Wash U’s Hard-Fought Gamble In India

Dean Mahendra Gupta of Washington University's Olin School of Business

Dean Mahendra Gupta of Washington University’s Olin School of Business

Within a week of announcing an unusual Executive MBA program in India in late June, Washington University’s Olin School has more than 50 credible inquiries from prospective students for its first cohort. It’s a good sign for Olin Dean Mahendra Gupta who has made a big bet on establishing what will be the first program that will confer an MBA degree from both an Indian and an American university in India.

The program is the result of a partnership between Olin in St. Louis and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. It is modeled after the school’s highly successful joint venture with China’s Fudan University, an EMBA program that The Financial Times recently ranked among the best in the world.

But the newly announced partnership is also a gamble of sorts. While Olin’s program with Fudan is 13 years old, it took years for the school to launch an EMBA in India largely due to government regulation. “It took a lot of time, patience and persistence,” says Gupta, in an interview with Poets&Quants. “This is something that we have been working on a few years. We do get a little spoiled in the U.S. on how we get work done, but in India it is a little bit more challenging. There are more regulatory hurdles that we had to go through. That why Harvard, Columbia, Duke and Wharton all have executive education centers in India but all of them only offer non-degree education.”

OLIN WILL OFFER THE EMBA IN INDIA AT HALF THE PRICE OF ITS U.S. PROGRAMS

The Indian market, moreover, cannot support the kind of pricing that is common for typical Executive MBAs. While a final price tag has yet to be placed on the Olin-IIT Bombay program, Dean Gupta estimates it will roughly half of the $112,000 in tuition Olin charges for its EMBA programs in St. Louis and Kansas City. Despite the lower revenue, moreover, Olin expects to fly into India as many as 12 to 15 of its faculty members in St. Louis to help deliver the 20 courses in the 18-month-long program. That means that as much as 15% of the school’s 100 full-time equivalent faculty will be directly involve in the new venture. “It’s a fairly large number of faculty who will travel to India during the teaching time,” says Gupta. “Over time the numbers will shift, but in the beginning we might be teaching 80% of the coursework.”

Still, if the schools hit their target and get 60 students in the first go-round, the gross revenue for the first class could total as high as $3.6 million. More importantly, the deal gives Olin greater exposure in a booming market for business education. The partnership with IIT was a natural because the school has been a strategic partner of Washington University for the past nine years. But Gupta believes that partnering with a non-business school gives Olin another advantage in the marketplace. “We intentionally chose an engineering school as a partner and not a management school because we wanted to take advantage of the technical expertise and intellectual capital of IIT to supplement our traditional business knowhow,” he says. “That is another piece which is significantly different than any other program available. there are not many global Executive MBA programs which take advantage of a technical giant and a leading U.S. university.”

‘A DEGREE WITH GLOBAL CURRENCY’

Indeed, that is a major appeal of this program and the reason why Olin and IIT had to jump through so many regulatory hurdles. As Gupta points out, “This program gives a graduate a joint degree. There is no other EMBA program like it in India. The existing programs give out a diploma that limits the value of the degree. This one will have Washington University’s name on it so it has global currency. And IIT Bombay is a world recognized name and very recognized in India.”

Olin and IIT are aiming for an initial class of 50 to 60 students in first cohort, expected to begin in early 2015. Gupta anticipates that the early entrants will fit the classic profile of an EMBA student. “The average age in the U.S. and China has been 37 to 40 with 10 to 15 years of work experience that is what we are targeting in India,” he says. “The only small change that might take place is that we expect to have a good number of people from family businesses. India is a very entrepreneurial country so it’s likely that we will see many heads of those family ventures. Most likely we will consider them even though they may be younger than the traditional profile. At the end of the day, we are looking not just for students, but students who are in a position to make a difference in their organizations the very first week the program starts.”