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16: Alexander Triantis on Leading a Business School Startup.

A peer-to-peer discussion with the Dean of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

In Episode 16 of the Deans Counsel podcast, Dr. Alex Triantis, Dean of Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University, discussed the importance of interdisciplinarity in business education. Triantis argued that traditional business schools can be too focused on narrow specializations, and that this can create limits for graduates to have the ability to solve the complex problems of the 21st century.

"I feel that because we are a relatively new business school (at) America's oldest research institution, Johns Hopkins, we're able to do things in a different way.” said Triantis.

To underscore their philosophy, Carey Business School has adopted a strong focus on interdisciplinarity. The school offers a variety of dual degree programs with other schools at Johns Hopkins, such as the School of Public Health and the School of Nursing. Carey Business School also encourages its faculty to conduct interdisciplinary research.

"We really embrace, I'd say, incentivize, and maybe I should also say not penalize our faculty for doing interdisciplinary work and the university is hugely committed to providing resources and incentives to making that happen as well.” said Triantis.

Triantis believes that interdisciplinarity is essential for business education in the 21st century. He is confident that Carey Business School is well-positioned to prepare students for the challenges of the future.

Here are some key takeaways from the podcast:

  • Traditional business schools are too focused on narrow specializations.

  • Business leaders need to be able to think broadly and creatively.

  • Interdisciplinarity is essential for business education in the 21st century.

  • Leading a very young business school at a well-established institution

  • Planning for and managing dual degree programs

  • Anticipating unintended consequences from an interdisciplinary structure

Alexander Triantis Bio:

Alexander Triantis became the third dean of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in 2019. He has built a reputation throughout his career as a strong, personable, and pragmatic leader skilled at building consensus around a strategic vision.

During his tenure as Carey’s dean, the school has revised and launched several programmatic initiatives, including its full-time MBA with emphasis in the fields of health, technology, innovation, leadership and business analytics; a distinctive flex MBA program allowing for specializations and dual degrees within the stellar Johns Hopkins University system; new programs for working professionals;

and the Women and Leadership Academy. Additionally, Carey has achieved gender parity in its overall student body and across most of its programs, and has advanced its comprehensive and ambitious commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Prior to joining Carey Business School, Triantis served as dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland from 2013 to 2019, and chair of the Finance Department from 2006 to 2011. Previously, he was a visiting scholar at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and an assistant and associate professor of finance at the University of Wisconsin. Triantis received his PhD in industrial engineering (with a specialization in finance) from Stanford University and his BASc and MEng degrees from the University of Toronto.

An expert in the areas of corporate financial strategy and valuation, Triantis has published articles in numerous prestigious academic journals, served on several journal editorial boards, and has consulted and led training for many multinational corporations. Businessweek named Triantis an Outstanding Professor at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland, and he is a two-time recipient of Maryland Smith’s top teaching award for faculty.

Triantis became vice chair and chair-elect of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business Board of Directors on July 1, 2022. He has also served as vice president for global services for the Financial Management Association International.

Show Transcript

Dave 0:13

Welcome to Dean's Council, a podcast aimed at supporting university leaders holding one of the more critical jobs on a university campus. Your panelists can Kring gemellus and Dave Ikenberry engage in conversation with highly accomplished Dean's and other academic leaders regarding the ever complex array of challenges that Dean's face and one of the loneliest and most unique jobs in the academy. Alex Torontos is an extremely accomplished academic leader currently serving in his 10th year as a dean, and he will soon be chairing the board at AACSB. From 2013 to 2019. Alex was dean of the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. In August of 2019, he became only the third dean of the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University. In this podcast we'll hear from Alex as to how he approached leading this young emerging business school embedded within a very storied and extremely well respected university. At the time, Carrie was only 11 years old when he arrived, we'll hear how Alex chose to leverage strengths within Hopkins, which in turn has led to a strong focus on interdisciplinary work in numerous dual degree programs. Along the way, he points out some of the advantages and disadvantages the springs in contrast to conventional business schools, and provides advice on anticipating unintended consequences.

Ken 1:39

We're here today with Alex Triantis, the dean of the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University and Alex, you have a multidisciplinary and very background, having been educated at University of Toronto, a couple of degrees in industrial engineering from my alma mater, Stanford, where you are receiving and doing much more rigorous intake guns and scholarship, I really wonderful academic career Early on in finance at Wisconsin, then to Maryland, where you chaired finance, and ultimately, were the Dean from 2013 to 2019. And now at a dean at a very different institution that carry Business School, frankly, the history of carry business school as the youngest school at Johns Hopkins, in a university that's historically a medical and health sciences powerhouse, that had for some time, somewhat siloed reputation, and now really moving towards one university. So it'd be terrific if you might start out and just answer the question about what it's like to step into this role and leadership role at a university such as this in a school with the kind of fascinating and impressive early growth.

Alex Triantis 3:08

Yeah, thanks, Ken. Great to be with you and Jim, on this podcast. So what's interesting, you filled in a lot of the history, but I'll mentioned that, at the outset, Johns Hopkins was offered an opportunity to start a business school many years before it actually did. And it didn't happen. And I think it might have been sort of this question of, you know, does every university have to have a business school? does the world need another business school. And what is really exciting for me, and I think unique about the Carey Business School is, we're not just trying to replicate what every other business school is doing, we're trying to come up with, with a different kind of business school in at least some ways. We offer obviously, traditional degrees, like the MA and the IMS. But at the same time, we're also doing really leaning into the interdisciplinarity, which I think a lot of schools are sort of moving in that direction as well. But I feel that because we are a relatively new business school, as we always say, the America's oldest research institution, Johns Hopkins, we're able to do things in a different way. And I can break that down and then turn it back to you all but I'd say it's really on two dimensions on the programmatic side where we have a lot of dual degrees, and I'm happy to talk about sort of our philosophy around that. And then also on the research side, where we, we really embrace, I'd say, incentivize, and maybe I should also say not penalize our faculty for doing interdisciplinary work and the university is hugely committed to providing resources and incentives to making that happen as well.

Jim 4:57

What have you been able to do from a partner shift standpoint, with the medical enterprise in terms of degrees and that kind of thing, because it's it is such a powerhouse, that it just would seem to me that there's so much opportunity there. What have you guys been able to do there?

Alex Triantis 5:14

We have several dual degrees in place. We actually don't have many MDS students that are currently getting their MD We get a lot of doctors who have already graduated in particular in our in our online MBA program, which is really quite large now. But we do have a lot of dual degree activity together with the School of Public Health, which is quite an enterprise here at Hopkins, as well as the School of Nursing. So we have with the School of Nursing, MSN masters of nursing, as well as DMP, which is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, which has become a pretty big deal. So we have a lot of students would probably bring in about 25 students in dual degree programs every year with School Public Health, another 2025. And so that's sort of on the dual degree side. But what's really exciting is, I think, also what we're doing on the research side, so we've started just three years ago, the Hopkins business of health initiative, and we've got about 100 faculty from the three what we call sort of the three health schools that are that are all co located public health, nursing and medicine, together with the Carey Business School, and they get together on on a regular basis to work on joint research on impact. And we're really trying to grow the impact in the policy arena as well, we're gonna get a new home shortly in Washington, DC just steps from the Capitol. And we're really looking forward to kind of using that positioning as well physically, to really make a big splash in terms of things involving healthcare policy,

Ken 6:56

sort of dropping back to the dual degrees, which is fascinating in that you really have been a real market leader, if you will, in that regard. I would guess our listeners could be interested in unpacking, sort of how have you done what's what's the lifecycle of establishing dual degrees? What sort of engagement and collaboration? has it taken sort of how have How have you been able to do that?

Alex Triantis 7:25

Yeah, I think central to that is the philosophy I'd say the unstated philosophy of let's just make the pie bigger here. And let's not Dicker around, sort of who's getting paid what for a number of credits. And I've seen and talked to so many folks who are Dean's who have just, you know, been banging their heads and not not able to close dual degree programs, because everybody wants to maximize their share. And I think if you take that approach, it does not succeed. And not only at the beginning, but just even later because all his circumstances, change in terms of you know, tuition and marketing dollars, and all sorts of things. So I think you have to go into it with the mentality that we're each going to pick up students that we would have never got, if not for having this dual degree. And I found that has worked really well with us, we have dual degrees with six of six other schools at Hopkins, ranging from engineering to School of Advanced International Studies, and so on. And in each case, I would point to finding opportunities that are market driven, where there may be gaps in offerings and other schools, and then try to be flexible, because it's not easy for students to manage dual degrees. So being flexible in terms of how you offer it, and the ability to shift electives around and things like that, I think is super important as well.

Ken 8:55

What about joint appointments? Has that contributed to sort of the connective tissue?

Alex Triantis 9:01

Absolutely. So I'd say I'd point to a few things that the university has done, which I think are critical and really incentivizing and, and allowing for interdisciplinary research. We have Bloomberg distinguished professors who are very senior faculty, there's 50, we're moving up to 100. Soon, who have to have a leg in two different schools. So they're with Kerry and public health care and engineering and so on. They're not only well known researchers, but they're expected also to be really leaders and help, you know, build up teams behind them. There are very significant awards that are given by the university that you have to have researchers in different schools that get those. I think probably even more important is is leadership, a President and Provost who are truly truly committed to this. I mean, I think everybody talks the game of interdisciplinarity. But you know, really putting money behind it. In our case, recently a vice provost, Provost for interdisciplinary initiatives getting, you know, helping to get the schools to work together. All that's really important. The other part is, I'd say maybe a little bit more what we've done at the business school, we do not have an A list of publications, which most business schools do focus on, you know, UT Dallas, and Financial Times, and so on. If our faculty want to publish the New England Journal of Medicine, or science or whatever, you know, God bless them. And we take that seriously, we the letter writers are also potentially people who had some of that broad scope, and we want to make sure that they're that our faculty are considered to be experts in particular areas, but not as measured just by their their a level publications. So that requires some sort of open thinking that sometimes it's difficult, in particular, if you have a tradition, and again, I think that's one of the advantages of having a newer school is that you can kind of build it in a in a newer fashion.

Jim 11:09

I couldn't commend you more for that one. I think that is wonderful to hear, I think it's terrific. What failures have you had, or when you've gone through these and many times, you're gonna throw a bunch of these dual degree programs up there, somebody who just doesn't work? It doesn't, it doesn't get the students attention, it doesn't get the faculty attention. Have you had any that just didn't work. I mean, we're we in academia are known for not cutting the dead wood, but we carry it along for a while.

Alex Triantis 11:36

It's a good way, I'd say there's one program that was established before I started that Karen is no longer with us. And it was across, I think, three or four different schools, it was more of a certificate program, together with medicine and public health, and maybe even nursing as well. Try not to overcomplicate things like so it'll be one lesson there. And then and then the other is as much market research is as you might do ahead of time, you build it and they may not come or it may the numbers may be so low that it just becomes a little bit infeasible from an operational standpoint. And so there have been, I think, some of those that may have one point been a bigger deal. And actually, one example I'll give you is, we have a unique program together with a School of Fine Arts in Maryland called the Maryland Institute College of Art. And it's, it's, it has a great name, it's called the mamba program. It's a Master's of Arts in design leadership, together with our MBA, and the students that program are incredible. It's very focused on on human centered design, but it has been sort of in person, Mike, and then sort of in a more flex MBA format, and so the format's didn't match. And so we actually just decided, okay, let's just take a very fresh approach on this and lean into the online market, and see if we can redesign this in a way that's going to be easier for the students easier for the schools to work together and so on. So, in some cases, I think you just have to close things down. And in other cases, you take another stab at it, you may not get it right, the first time around.

Ken 13:23

Alex, you mentioned impact earlier, probably hard to measure, and probably varies from division to division discipline to discipline, but talk with us some about sort of how you built impact into the idea of research and scholarship?

Alex Triantis 13:43

It's a great question, and there's no sort of simple way to measure impact and impact on what right so it could be impact, obviously, on the on academic scholarship, it could be, you know, impact more generally on society. Obviously, we look at a lot of, you know, when we're looking at promotion cases, we look a lot at at citations and other impact in terms of you know, our faculty and other schools using your research is it having an impact in academic circles, but but we also are increasingly focused on impact in policy circles in, you know, working on on initiatives that are garnering attention from other other entities and being featured more in sort of the public sphere and not just in the academic sphere. You know, it's hard to sort of measure that in a strict sort of quantitative metric way. But you kind of get the sense as somebody who really is excited about their scholarship and willing to maybe invest a little bit of time doing something that is a little bit less academic, but but gets them to have that impact on whatever their field is. So I think that's evolving and as you know, began, there's more and more focus on societal impact through through AACSB. And through the curriculum, the reviews that happen every five years. And I think I think that's a good thing. We, it forces us to go back and say, okay, really what what have we achieved from an impact perspective?

Jim 15:18

How's your team? They? Are they really gelled into the concept of being creative with these dual degrees and thinking more about it? Was it a pretty easy thing to get buy in from the carry team? Sometimes they just don't want to do these types of things, because it's just as workload or whatever. How do you? How do you look at that?

Alex Triantis 15:37

Yeah, it's it's a good point, Jim. Because we often do get into this sort of complexity debate and try to streamline and too many different programs and too much operationally, I think, at the end of the day, you've got to, you have to give it a little bit of an ROI, scrub and say, Look, you know, yeah, this is a little bit more work. And maybe we need an additional headcount for somebody to track some of these things and deal with with students that have maybe unique issues and need different advisors. But if we're adding 1020, whatever students by, by virtue of doing this, and also a richness of what we get in the classroom, having people from different backgrounds, that I think the case is relatively easy to make, you know, I think, in general, our faculty and staff are, are open to being creative. Again, one of the advantages of being at a fairly young school where people came at a time where, you know, there might not have been as established a faculty and reputation as other school. And they're a little bit more entrepreneurial in terms of how they think and they're willing to go with the ride.

Ken 16:47

Has it been an advantage? And are there continuing opportunities related to having one faculty without departments? Because historically, that's been somewhat differentiating about here?

Alex Triantis 17:00

Yeah, that's right. Everybody designate sort of a primary area, and they can designate a secondary areas well, so you know, these are our mostly, you know, functional areas that you would see at any other school that gives sort of an affinity group, if you like, when we do searches, obviously, those are the individuals that will have the stronger voice in hiring people within that area. But it does allow, we have seminars, recruiting seminars, we get people from different areas attending, and it's not just sort of the finance people or the management people listening in to a discussion, we have pretty active series where our faculty will present to all the faculty about, you know, short, little TED talks, if you'd like about the research, and we, we've even started doing that with our staff as well, so that our staff can recognize the kinds of research that our faculty are doing. So yeah, I think that that helps a lot. I think, also, when you've got our promotion tenure process, actually involves all of our faculty at the outset, evaluating case, but then it goes to an academic board that is not just carry individuals by carry faculty, but also some from other divisions at Hopkins, which again, lends a bit of a new lens and a more interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the cases.

Jim 18:23

Kind of advice, would you give a dean who really doesn't have this basket of dual degrees as they're starting out and trying to figure out, you know, where do I go? What's the first one? I do? How do I look at it? What would you tell him that what pitfalls would you tell him to watch out for as well?

Ken 18:41


Alex Triantis 18:43

certainly, obviously, just quick benchmarking to see what's out there, what's what's common, but I think, you know, part of it also is you don't want to be swimming too hard upstream. So part of this depends on the will of the coalition of the willing. And so I'd say I would start with that and talking to the deans of the other schools and see if they, if they are dismissive or are delighted, right. And so, you know, you've got to think a little bit about how easy it is going to be to actually execute on these but, you know, the market research is important and understanding sort of areas in which there seems to be more more interest. The other is, is the particular strengths of the school so you know, if you're at a school that's really heavy sort of engineering, technology focus, then that's probably where you want to lean into. We started I think more with health related programs and biotechnology and so on, but but I've expanded from there as well. So yeah, you know, the pitfalls will be that one will sort of hit a few walls that they only want to bang their head against them. So many times. And then kind of move on to the next thing.

Ken 20:03

I would imagine, you know, you want to continue also the kind of entrepreneurial culture that you've inherited and help to reinforce and, and by that failing fast forward is sort of a rule of thumb.

Alex Triantis 20:19

That's true. Exactly. And again, some of these are easier, I think, was a bit of a momentum. Once you structure a plan for how to do these kind of dual programs, then it's easier to sort of go with a with a paradigm that that works. But I agree with you, it's, you know, we've actually been toying around with going to the School of Engineering and saying, Well, instead of sort of picking one, like, by a master's in Biomedical Engineering together with with our MBA or with one of our MS degrees, why don't we come up with a template that works with any of their master's degrees, and then do it in a way that can be standardized, so it won't be a complete nightmare, but will give students more of a flexibility in terms of how they piece together the various courses?

Jim 21:11

How do you compare dealing in a private institution versus dealing in a public institution? What have been your experiences there that you could share?

Alex Triantis 21:21

I'd say, first of all, that there's probably a lot more commonalities than differences. But I do think that, you know, all institutions are going to try to some extent to have centralized commonalities. So it's interesting that Hopkins actually, I think, historically has been quite a, quite a decentralized institution, you know, when one recognizes that, you know, I'll give you a specific example, right, during COVID, obviously, you can't have every school going off and doing whatever they want, right. And then also, now with with sort of the flexible work arrangements, if we decide that, you know, we want we're gonna have our staff only come back X days and other schools wide days, and they and then y is greater than max, and they decide now we're going to go over to, you know, the carry because they're much more flexible. Well, the university doesn't want that. So what's interesting, I think, is over time, probably, you know, that standardization, which may or may not reflect sort of state imposed rules, it just may be sort of the institution feels like it has to put particular parameters in place. But yeah, I don't know, I think you have more latitude, right. And I've been in an institution, in particular, during financial crises that, you know, had had furloughs that were mandated by by the state, and then you're just kind of stuck with that, regardless of where you may be as a school or as a university, you kind of have to go along with that. Whereas a private institution gives you a little bit more flexibility there.

Ken 23:03

At Johns Hopkins, you know, the interdisciplinarity. And the way that you have been able to do things around dual degrees, and even research, sort of across different lines, may or may not impact ultimately, rankings. Be interesting to hear sort of how you think about that, in terms of just the ethos that is developed as one university and how that may impact rankings now that Carrie is accredited business school.

Alex Triantis 23:36

Yeah, we are accredited. We have chosen not to enter the rankings. And I must say, when I when I interact with many of my dean colleagues, they're they're quite envious of that flexibility that comes along with that. It's quite interesting these days as certainly of law in medicine. Many, many schools have pulled out of the rankings. You know, we'll see sort of how how that evolves on the business school side. But I think sort of the the premise of your question is, the fewer constraints that you face, the more you've got a latitude to, to experiment and to try new things. And I think that interdisciplinarity is something that perhaps many schools have wanted to do for a long time. I think and you both know that historically, business schools were really thriving in many ways that that they kept separate as a result of that, and maybe there was there was not the best of, of love between other entities on campus and business schools. And I think we're at a different spot now where business schools need their, their colleagues and other divisions and vice versa as well. And I think everybody's seeing sort of the benefit of that. And if you've got data, if you don't have the constraints of thinking about, you know, how is this going to impact? Like, you know, we have students from a Master's of Public Health, how would that impact our career outcomes? Right? You know, given where they may want to go, I mean, I think we we obviously, report our career outcomes, statistics, we're transparent about everything, but we're not, I guess, as obsessed maybe as as we wouldn't be if we were thinking more about the rankings. So it's nice to have a little bit of that, that flexibility.

Jim 25:31

I think it's great. I just listen to that freedom I go, how come I never had that freedom? It's so nice. And you know, you look at that. You look at the medical schools and the law schools today, and they really are rebelling against this. And my gut feel is the business schools will fall in line there as well, at some point, because so many of those rankings, the metrics are so useless. It's just a way to sell magazine. So I applaud you guys for not jumping into that pool. That's just that one you want to be in? And it's great, because it really does give you the freedom of thought, which is terrific. Well, Alex, it's

Ken 26:08

been a fascinating conversation. We really appreciate your joining us here today. We've learned a lot and you've shared a lot. Thank you so much.

Jim 26:17

And great, really, really appreciate the time. It's, it's been great, wonderful to see you. and wonderful to see you with a big smile and happy with what you're doing. It's great. Keep it up.

Alex Triantis 26:28

Thank you.

Ken 26:37

Well, Jim, that was great conversation, what were your thoughts?

Jim 26:41

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think that the focus on this dual degree on interdisciplinary degrees, where they've also looked at the the issues that take place in most institutions, for example, publications, and going out of really out of the norm in terms of what are the publications that they're going to reward when it comes to promotion, I think that really is a just a very smart move. And you've got buy in from so many people on this, that they've got momentum, there's just not going to be going to be lost. I think it's, it's really a great step going in the right direction. For a school that's really going the right way. I like hearing it.

Ken 27:27

Yeah, he's a he's a great spokesman for and also, you know, occurred to me during our conversation that, you know, the conventional wisdom of being late and small, late to the majority of business education and small and a big research university that is effectively a Juggernaut and Health Sciences might have sounded like a disadvantage, or the conventional wisdom might be but in fact, you know, everything he talked about was really the advantages of being new being on the cutting edge in terms of practicing what you preach. And and not only talking the talk, but walking the walk in terms of interdisciplinarity. Yeah, and

Jim 28:11

the other thing is, it sounded so much like the other. The other schools, particularly those three health services, schools, have really embraced the Carey School, as opposed to say, look, you know, you're a newbie, and we're the big 800 pound gorilla in the room. So leave us alone. We've been here for a long, long time. No, they didn't do that at all. And I think that's just been brilliant. On the part of Johns Hopkins in total is University and great.

Ken 28:38

Yeah, I would whisper that, in fact, leadership also matters. Yeah. And it's not just it's not just the theoretical value of having one university. It's the way those values are then deployed. And I am quite sure from the way Alex comports himself that he and his predecessor Bertie, Ferrari, did a lot across the bridge to build collegiality at the division to division level.

Jim 29:11

Yeah, they're the kind of guys both of them and I knew Bernie as well, those. Those are both the kind of guys that are going to be able to build collegiality, just by virtue of the way they purport to comport themselves. I think you're absolutely correct. Yeah. Really delightful to see the successes they're having really happy.

Dave 29:29

Thank you for listening to this episode of Dean's Council. This show is supported in part by Korn Ferry leaders in executive search. Dean's Council was produced in Boulder, Colorado by Joel Davis of analog digital arts. For a catalogue of previous shows, please visit our website at Dean's If you have any feedback for us, please let us know by sending an email to feedback at Dean's And finally, please hit follow or subscribe Add on your favorite podcast player so you can automatically receive our latest show

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