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Survey says Michigan, Purdue best for MBAs

Who's No. 1 in the MBA world? This year, it's a threefold answer.

Yes, the fourth annual Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey of corporate recruiters has produced not one but three No. 1-ranked MBA programs.

The rankings remain exclusively a reflection of how appealing a business school is to recruiters, the buyers of MBA talent. But the methodology has been revamped to reflect differences in MBA recruiting activity among the schools, resulting in three separate rankings:

+ 19 national schools in North America, led by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. These MBA programs share many of the same recruiters, primarily national and multinational companies that hire students from a broad range of the most prominent business schools.

+ 44 regional schools in North America, with Purdue University's Krannert School of Management in Indiana in the No. 1 spot. These MBA programs tend to be smaller and attract many recruiters from their local regions.

+ 21 international schools, with the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland on top. This group, a combination of eight European schools and 13 of the North American MBA programs in the other two rankings, includes only schools that attract a global mix of recruiters from a variety of countries.

The survey of 2,849 MBA recruiters was conducted online between Dec. 2, 2003, and March 31, 2004, with respondents rating only schools where they said they had recent recruiting experience. To qualify for any of the three rankings, a school had to receive at least 20 recruiter ratings.

The new approach retains most of the elements of the original methodology used in the Journal's three previous MBA rankings, including recruiters' perceptions of the schools and students on 20 key attributes, such as leadership potential, teamwork skills and interpersonal qualities, and the school's "mass appeal," or the number of recruiters that it attracts. A revised and expanded part of the ranking formula is supportive behavior, defined as the recruiters' intention to return to a particular school and the likelihood of making job offers to its graduates in the next two years.

What has changed most is the calculation used to arrive at each of the rankings. It was revised to give equal weight to perception, mass appeal and supportive behavior because the old formula resulted in a ranking that was increasingly driven by the mass-appeal factor. In essence, the ranking was becoming more a reflection of the size of the school and its recruiter pool than of recruiters' feelings about the school and its students.

With the methodology changes, says Joy Marie Sever, senior vice president of Harris Interactive Inc., "the value of the results increases. Schools can see where they cluster and which schools they're competing with; recruiters can learn about other schools in their recruiting cluster; and prospective students can more easily compare their short list of potential schools with one another."

What factors distinguish the national ranking from the regional? One of the chief differences is recruiting reach. Based on the survey, a national school attracted on average 331 recruiters, compared with 81 for a regional school.

Recruiters rating the national schools were most likely to come from companies based in the eastern United States and hold senior management positions; they offered the highest compensation _ 23 percent of the national school recruiters said they paid $100,000 or more in base salary, compared with 8 percent of the regional school recruiters.

Recruiters in the national school ranking were more apt to fill investment banking, strategic planning, venture capital and private equity positions. Regional school recruiters, on the other hand, focused on candidates for general finance, marketing, sales, and operations/supply chain positions.

While the two No. 1-ranked North American business schools might attract different types of recruiters, they are strikingly alike in other respects. Most notably, they are part of large public universities in America's heartland and are Big Ten rivals on the athletic field.

Michigan's and Purdue's MBA programs excel in operations management and traditionally have maintained close ties with manufacturing industries. Both increasingly are focusing on interdisciplinary programs that cut across the university. At Michigan, for example, the business school has a strong alliance with the School of Natural Resources and Environment on social- and environmental-responsibility programs. And the Krannert School is connecting more and more with the life sciences and other technical schools at Purdue.

Neither of the schools is particularly renowned for international business, reflecting that students' global perspective isn't among the highest priorities of most recruiters, particularly those in the United States.

But recruiters praise both schools for their students' strong work ethic and humility. In rating Michigan, Stephen Havel, a pharmaceutical production manager, said: "I have always been impressed by how Michigan MBAs comprehend problems quickly, especially with supply chain and operational issues. They're also very sociable and down to earth, unlike students at some schools whose approach is, "Look at me, look at me! Let me show you what I can do.' "

Of course, there are significant differences between the business schools at Purdue and Michigan, too. For instance, Michigan enjoys a stronger reputation for the diversity of its student body, with more women and minorities, while the Krannert School draws half of its students from engineering and the sciences, most of them men.

Michigan's MBA program is much larger, with about 850 full-time students, compared with roughly 300 at Krannert. Indeed, size is a major distinction between the two North American rankings. The MBA programs in the national ranking tend to be larger and heavily bicoastal, with an especially large concentration of northeastern universities. Most are private, elite schools, including all six of the Ivy League universities that have business schools.

Regional schools are smaller for the most part, with a fairly even mix of private and public universities represented and a much broader geographic spread.

The regional schools on average received more positive ratings from recruiters on nearly all measures. Not surprisingly, then, the regionals also are more likely than the national schools to enjoy a close relationship with their recruiters. They also draw more of their alumni to recruit than the national schools.

Recruiters classify many of the regional schools as collegial and team-focused and give their students high scores for personal ethics and integrity and for being down to earth and well-rounded. For example, the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business, which ranked fourth among the regional schools, received high scores for students' integrity, teamwork skills and good fit with the corporate culture.

That doesn't surprise survey respondent Paula Cecere, a product specialist at General Electric Co.'s Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky. "Throughout my experiences with Smith," she said, "there has always been a sense of community and teamwork at the school, a quality that I think is so important in the business world, where cross-functional teams abound in many different industries." Cecere, a Maryland alumna herself, added "the students are certainly competitive, but unlike some other b-schools, the environment is not cutthroat."

Kimberly Salim, a financial consultant at Regions Financial Corp. in Memphis, echoes those feelings about her alma mater, Vanderbilt. The curriculum at its Owen Graduate School of Management (No. 2 in the regional ranking) is very team-oriented, she said, at a time when "most corporations, especially ours, place a greater emphasis on teamwork ability than GPA and GMAT scores."

In the Journal survey, recruiters repeatedly use words like "chip on their shoulder," "snobbish" and "arrogant," to describe the chief shortcoming of Harvard Business School (No. 13 in the national ranking) and its students. As one recruiter put it in this year's survey: "Most of the students are full of themselves."

But the feeling isn't universal. "I think there are actually a lot of nice people at Harvard," said Gates Bryant, a survey respondent and consultant at Parthenon Group in Boston.

Bryant recruits at Harvard and Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business (the No. 3 national school this year, it was No. 2 last year and No. 1 in the survey's first two years) and finds clear contrasts between their graduates. "Tuck students are less cosmopolitan, with less diverse professional experience than Harvard grads," he said. "Yet Tuck graduates come out with stronger analytical skills.

Stanford's Graduate School of Business received more favorable comments from recruiters in the latest Journal survey, ranking 10th among national schools. Recruiters felt bruised by their past treatment at Stanford when many students were seeking fame and fortune at dot-com companies or aspiring to start their own businesses. Since then, however, the school has changed the management of its career-services center and become more welcoming to recruiters.

Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management placed lowest of the Ivies and one notch above UCLA in the national ranking. The big drawback for recruiters: location, location, location.

"Cornell students are above-average performers with great varied backgrounds, and the school's programs are practical and applicable to the real world," said Tobias Hartmann, a survey respondent in Bellevue, Wash., and a vice president at the LexisNexis unit of Reed Elsevier PLC. "The school's weakness is that it's just too far away from everything. We're in Seattle with no direct flights to Ithaca, N.Y.; hence it would kill an entire day to just get there and stay overnight."

Johnson School administrators know the complaint well. A solution the past two years: Cornell's "Just About Jobs" recruiter fly-in.

The school has ferried recruiters free of charge from New York, Boston and Chicago on corporate jets provided by two alumni and S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., the school's biggest corporate booster. The tactic was deemed a success, resulting in 24 job offers in 2003 and 14 this year. Depending on the state of the MBA job market in the spring, Cornell might round up recruiters for a free ride to Ithaca once again.

RECRUITERS' SCORECARD

TOP NORTH AMERICAN SCHOOLS

The national and regional rankings are determined by how recruiters rate each M.B.A. program on 20 different attributes, their future plans to recruit students from the school, and the number of survey respondents who said they have recruited recently at the school.

NATIONAL

1. University of Michigan (Ross)

2. Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

3. Dartmouth College (Tuck)

4. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

5. University of Chicago

6. Yale University

7. Northwestern University (Kellogg)

8. Columbia University

9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

10. Stanford University

REGIONAL

1. Purdue University (Krannert)

2. Vanderbilt University (Owen)

3. Ohio State University (Fisher)

4. University of Maryland (Smith)

5. Brigham Young University (Marriott)

6. Texas Christian University (Neeley)

7. Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de

Monterrey (ITESM)

8. Michigan State University (Broad)

9. University of Denver (Daniels)

10 Thunderbird (Garvin)

16. University of Miami

21. University of Florida (Warrington)

TOP INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS

This ranking includes European and North American schools that have a global pool of recruiters. It is based on how recruiters rated each school on 20 different attributes, their future plans to recruit students from the school, and the number of countries from which the school draws recruiters.

1. IMD International

2. University of London (London Business School)

3. Escuela Superior de Administracion y Direccion de

Empresas (ESADE)

4. HEC School of Management, Paris

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

6. Dartmouth College (Tuck)

7. University of Michigan (Ross)

8. Thunderbird (Garvin)

9. Penn State University (Smeal)

10. Stanford University

Source: Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey of corporate recruiters on business schools

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