Yash Gupta, who joined the USC Marshall School of Business as dean in July, took the post just as the program appeared to stumble. Three months into his tenure, U.S. News & World Report dropped Marshall 10 places in its 2004 list of top U.S. business schools. (The most recent Business Week rankings place USC 27th, down from 17th in 2002.) Gupta, lured from the University of Washington Business School after a 19-month search, plans to refine the curriculum and bolster relationships with alumni to boost fundraising and mentoring, using local employers to aid the school's placement rate.
Question: The Marshall School fell in one recent set of ratings, in large part because students felt unsatisfied with their job prospects. What can you do to address that?
Answer: Improved curriculum has to affect the perception of employers. The world is changing dramatically and if employers don't perceive that we are changing ahead of it, they are going to think we didn't teach (the students) that much. I instituted a curriculum review to find out what competitive advantage we have and how we can better start defining it. We need to identify who our employers are, what they want and what skills can we provide them so that focus groups can be started.
Q: What do you do with that information?
A: There are 1,300 business schools in the country, so the competitiveness becomes very important. We have just instituted a committee that will come back with a new curriculum in the next few months, which we will implement in the fall of '05 on a trial basis. What we asked them to do is take a blank piece of paper, and don't just assume what we have and patch it.
Q: How do you approach a business education in the wake of one corporate scandal after another?
A: The business school education is changing dramatically. Part of it is what has happened in the business environment in the last five years. The Enrons, WorldComs, the corporate malfeasance that's one part of the equation. In business schools globalization is important, corporate malfeasance is important. What has happened in the sense of ethics has become very important; the leadership has become very important.
Q: What do you say to those who argue that the value of the MBA has become inflated and that its relevance has declined?
A: Competition in the global arena will be based on human capital, and organizations that have the ability to develop and deploy superior human capital will obviously succeed. These organizations will need leaders who can promote innovation, and teamwork. MBAs have significant preparation in analytical and problem-solving skills. They will have developed global understanding, communication and networking skills and will have honed those leadership abilities that foster empathy, motivation and ethical behavior.
Q: How do you balance the needs for a theoretical business education with real-world experience?
A: You want to make sure the students learn about the practice, but don't learn that the world is all about quarterly figures. They need the skills that will have a longer shelf life. You draw the applications from guest lecturers and projects. If you (only) look at business case studies, all you're going to take away is a snapshot. You don't know what happened before and you don't know what happened after. We use case studies and we use dynamic simulation models, where you can change all the variables. It's like a flight simulator. The very first time the students negotiate (in the simulation), you tape them. And as it progresses, you can see how the behavior progresses in simulated negotiations.
Q: How do you get the word out about all these changes?
A: We need to engage the L.A. community, and say: These students are good, and here is what we are changing. Another piece of it is about communicating to the world about the brand and creating access to the faculty. If we can't communicate with our employers what the difference is between us and other schools, who will hire us? If we can't explain to students who we are, how will they know about us?
Q: What about on the faculty side?
A: Business schools have not renewed themselves by way of faculty. The number of Ph.D.s graduating in the United States is declining precipitously it's 20 percent lower than five years ago. And the faculty themselves are aging, so all you need is another big uptick in the market and they're all going to be leaving because they have all invested in their retirements. We have given the departments so-called hunting licenses to recruit 21 new faculty, hopefully by fall.
Q: What are the prospects there?
A: It's very difficult, given the fact that the supply is declining. And given the high cost of living here, it's harder and harder to attract people who are in faculty positions in low-cost housing areas. We're in the market for four or five internationally known scholars the rest are junior faculty.
Q: How does the fundraising effort play into that?
A: Nobody gives money for the sake of giving money. People give money because they want to make a difference. We need to give them the reason. We have about 70,000 Marshall alums who have benefited greatly from this school. Our message has to be one of hope, of success and accomplishment. People invest in winners, not in losers. If they don't feel there is a hope of making winners, there are better charities to spend their money on.
Q: What lured you to USC?
A: Both the University of Washington and USC are premier institutions. It was a privilege to serve at the University of Washington. USC and the Los Angeles area provide a vibrant mosaic of cultures and a rare opportunity to broaden one's horizons.
Q: Do you have a favorite writer or theorist?
A: I read a lot of biographies about U.S. presidents. I've read more about Lincoln than a lot of people. I don't have a favorite author. I like to read about what made that leader a leader, what critical events happened that led them to be what they are. I'm more interested in human frailties than gizmos.
Q: What about a favorite business?
A: No, organizations are dynamic. What is good today is seen as awful tomorrow. About 10 years ago, a lot of people said, "If you could be just like Enron, wow, what an entrepreneurial spirit." I can't imagine anyone today who wants to be like Enron.
Q: How will your international background help you build up a successful business school?
A: The first thing the global experience gives you is a sense of empathy, a sense of understanding different points of view. Every human being comes with a different set of binoculars. It gives you understanding of the different lenses of the binoculars that you can have. That is fundamentally important for the students who are graduating today. People will forgive you if you don't speak the language, but people will never forgive you if you don't understand the culture if you're doing business with them.
Q: How important is that global perspective as far as the education here?
A: We continue to be the only school that has a (mandatory graduate-level) study abroad program. (Students) have a better understanding of the differences in culture and business practices. Our goal isn't to say there are differences, but to say: If you're going to do global business, you'd better understand how to exploit those differences.
Q: Have you ever run a business or served in an executive capacity?
A: I have experience in the consulting industry. In the United Kingdom I managed a consulting practice working on projects all over Europe. I have in effect been a CEO of several organizations. As a dean running a business school, I am accountable to investors and shareholders for results.
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