After nearly 11 years as dean of Washington University’s Olin School of Business, Dean Mahendra Gupta will be giving up his job on June 30th. Gupta, who joined the Olin faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor of accounting and quickly became one of the most popular teachers on campus, expects to take a year-long sabbatical before returning to the faculty in a teaching role.
Gupta, 59, is departing the job a year early in his current five-year contract which runs until June 30th of 2017. Among other things, his daughter is getting married in six weeks, while his son is marrying in August. “The university wanted me to continue but I just felt I am coming to the cusp of 60 and while I feel very young I want to take my time off and think very carefully about what I am going to do next,” Gupta told Poets&Quants. “It has been a great journey, and we have tremendous momentum at the school.”
During his stint as dean, Gupta led massive changes at the school that belie his self-effacing, gentle, welcoming personal style. He nearly doubled the business school’s footprint with a $90 million expansion that added two new buildings and completely renovated the existing Simon Hall. The two new buildings–named Knight Hall and Bauer Hall–are united by a soaring glass atrium totaling 177,000 square feet. He raised massive sums of money to fund the expansion, including bringing in a $15 million gift from Joanne and Charles F. Knight and a $10 million gift from George and Carol Bauer. He led a 30% increase in tenure and tenure-track faculty to more than 70 and expanded the school’s Executive MBA program into Kansas City and Denver.
HIS PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE UP THE OLIN COMMUNITY
Under Gupta, the school won recognition for creating Critical Thinking @ Olin, a novel approach to teaching critical thinking skills that captured the MBA Roundtable’s award for innovation in MBA education. Olin also put a major effort behind entrepreneurship under Gupta, so much so that the field now rivals finance and investments as the most popular platform, or specialization, at the school. Meantime, Olin consistently posts among the highest MBA employment numbers of any top business school, with 97.1% of last year’s class with jobs three months after commencement.
Gupta gave Olin a significantly larger global footprint as well. He struck an unusual Executive MBA partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay to launch the first program that will confer an MBA degree from both an Indian and an American university in India. And he also struck deals with Singapore Management University and Yonsei University in Seoul, among others, to offer a new Global Master of Finance dual-degree programs with Olin in Singapore and Korea.
The number of full-time graduate students at Olin increased by nearly 85%, with applications up nearly 200%, driven by expansion in applications for MBA and specialized masters programs that range from a master’s in customer analytics to supply chain management. Full-time undergraduate and graduate enrollment is up nearly 60%, predominantly due to growth in specialized masters programs.
Yet when asked to name his proudest accomplishment, Gupta doesn’t mention any one of the above achievements. Instead, he is most proud of the the people who make up the Olin community. “It’s the people and I put them into three groups,” he says without hesitation. “It’s those I work with on a daily basis, from the faculty to the staff. Without them, there is no way we would have created this momentum. And it’s the students. As a professor, I knew only the students in my class. As a dean, I’ve gotten to know the students across the school and the globe. To hear their stories and see their success, you feel like a proud dad. I would not trade that for a single moment. I have been very fortunate. I must confess that when I walked into this office, I did not know about this. Yet, it has been the biggest gift I have received. The people here have shaped me and shaped the school.”