Launch a world-class business school. Attract a five-star faculty. Design a curriculum that teaches students not what to think but how to think. And build the entire enterprise in Monterrey, Mexico. That was the challenge facing Carlo Brumat when he became the founding dean of the Duxx Graduate School of Business Leadership. (Pronounced "dukes," the name comes from the Latin word for leader.) "Business schools in Europe and the United States always seemed too narrow, too shallow," says Brumat, an ebullient 63-year-old who has studied and taught at top institutions in both places. "Duxx was a green-field operation: We could do everything from scratch."
Now in its fourth year, Duxx has attracted top professors from around the world. Its graduates have accepted jobs at companies such as General Electric, Ford, and McKinsey & Co. The current class, into which 31 people were accepted, received 625 applicants — an amazing level of demand, given that every course is taught in English.
How has Duxx come so far so fast? Thanks to its founder, the school has plenty of money. Duxx is the creation of Mexican billionaire Alfonso Romo Garza. Romo's goal is to foster a generation of capitalists who "accept the challenge of becoming agents of change for their country." Thanks to Brumat, Duxx also has plenty of imagination. In casual conversation, the Italian-born Brumat makes reference to everyone from Socrates to Schumpeter, from Fermat to Fermi. He is fluent in four languages. He is the founder of an ethics society in Italy. He has worked as a venture capitalist in Beverly Hills.
But what really explains the school's success is how it teaches leadership. At Duxx, it's not enough to create wealth; leaders must understand how to distribute wealth with responsibility, purpose, and grace. The Duxx curriculum is built around that philosophy. The school offers 35 courses in three core areas: business reasoning, social knowledge, and personal and interpersonal skills. All of the courses push the boundaries of business-school fare. A course on globalization, for example, examines not only trade and investment, but also the sometimes harsh by-products of life in an interconnected world: the cross-border spread of AIDS and other diseases, the environmental degradation caused by international development, the human migration brought about by war and famine.
But even this pathbreaking approach to teaching leadership couldn't guarantee that Duxx would attract top-notch teachers. Hence Brumat's most profound innovation has been in how the school operates. Brumat calls Duxx a "virtual university." There is no full-time faculty. Instead, professors come to Monterrey for eight days to three weeks, teach their courses, and then return to their regular positions. "We're like a production company for films," says Brumat. "People do a job and then go their separate ways."
The pace at Duxx is fast and furious. Students spend an average of 80 hours per week on their course work. But they're also given opportunities to spend less-structured time with their teachers. One example: Duxx schedules groups of students to dine with professors at almost every meal.
"I live and breathe them," says Sankaran Venkataraman, 42, who is a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School. (At Duxx, Venkataraman teaches a course on technology and competitive advantage.) Brumat says that such informal dialogue shapes the Duxx experience: "Dialogue is a situation in which two people enter in one state, and when they exit, they are changed because some of their ideas have been jolted, enriched, or repelled. That's really what education — and leadership — are about."
Sidebar: Lessons For Leaders
The Duxx Graduate School of Business Leadership is creating a new curriculum for leaders. Fast Company asked Dean Carlo Brumat to describe the qualities that today's leaders need.
Before challenging others, challenge yourself.
Only after you challenge your biases and stereotypes — what Francis Bacon called the 'idols which beset men's minds' — can you help others do the same. Each of us has a fragmented view of how the world works. The leader's role is to put together and harmonize such views, because only by 'associating' minds in this way can you acquire a full and objective view of the world.
Be impatiently patient.
Leaders need to transmit a sense of urgency, a feeling that life is short and that there's a lot to be accomplished. But if a leader is unreasonable — if he or she expects results overnight — the effect on morale can be devastating. The best leaders balance a sense of urgency with persistence.
Don't blame — learn.
No one knows what the future will bring, how a market will respond, whether a new technology will work. Yet so often, whenever a desired outcome fails to materialize, leaders look for scapegoats. That reaction freezes people's mind-sets and destroys imagination. In the sciences, researchers don't look upon a failed experiment as a mistake to be blamed on somebody. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to change their view of how things work. Business leaders need to adopt the same attitude.
Expand the realm of possibility.
How do leaders show imagination? By expanding the inventory of what they see as possible. You need to make room for all possibilities. That's what lets you be realistic and imaginative at the same time.
You can reach Carlo Brumat by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and learn more about Duxx on the Web (www.duxx.mx).
A version of this article appeared in the April 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.