The B-School Dean Who Didn’t Want To Be Dean

by John A. Byrne on

“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.

Yash Gupta resigned last week as dean of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School

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.

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  • klughing

    He sure is determined and persistent. I guess that’s a good thing.

  • Arthur Featherstonehaugh Dullsworthy

    Poor guy may look back on his days in the Legg Mason building in Baltimore with regret. See: http://www.sdptelecom.com/en/content/canadian-headquarters-and-advanced-rd-center?mlid=293

    Check out the firm’s slogan: “SDP’s diversification is key to ongoing success and growth.” In a business context (where the idea of really means something) the purpose of diversification is to limit risk. Limitation of risk comes at the expense of growth. Did Yash come up with that slogan for his brother? Sure sounds like him. What the hell is he talking about?

    I think this is where I get to type the letters L O L.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/samudranb/ Samudra

    How adversely will this affect the Carey students? Will it?

    Would appreciate it if someone from Carey could share their fears, and what the management is doing to assuage them.

  • Arthur Featherstonehaugh Dullsworthy

    That’s the interesting question — do students really care?

  • Current MBA Student

    Samudra,

    I don’t think it will adversely affect the students at all. There is a highly competent search committee announced by the University Provost to find an equally qualified/ if not more qualified Dean for the future.

    Secondly, the Carey students have already received Top internships from all the big companies you might expect from a Top MBA program, and the remainder of the administration/faculty sent international communications indicating we are moving forward with exciting new corporate and university partnerships you should hear about soon.

  • sanjay

    how can anybody afford these programs? They are so expensive!

  • Darjay Kasanda

    More importantly why would anyone pay that much for programs in an untested, non-AACSB accredited school with fifth rate, chaotic management?

  • MBA to Be

    I’ve said it before, John’s Hopkins Carey will be fine. My brother is a recent grad and landed a great job. Even thought it is not AACSB yet, it will be. As for Sanjay, Hopkins Carey is HALF the price of most business schools! An MBA from Hopkins still beats out most if not all schools not listed in the top 40.

  • M BUTLER

    What impact will his departure have on the Business School receiving AACSB certification? What is the current timetable?

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    M. Butler,

    I would think little to no impact. AACSB accreditation has to be a major priority for any administration.

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