HE PROVED HIS METTLE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S BUSINESS SCHOOL
His success earned him his next job in 1999, the deanship and an endowed chair at the University of Washington’s business school. The position paid $204,000 a year, and by all accounts, Gupta did an exceptional job. While he was dean, from August of 1999 until April of 2004, the school’s endowment grew by 86% to $82 million, from $44 million, and moved to a rank of 18th in U.S. News & World Report’s B-school ranking, from 51st. The B-school’s annual fundraising grew from $2.7 million to $20 million, a 640% increase.
He was in the middle of a $105 million fundraising campaign to build a new complex for the business school when he stunned the faculty in late March of 2004 with his decision to leave and accept the deanship at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Gupta told the media that he had not applied for the job and that it all came together very quickly within six weeks.
It would end quickly, too, lasting all of 19 months. Within four months of his July 1 arrival there on a five-year contract, sources say, University of Miami President Donna Shalala had called USC President Steven Sample to ask about Gupta. She said he was in Miami, interviewing for a provost job he ultimately failed to get. This time, the search wasn’t public, so Gupta’s name did not surface. “He had his hands slapped and we thought that was it,” says a former colleague at USC.
IN SEARCH OF A PRESIDENCY
But with Gupta, that wasn’t quite it. Despite promises to focus on his job as dean of the business school, he apparently remained on the lookout for a higher position. Gupta had told colleagues at USC that he thought he deserved to be provost or president of a university after serving as a business school dean for more than a decade at three different institutions. Little more than a year after the Miami episode, on January 17, 2006, the University of Arizona announced Gupta as one of four final candidates for the President’s job. The search committee would interview him the next day on campus.
Ultimately, his ambition cost him his job. Within two weeks of his search committee interview in Arizona, USC announced on Feb. 2 that Gupta had abruptly resigned. Despite widespread speculation that Gupta’s resignation came at the request of USC President Steven Sample, Provost C.L. Max Nikias publicly insisted that Gupta was not forced out.
In a memo e-mailed to faculty, however, Nikias made clear that Gupta’s resignation was effective immediately. Nikias said he had been informed by Gupta “that his career path has brought him to the conclusion that he should resign from his current position,” although he would continue to hold a tenured position as a professor of information and operations management.
‘IT MADE MORE SENSE NOT BEING A DEAN THAN BEING A DEAN’
Later, in an interview with BusinessWeek, Gupta acknowledged that his very public search for another academic position had made it difficult for him at USC, where he was also leading a major fundraising effort. “I’m trying to pursue the presidency and chancellorships of other universities,” Gupta said. “It made more sense not being a dean than being a dean. Whenever you’re a candidate elsewhere, it creates a lot of tension.” Indeed, in a story noting Gupta’s ambitions, The Economist said that “it must be hard working for the San Diego Padres when everyone knows you’re after the top job at the New York Yankees.”
During the 19 months, Gupta served as dean of USC, the Marshall School plunged 10 places to 27 from 17 in BusinessWeek’s B-school rankings. It also plummeted 17 places to a rank of 54th from 37th in the Financial Times’ global MBA program rankings. “In 19 months, he set the school back five years,” says a former Gupta colleague at USC.
After leaving the deanship at USC, Gupta’s name surfaced in two other searches. In early June of 2006, he was identified as one of four finalists for the deanship at the University of Nebraska’s business school in Lincoln, He did not get the job. In April of 2007, he was again one of four finalists for the job as chancellor of Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale campus. Gupta wasn’t selected for that post, either.
GETTING TO BE THE FOUNDING DEAN OF A NEW BUSINESS SCHOOL
Finally came something of a dream job, given his blowup at USC: the chance to be the founding dean of Johns Hopkins University business school. World renown for its schools of medicine and international affairs, Hopkins was one of only four elite universities—Princeton, Brown and CalTech–without a business school and a full-time MBA program. The last big brand prestige university to launch a B-school in the U.S. was Yale in 1976.
His timing did not bode well. Gupta landed the job in January of 2008—two years after resigning at USC—just as the world economy was tanking in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But he smartly used the Great Recession to help position the new business school in a world that had grown weary of MBAs. “Over the years,” he says, “I came to the conclusion that we leaned too hard on the science of business. The MBA became a degree in methodology. 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.”
‘HE CAN SELL ICE TO ESKIMOS’
Truth is, Johns Hopkins could not have selected a better dean to create a school. Gupta is a natural born salesman, a gifted promoter and passionate advocate for education. “He can sell ice to Eskimos,” says one former colleague. His enthusiasm can be infectious. Most of the faculty who came to the school quit their other jobs largely because of his vision to build an MBA program that would be bold and innovative.
Ultimately, Gupta came up with a vision for the school that allowed it to stand out, especially at a time of huge economic upheaval. The school’s tagline, “Where business is taught with humanity in mind,” was central to Gupta’s belief that MBA education had gone off the rails and needed to get back in touch with humanity. Among the unusual features of the program are a team-taught integrated core curriculum, an “Innovation for Humanity” experience that require 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 that enlists five-student teams in trying to commercialize science and technology developed in such university schools in medicine, public health, and bio-technology.
By the start of the new school year this fall, Carey will have some 40 tenure-track faculty members, a third more than it had a year earlier, recruited from such top schools as Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Columbia and Chicago. Almost all of the students in the charter class have summer internships, and the second student cohort of 80 more students looks “as good if not better” than the first class,” says executive vice dean Phan. “Only someone like Yash could have pulled it off,” he adds. “Most people would have taken a longer runway.”
Over the next couple of weeks, the university will likely name a search committee for the new dean. But it may take a full year to find and vet Gupta’s successor.
Meantime, Gupta says he has no regrets. “This has been the brightest part of my life,” he insists. “How many people get a chance to create a new school? Look at what we accomplished in a short period of time.”