Charting The Future Of Emory’s Goizueta Business School

Goizueta Business School Dean Gareth James

Goizueta Business School Dean Gareth James likes to use the metaphor of the America’s Cup to describe what has happened to business school education. To compete in the most famous sailing race in the world, ever-faster yachts have been engineered to barely touch the surface of the water.

“Business schools have evolved from slow and stodgy to move faster and faster,” says the New Zealander who became dean of Emory University’s business school nine months ago in July of 2022. “But like America’s Cup yachts, they have become fairly unstable, and the moment you stop in the water, everyone passes you up. We have to be committed to moving Gouzieta forward and not allow other schools to pass us.”

Less than a year into the job, James is moving quickly to make sure that Goizueta remains firmly in the top 4% of the business schools in the U.S., with a Top 20 full-time MBA program of some 500 schools. In succeeding Erika James, who left to become dean of the Wharton School, James II inherited a place that he says boasts “amazing faculty, staff and students but also has some low-hanging fruit.”


He has revamped the school’s undergraduate business program, changing it to a three-year program from two years, introduced a business minor at the university, appointed a committee to do a major update on the school’s highly ranked full-time MBA, plans to double the size of Goizueta’s highly successful master’s degree in business analytics and brought online learning options to its part-time and Executive MBA programs. This year the school also launched a master’s in analytical finance  In the works are two more specialized master’s programs over the next couple of years.

Many of the changes are being fueled by the maturity of the full-time MBA market in the U.S. “The full-time MBA has gone from being a big cash cow for business schools to a loss leader,” he says. “It’s a declining percentage at almost every business school and the number of business students who are doing a two-year MBA program among all business students is down to about three percent now. About 75% of the business school students are undergrads. Of the 25% that are graduate students, only 10% to 15% of them are doing the two-year MBA. The rest are doing part-time MBAs, Executive MBAs, and the specialized one-year master’s programs in business. The business school industry has changed more in the past ten years than it had in the previous 100 years.”

Yet, as James rightly points out, full-time MBA programs account for 90% or more of a business school’s reputation even though they account for just 3% of the students. That is a function of MBA rankings which cast a long shadow over everything a business school does. “So in the full-time MBA,” James says, “we’re really working on quality. We’re not talking about expanding that program. We’re trying to get the strongest class we can. It’s really become a loss leader program for a lot of business schools: You bring in the best quality students you can, you invest a lot of resources on it. But while it’s 3% of the market, it’s more than 90% of the reputation. It’s a very strange environment to live in.” He agrees with USC Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett, who has voiced the need for a business school ranking that better reflects an institution’s overall quality. Until then, however, schools with MBA programs that are subsidized is a reality of the business education market in the U.S.


“The full-time market is super challenging at the moment, especially for (recruiting) domestic students,” says James. “International applications are going up, so if you look at the total applications, they’re still going up. But they’re going in two different directions. Last year, our domestic applications were down just about the average for all business schools that were down. So that was a challenging year. This year, they’re actually very slightly up among domestic students which, at first, I was a little disappointed with, but as I go and talk to everyone else, most other schools are down again. So we’re happy to be flat, a we’re working hard to keep it flat.”

He believes no U.S. business school is immune to the full-time MBA downturn. “The struggles are with all of the schools,” he adds, “and the top schools are struggling just as much as the mid-tier and as the lower-ranked schools. But if you ask me to predict long-term trends, I kind of gave that up during COVID. But the reality is that the lowest-ranked schools are already starting to close down. The schools below the Top 50, they’re closing their programs, and I think soon it will be the Top 40 and Top 30.  I do think it’s going to be essential to be a Top 20 school if you want to keep your full-time MBA program going permanently. So that’s definitely our goal to make sure that we’re at least Top 20, preferably closer to Top 15.”

As James sees it, the challenge is to maintain the quality of the full-time MBA while pursuing growth and innovation in other programs. “Goizueta,” he notes, “has done a lot of stuff with variants of the MBA programs, but we’ve done less than some other schools with the specialized master’s programs. We have a very, very strong business analytics specialized master’s program which has a very small cohort of about 50 students out of 1,000 applications. So we’re expanding that program to a second track starting this summer.We’ll go from about 50 students to at least 110 students (out of an expected applicant pool of 1,400 candidates).  That’s sort of a no brainer: We have 100% placement on the students, it’s just a booming area.”


An active and dynamic leader in his time at the Marshall School of Business, James came to Goizueta in July of 2022 after nearly a quarter of a century at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. In his 24 years at Marshall, he was a professor of information and operations management and gained his management chops in a variety of leadership jobs from vice dean of faculty and academic affairs to interim dean and finally deputy dean from 202o to 2022. James earned his PhD in statistics from Stanford University in 1998, after getting his undergraduate degree in finance and statistics at the University of Auckland.

Goizueta, of course, is a more intimately-sized business school, compared to his former professional home in Los Angeles. “It’s about 2,000 students versus 7,000 at Marshall, but we’re struggling with many of the same sort of sort of issues. Not that I have all the answers, but at least I’ve seen the questions.  And I actually really like the size of the school. At 7,000 students, it’s a little hard to make adjustments. With 2,000 students, you still have enough mass that there are good opportunities for everyone, and it’s a little more flexible.”

Asked what it is like to succeed the closest thing to a celebrity dean in Erika James, the new leader of the Goizueta School laughs. “She was James I, and I am James II,” he quips. “I’m not a rule breaker, and I’m not a rule follower. I’m a rule improver.”

And, in fact, that is exactly what he has done so far. While a faculty committee reviews Goizueta’s MBA program with the expectation that the school will usher in “significant changes in the program in a year’s time,” the new dean has focused most of his attention on the school’s working professional MBA options. The school now has three variants of its Executive MBA program: a traditional every second weekend option, a fully online version taught from the school’s global classroom, and a hybrid option under which online students come to campus three weekends a semester and take classes in-person with the classmates enrolled in the traditional program.


James says the online version will probably double in size next year, but professes a liking of the hybrid version. “I really liked that model because it gives you the flexibility of online but provides in-person networking,” he says. “I’ve had a number of students who talked to me and said, ‘I started in the in-person program, but I just couldn’t make it to campus that often, so I’ve moved to the hybrid and it’s a good compromise.’ So we’ve seen a nice uptick, not only in the online, but the other two formats are ticking up in applications this year as well.”

Goizueta’s evening MBA program boasts two tracks now. “It used to, of course, be all in-person in the evening,” explains James. “Now we’ve moved to an environment where students for each individual class at the start of the semester can choose whether to take the in-person version of that class, or again, an online version. So this is again, 100% flexibility. They can do all of their classes in-person, all of them online, or for any given semester, they might choose to do one in person and one online.”

James foresees major expansion here as well. “At the moment, we’re only really marketing that within about two hours of Atlanta,” he says. “But next year, we’ll probably expand that to a national audience. Basically, students can choose anywhere in the world if they like to do that degree online or in person or hybrid. So clearly, that’s the way the working professionals market is going.”


And then there is the specialized master’s market. “Over the next couple of years, we’re looking to expand the number of specialized master’s programs that we offer. I think 10 years ago, there was this big debate whether specialized master’s would be a weak quality signal. If you start a specialized master’s program, does that mean you’re abandoning the MBA? We’re well past that debate. Now, if you look at the top 25 business schools, there’s over 100 specialized master’s programs that they offer. So it’s not a quality question. As long as your program is a high quality program, there’s not going to be any brand impact.”

Besides the master’s in business analytics, Goizueta began a new master’s in analytical finance program. “We’ve deliberately tried to create a program to try to diversify the finance industry to start with,” he says. “It’s small impact that one business school can have, but we’re trying hard to do that. Finance tends to be a very white male orientated industry. So this program deliberately targeted a very diverse audience of students: An equal fraction of male and female students, a lot of racial diversity, a lot of diversity between domestic and international students in the program. It’s a fairly small program. The first year we got about 600 applications; We’ve got about 40 students in the program. We deliberately chose a very small size to get started both to ensure we had the program fine-tuned properly, but also because we were targeting this very diverse audience. I’m very excited about the way that programs developing. I think over the next couple of years, we’re going to slowly grow that program in size.”

James is also keen to promote an Institute for Business and Society that informs its undergraduate and graduate degree programs. “People think of business schools as going out and teaching people how to become CEOs, but this institute teaches our business and society classes which have unbelievable waitlists,” James says. “We cannot offer enough sections for very popular topics like ESG, multi-stakeholder environments, and all of the complications associated with leading an organization in that sort of environment.”

Goizueta is leveraging the institute’s assets in the greater Atlanta community. One such program, Start:Me Atlanta, targets micro businesses with one to four employees and provides support. “A large fraction of them are minority-owned, or women run the organizations. Typically, they’re either getting started or they’ve been running as a small business for a year or two, and we provide mentoring support. So we hook them up with some of our senior alumni that have a lot of experience. We provide executive-type training at no cost to them on the campus, and we provide some micro loans and startup funding.” James recently landed a $1 million grant for the program from the Truist Foundation, the largest gift  in the program’s ten-year history.

In a relatively short period of time, James II is making his mark, steering the ship as fast as he can but maintaining its stability as well.


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