The Optimist In Charge -- Yash Gupta Brings A Sky's-The-Limit Attitude And An Enviable Track Record To The Dean's Office At The UW School Fo Business

When Yash Gupta, new dean of the University of Washington school of business, thinks of a university, his face brightens.

"That's where the future is being created," he says, raising his voice.

So, by definition, Gupta says, a college campus is an optimistic place.

Previously dean of the business school at the University of Colorado in Denver, Gupta, 46, started at the UW in August, replacing William Bradford, who is now teaching at the UW.

The New Delhi native, known for "taking a strong existing program and moving it up several levels," was a shoo-in at the UW, in part because of his forward thinking, said Denice Denton, UW dean of engineering and head of the search committee.

At the University of Colorado, for example, he launched an entrepreneur center, an information-technology center and the school's first master's program in international business.

Gupta has the ability to "raise the overall quality of the organization and get it on people's screens," Denton said.

This year, UW's graduate business school ranked among the nation's top 20 public business schools in a survey by U.S. New & World Report. The undergraduate program ranked 16th.

In Gupta's "wildest dreams," the programs would be at the top. But, he said, he knows that happens gradually.

"We want continuous improvement - continue to go up and up and up," he said.

Nationally, it's a ripe time for business schools. Enrollment fell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but shot up again with the growth of the technology industry, Gupta said.

The UW this year admitted about 36 percent of the graduate students who applied to the School of Business Administration and about half of the undergraduates who applied.

"We have a good business school at the University of Washington, but we can have an even better one," said UW President Richard McCormick.

"I believe that the pathways (Gupta) blazed at Colorado can help us do that."

In his seven years at the University of Colorado, Gupta led a complete restructuring of the school's MBA program, was an avid fund-raiser and developed a strong school link with the area's business community.

One of Gupta's top priorities at the UW is to more closely align the business school's curriculum to the Puget Sound's changing workplace, mainly by making it more technology-focused. Internet and biotechnology companies are growing rapidly, and the school has to prepare students for these jobs, he said.

"How do we become a great institution?" Gupta asked. "In my mind, it's by leveraging what we are, who we are and what we have with what there is out there."

Nellie Andersen-Claudio, college recruiter and internship coordinator at Visio, a Seattle-based software company, said, "the more exposure (students) have to technology, the better."

Andersen-Claudio said, for example, it's helpful for students to know how to set up Web sites and to be familiar with databases.

Visio already recruits from the business school. Most of the company's 40 summer interns this year were from the UW.

By next fall, MBA students at the UW will be able to specialize in e-commerce. Gupta hopes to have the entire program funded through about 30 area companies. The companies would pay to be on an advisory committee, provide internships to students and advise on the curriculum.

Gupta also plans to increase the number of internships with technology companies, (already, about 65 percent of the graduate students at the UW go into the field). He also wants to require graduate students to intern by the end of their first year - about 80 percent already do, but Gupta wants to make it a requirment.

Eventually, Gupta said, the business school has to be updated with better computer labs, equipment, classrooms with satellite capabilities and rooms with couches to encourage working in teams.

"You cannot create the future based on past technology," he said. ". . . If we're going to be the best, everything has to be the best."

McCormick agrees the facility needs improvement, but he nor Gupta could say when renovations might take place. Private funding will be needed, they said.

Another of Gupta's goals is to better connect the school with the area's business community, which he did in Colorado.

Gupta was well-connected to Denver's top executives and made sure they knew what was happening at the business school, mainly through the establishment of advisory boards.

Denver business is now so involved with the school, the business community is footing the bill for a search firm to find a new dean.

Steve Leatherman, president of a Denver venture-capital firm, is one of those supporting the dean search.

The business community has "spent a lot of energy and time on (the University of Colorado business school), and we don't want to see it go backward," he said.

"We've gotten into it, made some progress, and have some momentum. We want to continue to see it thrive."

Before Gupta started at the University of Colorado, there were few links between the school and the business community, Leatherman said. But, Gupta, whom Leatherman called a "natural arm twister," used his energy and perseverance to get business leaders involved in the school.

Georgia Lesh-Laurie, Denver's chancellor, called Gupta "unbelievably persistent. Like a little terrier - he never stops. He will call you daily. . . . He won't accept any answer, but the one he wants.

"The business community had not been used to that in Denver," she said. "They just took to him like crazy."

Business leaders support the school not just in giving money, but in mentoring and guest lecturing.

Lesh-Laurie said Gupta also was a leader among the deans at the University of Colorado and "challenged his colleagues to go out and do the same kind of job he was doing."

But, now, she said, "he wants to play in your league, and we think he's fully capable of doing that."

The UW wasn't the only school that wanted Gupta. He was recruited by the University of Illinois, the University of Nebraska and the University of Houston, among others.

Gupta, who earns $204,000 a year, chose UW because of the area's "excitement," including the strong technology focus and entrepreneurial activity.

", - that is excitement," he said.

Gupta has a bachelor of science degree from Punjab University in India; a master's from Brunel University in London and a doctorate from the University of Bradford in England.

He moved to the U.S. in 1988 to teach at the University of Louisville School of Business. Gupta, who worked there until moving to Colorado in 1992, helped create the Telecommunications Research Center there.

Gupta talks a lot about leaving a legacy. Leaving the world a better place. Building a community. Technology. The need to inspire people.

Gupta regularly holds coffee sessions with students and encourages students to e-mail him.

"Students need to be heard," he said.

And that's his policy with his two teenage sons as well.

Nothing is off limits, he said. He likes to take walks with his children and talk to them, find out what's on their minds.

He and his wife, Nisha, and their sons rent a house on Mercer Island, but Gupta said he hasn't seen much of the area because of his long hours, at least six 12-hour days a week.

But Gupta isn't complaining. He loves his job. He's always loved his jobs, he said.

"If you can't wait to come to work, I think you're doing something right."

Tamra Fitzpatrick's phone message number is 206-464-8981. Her e-mail address is: