof Sullivan says. The best way to do this, he says, is to work with the university. “Johns Hopkins is a world-class research institute in health sciences and engineering. With his new degree he is riding on the coat tail. I think he’ll be very successful.”

It is a strategy Prof Gupta adopted from the start. At Johns Hopkins it will be compulsory for MBA students to work with the department of medicine and public health. For example, business students will have to work with their scientific counterparts to write a business plan and bring a product to market “connecting invention with innovation”, as Prof Gupta puts it. “If I am going to pull this together, I’ve got to have a synergystic school,” he says.

Students must spend time in developing countries, such as India, Rwanda, Kenya or Peru, and work in teams on economic development projects, such as introducing a drug delivery system for people with Aids.

The MBA programme was designed with the help of corporations in industries such as healthcare and technology, who were asked to predict their future management needs.

“What will the healthcare industry look like in 10 to 15 years?” asks Prof Gupta. “The past is no barometer for where the industry is heading. Because we don’t know, we need to educate people differently.”

His cathchphrase is “intellectual flexibility”, meaning that the programme needs to “help create a mindset that will roll with the punches, that will help you get to your destination”. The school will arrange for each student to have a host family in the Baltimore area from a different cultural or ethnic background.

And there are also plans for the class to adopt a local inner-city high school where students will be expected to introduce a measurable improvement in pupils’ achievements.

The class mix is also unusual, with 50 per cent of the class from outside the US and ages ranging from undergraduates to managers with up to 10 years’ experience. Although it is clear what the younger students will glean from the experience of their elders, Prof Gupta says the older managers will also learn. “They need to understand the mindset of the 23s and 24s.”

The decision to involve companies in the initial stages of the programmes has produced positive results. When the 80 students begin the inaugural programme, each will be allocated a sponsoring company, where they will complete their 2011 internships. Prof Gupta believes this link to the corporate world will also mean a high employment rate among Carey’s graduating students.

This will be significant because, innovative though the curriculum is, Prof Gupta has stuck to the traditional two-year US degree format for the MBA. With total fees of $92,000, plus living costs, graduates could have expensive debts to service.

“If you’re looking at it in a . . . social framework, it is not acceptable for students to . . . [finish] with such huge debts,” says Prof Gupta. “From a transactional point of view, someone has to pay . . . It’s not about return on investment, it’s about education.”

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