In the harsh world of entrepreneurship and startups, moving fast and scaling rapidly is of paramount importance. And for the newest business school at a major research university to earn accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), rapid growth has been key.
“Isn’t it always the case, where those that belong in the status quo, will always consider themselves safe? Status quo is not always safe,” says Bernard Ferrari, dean of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, which is younger than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “We believe we have a little disruption in us. That we are doing some things differently in an exciting way with an exciting faculty. And we like it.”
‘I CAME FROM A DIFFERENT WORLD. I DIDN’T KNOW ACCREDITATION FROM ANYTHING.’
Founded in 2007 and graduating its first MBA class in May of 2012, the Carey School announced yesterday (February 15) that it had achieved coveted AACSB accreditation. For Ferrari, who started his tenure at the Carey School a couple months after the first MBA class graduated, the road to accreditation was built alongside the school’s strategic growth vision. But for Ferrari — who holds law and medical degrees as well as an MBA and had never worked in business school administration before joining Carey — the experience was one of learning.
“I came from a different world,” says Ferrari, who spent nearly two decades at McKinsey & Co. after being a surgeon in New Orleans. “I didn’t know accreditation from anything.” He says the school was “out of the process” of accreditation when he arrived: “We had sort of asked for a timeout. I didn’t know a lot about the history, but it was not good.”
So Ferrari traveled to AACSB’s international headquarters in Tampa, Florida, to investigate and essentially asked for a “mulligan.” He found Bob Reid, the accrediting organization’s executive vice president and chief accreditation officer, who was “invaluable” and a “good teacher” in helping Ferrari understand what the AACSB was trying to accomplish — and in helping Carey reach full accreditation.
Ferrari recalls that he also learned that accreditation standards “could serve as a wonderful momentum builder for many of our strategic undertakings and objectives that we had decided upon.”
SCALING THEIR UNIQUE MISSION LIKE A VENTURE CAPITAL-BACKED SILICON VALLEY STARTUP
Instead of dreading the intrusive, bureaucratic process that comes with AACSB accreditation, Ferrari and his faculty embraced the idea of using accreditation to grow the school. “I was able to marry the standards to our strategy. And that allowed us to proceed very rapidly,” Ferrari says. No kidding. When Ferrari started his deanship in the summer of 2012, Carey had 35 full-time faculty members and 135 full-time students. Now the school boasts 87 full-time faculty members, 923 full-time students, and around 1,150 part-time students. The growth has largely been in a portfolio of full-and part-time specialized masters programs in finance, marketing, health care management, information systems, enterprise risk management, and real estate and infrastructure.
More importantly, Ferrari says, the school was able to stick to its unique approach to educating young business leaders. Enrolling students at the end of the financial crash in 2008 and 2009, the school was founded on principles of teaching business with humanity in mind, as the school’s slogan says. “To us, that means building business character into our people,” Ferrari explains, noting that Carey “tore a page out of” traditional Jesuit education. “It means to understand the implications of your actions beyond yourself. That’s what we’re doing.”
Don’t necessarily expect a bunch of do-gooders, though.
“It doesn’t mean we are training people anymore for the not-for-profit world than we are for Wall Street, if those are the two dichotomies,” Ferrari says. “If our people go to Catholic charities or General Electric — it matters not to us. We’re not trying to steer our education one way or the other way. What we are trying to do is, whether they are at Catholic charities or General Electric, that they are outstanding business people and they are outstanding citizens.”
‘OUR SECRET WEAPON WAS OUR FACULTY AND STAFF’
Before his unexpected departure from the school in 2011, founding Dean Yash Gupta was able to establish a core faculty that came to Carey believing strongly in its unique mission. “I got a very good vibe from the leadership of the school,” Federico Bandi, a finance professor who left the University of Chicago’s Booth School to teach at Carey, told Poets&Quants in 2010. “I had the impression that this would be an extremely dynamic place where things could get done quickly.” Four of the original 15 full-time faculty members were already tenure-track professors at other elite business schools. And when Ferrari arrived, the general mood of the faculty and staff was “upbeat,” he says, though some were “dispirited.”
Still, from the get-go Ferrari noticed the value-driven talent within the faculty. “Our secret weapon was our faculty and staff,” he says, noting the faculty couldn’t have been more supportive or cooperative during the transition. “They had a belief. They had a mission. And what I did was to leverage that spirit, maybe inform it with a bit more strategic thinking. Obviously, I was able to help build the organization very rapidly, so we’re at a scale that counts now.”
Ferrari also was able to tap into the expertise of then-interim dean and current faculty member Phillip Phan, who Ferrari says did a “fantastic job” keeping the “lights on” between Gupta’s departure and Ferrari’s arrival. Phan stayed in an executive vice dean role for two years and, Ferrari says, remains a “key player” in the school’s growth and accreditation.