The B-School Dean Who Didn’t Want To Be Dean
“If you’re a top leader, you need to understand that your words and your behavior set the tone, the culture, and the values within your organization. If you seem distant and detached, the organization will take on the aura of a rudderless ship. Your middle managers will be without guidance and will probably perform poorly, while your staffers will be uninspired and angry, spending more time on job-search websites than on their work.”
Yash Gupta, who abruptly resigned as dean of Johns Hopkins University’s Carey School of Business before graduating his first class of MBAs, wrote those words last August in a blog post for The Washington Post. Now his leadership advice seems to have some resonance with the faculty and students he recruited to the startup business school as founding dean.
At the time of Gupta’s blog post, his charter class of 88 full-time MBA students had just arrived on campus—yet Gupta was already beginning to look for a new job. In little more than six months, from October to this past April, Gupta’s name had embarrassingly surfaced in three separate searches for university presidents or provosts—at the University of Tennessee, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Iowa. In each case, Gupta had broken through the first round of candidates and in two opportunities was named a finalist. In all three, however, he failed to get the position.
To compete for these jobs, Gupta assembled a 41-page resume touting media interviews with The Financial Times and The Economist, digital clippings of his blog posts on leadership for The Washington Post and various YouTube clips of his presentations, from a recent talk at a local Baltimore version of TED to a snippet of an appearance on an Public Broadcasting Service special.
For many in Carey’s inaugural class, the announcement of Gupta’s resignation–made last Monday (May 16) while he was on vacation–oddly brings a sense of relief. Many of them felt as if they were on a “rudderless ship.” “Most students seem pretty relieved that he’s left,” says one MBA student who declined to be identified by name. “He has been shopping offers publicly since the beginning of the school year. Many students felt that his focus was not on the current program. In the long run, we are better off with someone who is solely focused on us.”
Speculation that the president of Johns Hopkins University, disenchanted with his B-school dean’s public search for a new job, asked for his resignation is “not true,” says Gupta. His decision to suddenly leave a long-time career in academia to become chief executive of a Montreal-based SDP Telecom Inc. is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead a company he co-founded with his older brother, Ghan Shyan Gupta. “This is an exciting phase of my life,” he says. “We created this company some six years ago, and it is going gangbusters. We want to grow it and take it public.” Gupta’s CV noted that he had been a director on the board of SDP Telecom since 1999, but gave no indication that he was a co-founder of the company.
What of the three very public searches he was involved in? “It happens,” he says. “I went there, came back, and withdrew from all of them.”
Students, faculty and staff say that Gupta’s resignation, effective July 1, was no surprise. “He was on the interviewing circuit,” explains Phillip Phan, executive vice dean who will serve as the interim dean until a permanent successor is named. “For a person in his position, the phone is always ringing from headhunters. It’s not surprising, but once you end up becoming a finalist in several public searches, there is a signal there.” The signal: Yash Gupta, 57, didn’t want to be dean of a relatively new business school. Instead, he wanted to be the provost or president of a major university.
“This is a very aggressive, very ambitious guy, and he was moving faster and trying to leap farther than most people in this profession can accommodate,” says a search consultant who knows Gupta. “His aspirations were clear. There is no crime in that.”
Unfortunately, unlike the corporate world where a person’s search for another job remains confidential, public universities are required to reveal the top candidates for major leadership roles. So Gupta was unable to search for a new job quietly, something that had become an issue earlier in his career.
In early October last year, the University of Tennessee announced that he was among 71 applicants for the job as president. The search for the job began in the spring of 2010 and most applicants would have applied over the summer months—before the Carey School’s charter class of MBAs even showed up in August. In narrowing down that applicant pool in October, the search committee had named Gupta as one of 15 possible candidates. But he ultimately failed to become one of five finalists. After being rejected for the UT job, Gupta reassured the student body that Carey was his main focus.
Then, two months later, on Dec. 6, Virginia Commonwealth University posted an ad for a $295,000-a-year job as provost. Gupta, the school announced, had an airport interview for the position with a search consultant and became one of three final candidates who went to the school to do an on-campus presentation. However, the university favored another candidate and Gupta was publicly rejected again.
Finally, on April 28, the University of Iowa announced that he was among three finalists for the $375,000-a-year job as provost. Gupta went to campus the next day to give a public presentation. Faculty members at the school openly questioned his past loyalty, peppering him with questions about his short lengths of stay in past positions. “That’s it,” Gupta reportedly told the faculty. “I’m done if I come.” But that position, too, was apparently beyond his grasp. Iowa favored an interim provost who would get the job permanently on May 17, the day after Gupta’s resignation was made public.