Bernard T. Ferrari's diverse career took another turn in July when he became the second dean in the history of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
Ferrari started out as a surgeon before a switch to management, which included a five-year stint as the chief operating officer for the Ochsner Clinic, now known as the Ochsner Medical Center, in Louisiana. From there, he became a senior health care consultant and then director of the global health care practice at McKinsey & Co., a management consultant. He retired from McKinsey in 2008, and then launched a consulting firm and wrote a book that was published this year about mastering the skill of listening.
For many people, being a surgeon would be enough of a lifetime achievement. Why leave the operating room for consulting and advising top corporations?
After I became a physician, which was something I'd wanted to do since I was very young, a series of serendipitous events took me from medical administrator at Ochsner to consultant at McKinsey to, now, dean at Carey. There was no grand plan. I went to law school because I was curious to know more about the law, and then I went to business school because I was curious about finance. Then, when I was COO at Ochsner, I was approached by McKinsey to help them learn more about the health care industry. I was impressed with them, and I guess they were impressed with me, and that started a dialogue that eventually led to my being hired there. Going to work for McKinsey really opened up the world for me. We had clients all over the globe, and being able to work on an international level really appealed to my sense of curiosity. I've always tried to do that in my life and career — go where my curiosity takes me.
You recently stated that business schools do a disservice if they focus mostly on training students to produce short-term profits at the expense of improving their industry or advancing society, and that Carey will educate "humanistic business people and entrepreneurs." Can you elaborate?
When I talk about "humanistic" business people, or when we at Carey say we teach business "with humanity in mind," we're talking about humanism as a way of examining the consequences of different human behaviors in a search for positive behaviors that make life better for each of us as individuals and for our society as a whole. Carey is making appropriate constructive behavior a central piece of business education. We hope the upshot for our students is that they come to understand the consequences of their decisions on the marketplace, on the community, on society. And if we're not always able to teach students the answers, we can teach them how to ask the questions.
Your book, "Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All," was published this year. Is listening a lost skill?
Listening isn't a lost skill, but it has become atrophied in this age of instant messaging, emails, texts and so on. We're so busy talking at each other that we've lost our capacity for listening. We seem to associate the ability to put forth a viewpoint with the ability to lead, but I've found that the best leaders are great listeners. They know how to seek out, store and sort through information in an efficient and effective way. That's what enables them to address tough problems and to be great leaders. But you don't get there without first being a great listener.
What's a typical day like for you?
I try to talk to a lot of people, because I'm still fairly new here and trying to get information both inside and outside of the Johns Hopkins community. My days are rather full, but not hectic. I try to remind myself every day that having a jam-packed calendar or running around like your hair's on fire is not the measure of good leadership. What matters is helping your colleagues perform to the best of their capabilities. You try to let them know that a lot is expected of them, while at the same time you try to keep things light and encouraging.
I try to run two miles whenever I can, maybe three or four times a week. It may not look like running to anyone else, but I can tell you, it feels like running to me.
You recently served as a Juilliard School trustee, and this year you and your wife, Linda, made a $1 million gift to the University of Rochester to support the arts and humanities there. Given your appreciation of the arts, what do you make of Baltimore's art scene?
After being here only 100 days, I can't offer much of an evaluation yet. I'm going to depend on my wife, who's an active docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to introduce me to the visual arts in Baltimore. But my interest in music has drawn my attention to the Peabody Institute, and this fall at Carey we plan to launch a recital series at our Harbor East campus where Peabody students will perform for, and meet with, students from our school. I feel that business people without an appreciation of some type of beauty are incomplete. Humanism is a key piece of our educational philosophy, and part of humanism is being informed by the arts.