The business school for anti-MBAs

johns_hopkins_carey.top.jpgJohns Hopkins's Carey Business School occupies four floors in Legg Mason's corporate headquarters in Baltimore By John A. Byrne, contributor


(poetsandquants.com) -- In the fall of 2008, when Lehman Brothers went kaput and the economy plunged into a deep recession, Yash Gupta was scampering around the country trying to drum up support for a new business school at Johns Hopkins University.

It was not the best time to enlist believers in building yet another school that would pump out even more MBAs. After all, some critics were already starting to point fingers at business schools and their graduates for the collapse of the financial markets.

But Gupta, a life-long business educator who signed on as dean of the B-school start-up, says the crisis gave him unusual license to think up an MBA education from scratch.

"The meltdown helped us immensely because people were ready to question the orthodoxy," says Gupta. "We decided early on that we could not be a prominent business school by doing what every other school does. I don't think I could have done that in 2006."

The result: The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, which welcomed its charter class of 88 students in September, may well be the first business school for anti-MBAs. The school's tagline, "Where business is taught with humanity in mind," isn't merely a slogan.

"Over the years," Gupta says, "I came to the conclusion that we leaned too hard on the science of business. We produced masters of financial engineering, people who didn't have heart and soul. I've been thinking for years that we were headed in the wrong direction."

Gupta should know. He had 14 years of experiencing running business schools before starting as Carey's first permanent dean in January 2008. While dean at the University of Southern California's Marshall School, he developed an innovation-focused MBA curriculum. But running a school with entrenched faculty and traditions didn't give him the chance to pull out a clean sheet of paper and rethink business education.

Gupta made good use of the Johns Hopkins name to recruit faculty and students to a school that occupies four floors in a modern skyscraper overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The building is the corporate headquarters for Legg Mason, the investment management firm, five miles away from the university's main campus.

Four of the school's 15 full-time, tenure-track faculty members gave up endowed chairs at other universities for the chance to help Gutpa shape the culture of the school.

"I couldn't resist the Hopkins brand name," says Christian Kim, who left Baruch College to join Carey as an assistant professor of marketing. "And Yash is a great marketer. I was so drawn to his vision for the school that I hardly ate when we first met over breakfast."

At Carey, all core courses are team taught by professors from different disciplines. Instead of courses in basic MBA subjects like marketing and finance, Carey offers integrated courses with titles like "Managerial Decision Behavior" or "People and Markets."

"We have a module on decisions being taught by a quant person and a behaviorist. We have a human expression module and it's taught by a business person and a drama professor," Gupta says.

A so-called "Innovation for Humanity" experience requires teams of students to travel to one of four countries -- Rwanda, Kenya, Peru or India -- for three weeks to work on pressing social issues. And a "Discovery to Market" project enlists five-student teams to try to commercialize science and technology developed at Johns Hopkins' medicine, public health, and biotechnology programs, as well as the U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technologies Research Center in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Roughly 80% of the curriculum is made up of required courses, compared with less than half at most other business schools. In the second-year, students can choose from four "verticals," each composed of four electives in health, life sciences, energy, or environment -- rather than more traditional MBA concentrations in strategy, marketing, or finance.

Other business schools have tried out pieces of Carey's approach over the years. Yale's School of Management does interdisciplinary team teaching in its core classes. The University of Michigan's Ross School makes consulting projects a core part of its MBA curriculum, though most of the projects are in the for-profit sector.

But what makes Carey different is that it has put all these initiatives together and it has recruited largely non-traditional students who don't want to beat a path to typical post-MBA careers.

Few of the MBA candidates, for example, are from the major consulting firms or from Wall Street, major feeders to MBA programs. Finance is not even among the top eight professional backgrounds for this year's charter class, which include health care, government, non-profits, education, manufacturing and technology. And some 55% of the class -- far more than the typical one third -- is from outside the U.S., with large contingents of students from Taiwan and China.

Many of the students express disdain for the types of finance jobs that often claim the largest percentage of MBA grads.

When Jack Hirsch, a software entrepreneur from the West Coast, met with Carey's admissions staff, he made clear he had no interest in becoming an investment banker.

"Is that okay?" he asked. Assured that it was, Hirsch applied and was accepted.

Shaha AlShehail, a female entrepreneur from Saudi Arabia, was attracted by the social component of the program. After graduating, she intends to return to Saudi Arabia to launch a social enterprise.

And Glenn Ketover, who once worked 100 hours a week at Lehman Brothers in New York, plans to use his degree to make a transition to a job at an international NGO.

The India-born Gupta says it was a key goal of his to recruit non-traditional MBA students.

"I believe learning is not about looking alike," Gupta says. "If you really want to believe in a new kind of program then all experiences must come to play. I'm an example of that. Nobody ever could have thought I would be a professor, never mind a dean. My mother could not even write her name. My father worked for a finance company in a clerical role. If I could contribute something from such a handicap, these people can contribute a lot more." To top of page