Thomas based all of these changes on recommendations from a faculty committee set up for the express purpose of figuring out where the school could improve. The group interviewed faculty, students and recruiters to pinpoint the school’s weak spots. Their findings? The experience wasn’t transformational enough, and the plan to produce leaders in service wasn’t powerful enough – plus, the MBA orientation was “vanilla,” Thomas says. “We were not as good as we could be,” he adds. But he wasn’t looking for comfortable conclusions. “If we do something that doesn’t inconvenience faculty – that means we’ve designed our curriculum around our needs,” he says.
The committee presented their findings in the fall of 2011. By February 2012 they had designed a new curriculum and presented it to the faculty for a vote. The revised version garnered 88% positive votes – 12% were abstentions rather than nos. “If you know about faculties, 88% is pretty damn good,” Thomas says. The new curriculum went into effect that fall.
As evidenced by the vote, Thomas has a knack for upending organizations and bringing the old vanguard on board. He’s spent the better part of his career analyzing how organizations develop and where people fit into that equation. He holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in organizational behavior from Yale University and an M.A. in organizational psychology from Columbia University. He’s also snagged the Academy of Management’s prestigious George R. Terry Award for his book Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America. In other words, Thomas is adept at pointing out areas for improvement, whether it’s boosting diversity or restructuring an organization, and bringing people together to make change happen.
He traces his proclivity for shaking up the status quo to some of history’s most notable change makers – the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Born in 1956, Thomas was too young to participate in the protests, but he remembers being captivated by the unfolding action. He knew at that point that he wanted to make a difference and considered becoming a lawyer. “Lawyers and preachers were the people of that movement. One group went to jail, and the other group got them out of jail,” he says.
Later, he discovered that “lawyers didn’t always change the world.” So he nixed law school and set his sights on education. “When I was 22, my dream job was to be chancellor of the New York City School system,” he remembers. He was fascinated by the career of Frank Macchiarola, New York City’s schools chancellor from 1978 to 1983 and a legendary educator who pushed for integration and better performance in public schools.
But as a student at Yale, Thomas stumbled across the study of organizational behavior. He thrived on analyzing how organizations evolved and applying those principles in the real world. He knew he’d found his niche when he accepted a job managing a failing program and turned it around using concepts from organizational behavior. This was his ticket to effecting change. He also found a mentor – Leroy Wells, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale University. “Nothing beats a good role model when you don’t know your way,” Thomas says. “I discovered my passion, and I’m still trying to change the world.”
Right now, he’s working on changing the rankings. Georgetown lost ground in U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 rankings from 24th in 2012 to 25th in 2013 – the same spot they held in 2011. The full-time MBA program is 40th on The Financial Times’ 2013 list and 30th on Businessweek’s 2012 scorecard. Poets and Quants ranked the full-time MBA 22nd in 2012.
Georgetown’s part-time programs fared better. The evening MBA landed in 11th on U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 ranking of part-time MBA programs. Businessweek ranked the evening MBA 26th in 2012 and placed the EMBA program in 24th. Poets&Quants’ 2013 ranking put Georgetown’s EMBA in the 33rd spot. Thomas is quick to point out that he still has three more years to boost the school’s numbers. And you can bet he’s keeping tabs on them.
So what else does Thomas have in store for Georgetown’s B-school? For starters, he’s keen on boosting the school’s diversity – a topic he’s written about extensively. Currently, 26% of the full-time MBA students are minorities and 33% are female. “Those numbers make us average,” he says. “I would like to see those numbers increase, and I think that if we deliver on our mission, we should become even more attractive to women students and to students who feel a connection to parts of the population that disproportionately experience adversity.”