Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business is betting its tomorrow on ‘The Intelligent Future.’ The new positioning, a year in the making and the result of conversations with more than 400 stakeholders, builds on its long-held reputation as a business school that sits at the intersection of business, technology, and analytics.
Dean Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, who joined the school a year ago last October from McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, says the just completed branding exercise allowed her to deeply engage with Tepper’s faculty, staff and alumni. “For me being new here,” she says in an interview with Poets&Quants, “it was an amazing opportunity to understand the school in a deeper way and have conversations with all the stakeholders. So it was very beneficial.
“We ran some things by alumni midstream to make sure it was believable, bold and consistent. We were trying to find something that is true to what we are and projects our positioning in a good way,” she explains. “This was one of my highest priorities and it reflects what we want to be known for in the market. We are very happy where it landed.”
‘WE WANT TO DEFINE WHAT THE BUSINESS SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE SHOULD BE’
The forward-looking positioning is meant to reinforce several core strengths of the Tepper School, including its emphasis on analytics, interdisciplinary learning, and the importance of human judgment in decision making. But it is also designed to convey the notion that Tepper is looking toward the future and embracing change.
“It always feels that business schools are playing catch-up with the business world,” says Bajeux-Besnainou, the French-mathematics-trained finance professor. “We don’t want to play catchup. We want to define what the business school of the future should be. It is unique in terms of branding. We couldn’t find any other business school with that branding, and it is also directed toward the future and what we want to build.”
The Intelligent Future positioning immediately struck a positive response from at least two important people: David Tepper, the school’s namesake and benefactor, and Bajeux-Besnainou’s own husband. After presenting to the board of advisors and Tepper, she recalls gave his immediate approval. Tepper said he really liked it. “And right away without even thinking about it, he says, “Oh I really like it.’” Her husband, Jacques, a nuclear engineer, loved it, she says. “My husband is a Renaissance Man so he really liked the fact that it is very future oriented.”
‘THE INTELLIGENT FUTURE IS NOT FROM THE LAND OF OVERUSED LINES’
Tepper believes the branding has several advantages. “The way we can use it is very versatile,” says Bajeux-Besnainou. “That is very powerful. It is the intelligent future of business, of innovation, of learning, of leadership and of community. It also can be used in a different way by asking what is the intelligent future? It is diverse. It is data informed which means we are coupling the data with the human element. Data should not drive decisions. The data is helping humans make the decisions by applying sound judgment. It is the interaction between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. It doesn’t mean one thing which would have been troublesome to me. It means so many different things.”
Moving forward, the new dean wants to ingrain the notion that innovation is about risk. “Building an environment by not taking risks is probably the biggest risk of all,” she says. “I hope that we can get into that mindset. Of course. we are going to take calculated risks. We want to make sure our students understand that sometimes it’s not going to work. But if you don’t take risks in an ever changing environment, this is the biggest risk you are taking. That is the culture of innovation.”
The new campaign is something of a clearer refresh, with a more memorable tag line, of a brand identity adopted by Tepper in October of 2018 after its move to a new home located at the center of the university campus on what is now called the Tepper Quadrangle. That three-year-old branding effort encompassed a similar theme: “We live forever forward, embrace the breakthrough builders, and fuel them with enterprising ingenuity. Our future is boundless.” But it was more a statement than a distinctive catchline: “The Intelligent Future: The Power of Data Re-Imagined By Humans.”
‘A QUESTION ASKED, A PROBLEM SOLVED, A VENTURE DARED’
The new positioning will be reinforced and supported by the school’s website and marketing materials, a highly produced video, new signage (see below), “fun swag,” as well as an aggressive social media and advertising campaign. “This will be a long-term campaign idea vs. seasonal and it can go in so many different directions,” says Lynda Oliver, chief marketing and communications officer. “The business school landscape is a sea of sameness. It’s not from the land of overused lines like leadership and world changers. The line peaks curiosity. It opens a conversation.”
Oliver, who joined Tepper ten months before the new dean began, has played a central role in the campaign. She had been assistant dean of marketing at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University for nearly a dozen years and partnered closely with a creative agency on the new Tepper campaign. She has a long history in branding, having worked for Ogilvy & Mather, Omnicon, and Verizon for nearly a decade before her long-time stint at Cox.
The minute-and-15-second video (see below), replete with fast-paced swirling graphics and a dramatic orchestral soundtrack, dubs Tepper “the home of the intelligent future and ends with these words: The intelligent future cannot build itself. It is a wondrous, manifold promise that needs nurturing and hope, collaboration, cultivation and you. For there is a spark that you will bring: a question asked, a problem solved, a venture dared. If this inspires you, then join us and join the intelligent future. The Tepper School at Carnegie Mellon University.
The new branding, moreover, will be followed by changes in both the MBA curriculum and the portfolio of programs at Tepper. “There will be more to come,” promises Bajeux-Besnainou.
MBA APPS UP 17%; UNDERGRADUATE BUSINESS APPS UP 36%
The effort is being undertaken in the aftermath of a highly successful year. Applications to Tepper’s full-time MBA program jumped 17% in the past year, allowing the school to welcome its largest MBA classes ever: A cohort of 231 full-time students, up from 141 a year-earlier when the pandemic depressed enrollment, a 64% increase. The school’s undergraduate applications rose 36% from 3,295 apps to 4,470 apps, resulting in the largest entering class of undergrads, up 31% to 231 students from 176 last year. It was the most selective cohort ever.
Arriving in the midst of a pandemic last summer had to make the transition more challenging. She had to move last fall’s semester largely online. “We learned a lot during COVID and we are still learning a lot because unfortunately COVID is not over,” says Bajeux-Besnainou. “I think we were very fortunate to be in a position of already being a leader in delivering online education.”
In fact, the school’s blended online MBA program just enrolled its largest class ever: 120 students in all.
The new brand identity also follows the ongoing challenge of delivering world class education during a persistent pandemic. After COVID hit, the school kept students together for online sessions instead of carving them up in sections, saving the more vibrant and dynamic discussions for smaller student groups on Zoom or in person. “That worked fairly well,” says Bajeux-Besnainou. “All of the learning has been enriched. We have been trying a lot of these new teaching techniques and some of them will stick. We are still adapting right now.”
COVID TESTS, VACCINES AND MASKS BUT OTHERWISE BACK TO A NEW NORMAL
This fall, all students had to take a baseline COVID test, had to be fully vaccinated, and wear masks on campus. While class sizes are the same as pre-pandemic levels, there still remains restrictions on events, particularly those that involve food and require the removal of a mask. “We are happy to e back in the classroom because we were not able to replicate the relationship building and all of the casual interactions between students and faculty online. I don’t think we were able to find a model that could easily replicate that part of the education.”
Yet, what most surprised the new dean was the school’s culture of high collaboration. “Every single business school is trying to claim they do it but when you don’t have that culture it is very difficult to put true collaboration in place,” she says. “There is no department within Tepper. At other business schools, very often professors are associated with different areas and schools and the culture is very limited. This is way better than any other university I have known before. It is a culture of working with no boundaries.”