How Important Is Academic Research At A Business School?
Maria |
April 6, 2023

Welcome to another episode of Business Casual! Our hosts have some exciting news to share about INSEAD. The school is getting a new dean, Francisco Veloso, who has extensive experience leading other prestigious business schools. After completing his term as dean of Imperial College Business School in London, Veloso will be taking over at INSEAD in September.

In other news, our hosts will be discussing a newly released ranking that evaluates the academic research output of various business schools. They’ll delve into who’s on top, who’s not, and the reasons why. They’ll also explore the relevance of this ranking for MBA students and how they should choose the business school they are going to.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.130] – John

Well, hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co hosts Caroline Diarte Edwards and Maria Wich Vila. Lots of news this past week. The big news is INSEAD will have a new dean. His name is Francisco Veloso. He is a familiar figure because he has been the dean of two other business schools. Currently. Until he takes over in September, he has been the dean of Imperial College Business School in London. He will have fulfilled a five year term there before moving on to INSEAD. Before that, he was dean of the Catholic of Lisbon School of Business and Economics in Portugal for five years. He is replacing a guy who has done a remarkable job at INSEAD over the past ten years. And at INSEAD, they have a rule which limits every dean to two five year terms. So having completed his second five year term by September, he is moving on, and Francisco Veloso is taking his place. The other thing we want to talk about is research. We have just published a new ranking of business schools by academic research and how often the faculty is cited in key journals.

[00:01:36.550] – John

And we want to talk a little bit about who’s number one, who’s not, and why, and is it all that meaningful to an MBA student to begin with? But let’s first talk about the new INSEAD dean. And we have, of course, Caroline is really an expert at INSEAD, having served as the head of admissions for quite a few years at the school. Is this a welcome change? And what kind of shoes will he be filling here in taking over?

[00:02:06.100] – Caroline

Yeah, well, Ilian has been a wonderful dean, as you know, John. So very big shoes to fill. Ten years is a long time. Bit like the American president. They can only do two terms. So I know that Ilian is ready to move on, but I also know that people at the school have been nervously anticipating the end of his term because he has been so successful and so well liked, both by people working at the school, by the students, and by the various stakeholders. And it’s a very difficult job, right, because you have so many stakeholders to deal with who all have very strong opinions about how you should be doing your job and don’t hesitate to tell you about it repeatedly and in no uncertain terms. It’s a job that requires a great deal of skill. Instead is a very difficult school to manage, I think particularly amongst business schools. It’s a particularly challenging school compared to even some of the top US. Schools because it has the different campuses in different locations. So the MBA program runs in parallel in France and in Singapore. The school also has the campus in Abu Dhabi.

[00:03:19.400] – Caroline

It now has a center in Singapore. It has an incredibly diverse faculty, as well as student body and alumni which is wonderful and creates a very rich and diverse community, but also creates very rich and diverse perspectives on how things should be done. And that can be very difficult to manage, right? And faculty are notoriously difficult to manage because they have often very large egos and very strong opinions. And so I think that running Insured is probably one of the toughest jobs amongst running the deanships of various business schools. So Mihov has done a fantastic job across various fronts. So in fundraising, he has led a very big fundraising campaign, has been very successful in that. So that, of course, has a huge impact on what the school can do in terms of extending facilities, providing additional scholarships. It has really a long term impact and that is not necessarily as easy to do for a school like INSEAD as it is for the US schools, because there is not a tradition of fundraising and donating to your alma mater in Europe and outside of the US. As there is here in the US.

[00:04:44.270] – Maria


[00:04:44.640] – Caroline

So INSEAD has had to work very hard at cultivating that culture of giving back, which doesn’t come so naturally to some cultures outside of the US. Because students, when you go through your undergraduate program outside of the US, you’re not expected to donate or you’re not sort of being solicited to donate on such a regular basis as you are if you go through undergraduate in the US. And so you’re not educated at an earlier age, that is the done thing. And so INSEAD has had a tougher journey to get alumni engaged in that process, but has been very successful in that now. And Ilian has been very dedicated to that and then lots of other things. I mean, obviously he’s had to steer the school through COVID, which was the most challenging of times. He has, I think, very successfully updated the MBA curriculum, integrated digital transformation into the school. The school has launched the Masters in Management extended executive education. The center here in San Francisco was launched during his tenure. So lots of different things that he’s been doing and not just a very challenging environment for him to manage, but of course, it’s quite exhausting because you got to travel around to these places and be physically present.

[00:06:17.530] – Caroline

Apart from during COVID he had an incredibly exhausting travel schedule because people want to see you. And all of that relationship building is a big part of what he had to do. And you can’t do all of that virtually, you can do some of it virtually, but it can’t all be done virtually. So I know he had a very grueling travel schedule, so actually I think he’s going to be spending some time over here in the Bay Area while he’s taking a sabbatical. So very big shoes to fill. I’m very thankful for what he’s done for the school and he’s also a very nice guy. He was my professor for macroeconomics when I was a student in Seattle in 2003. He’s a great professor as well, so very talented guy, and I know that.

[00:07:05.290] – John

He’s looking forward to I know he’s won teaching awards.

[00:07:09.310] – Caroline

Yes, he’s a great teacher, and I know he’s looking forward to going back to teaching. So I don’t know much about the new guy who’s coming in, but it does look like he’s got a good Pedigree. It’s good that he has been dean at a couple of other schools before, so he knows what he’s getting into. It looks like he’s had positive impact. He’s done some great things before. So to me that looks very positive. He’s also got a very international profile, so he understands that international DNA of INSEAD that is so important to the Insured culture, and he will understand some of the challenges that go along with that as well. So I think that’s great. I think that it looks like a very good, very promising choice. So obviously time will tell, but he looks incredibly well qualified. He’s also got excellent academic credentials as well. So I think that he’s got the background that is required for the job. He looks like someone who will have the respect of the various stakeholders when he comes in. So then it’ll be up to him and we’ll see what he makes of the job, and I’m excited to see what he does.

[00:08:24.550] – John

Yeah, it’s really true. And he’ll be one of the rare birds who will have had three deanships. I mean, most notably Ted Snyder, who was initially at UVA Darden. They went on the Chicago booth and brought in the largest single gift to business school in history, 350,000,000, which was the naming gift for the booth school. And then went on to Yale School of Management and gave that school a very big boost with a global strategy that has been very successful and has allowed Yale to really be one of the premier business schools in the world. Veloso is a leading authority in entrepreneurship and innovation. He got his MIT PhD. Behind him. He’s also taught a lot of it, a lot at Carnegie Mellon University, where he remains an adjunct professor. So I think he brings a lot to the game, having been dean twice over, just like Ted Snyder was. I think once you’re dean and you’ve led an academic institution, you know what levers to pull to make a difference. And it’s a very different kind of game than when you’re a brand new dean and you really have never had experience dealing with a board of advisors or a broader university or all the politics that goes along with trying to herd a bunch of very independent people with faculty.

[00:09:56.170] – John

And as you pointed out, I think INSEAD is in fact, a more complicated place to manage, given its multiple locations and also the great diversity of its faculty, all of whom bring their own points of view to the game. But I can’t think of a better choice, frankly, than Veloso, given his previous experience as dean of two other business schools. And the other interesting thing is which each step in the administrative ladder, he’s gone on to a bigger school, a school with more prestige and status, obviously, in the FT MBA ranking. INSEAD last year was number two. Imperial was, I believe, 30 something, 37 perhaps. And then the Lisbon School was in the 80s. So he’s climbing that ladder, that rankings ladder, for sure. And he is going to follow really a very successful dean, but oftentimes deans that are very successful and are put in motion a lot of initiatives, there may be less of that happening and more of just making all the stuff that’s changed work really well. So it may be a little bit less exciting in the first five years, given all that’s happened in the last ten. Obviously, time will tell.

[00:11:27.690] – Maria

One thing that jumped out at me about Veloso was that he apparently at Imperial launched their online MBA and an Ms in business analytics. And so I can’t help but wonder if that might signal INSEAD, if they very deliberately chose him as a dean. Because when I think about global business schools like yes, he certainly has an impressive pedigree, and he has certainly been the dean. Imperial certainly a far more well known name than the school he was previously a dean of. But I can also think of perhaps there could have been some other deans from other schools that might be more otherwise, more peer institutions to INSEAD. But I can’t help but wonder if perhaps his initiatives launching I know that INSEAD has been making strides in these in both launching additional master’s programs as well as in beginning to offer more things online. But I wonder if perhaps his innovations at Imperial on that front were sort of the main things that made him an attractive candidate.

[00:12:24.610] – Caroline

Right. It’s an interesting point and I’m sure that that was excellent experience and something that the school is very interested in. From the discussions that I’ve had with people at the school, I don’t think that they are yet committed. For example, I don’t think that they’ve decided. I mean, obviously I’m not privy anymore to the private discussions behind the scenes, but from the various discussions that I have had with people at the school, I don’t think that they have yet decided, for example, we want to launch an online MBA.

[00:12:54.530] – Maria


[00:12:54.860] – Caroline

But I know that they are thinking about they are well aware that this is going on and they are grappling with, okay, what should we be doing in this space? And I’ve had discussions with people at the school about the challenges of if we did this, how do you offer the same experience? Right? Because you can’t exactly replicate what you do on the INSEAD campus in a virtual classroom. And so they are grappling with those strategic issues. And so I’m sure that his experience in that dimension is very attractive to the school as they try to figure out what the hell should we be doing next? What should we be doing as regards online programs? Should we be doing online programs or more hybrid programs? I mean, that’s obviously a big issue for schools as they try to figure out what is next and how they embrace further digital transformation. So I’m sure you’re right, Maria, that part of his experience helped him to stand out amongst other candidates.

[00:14:04.610] – John

And online degrees have been slow to flourish in Europe. Compared to the US. There are over 350 online MBAs in the United States alone. Interestingly enough, Cambridge only last two weeks launched a hybrid online MBA. And so I think it’s gaining more legitimacy. And over the next five years, I think this is going to become a major issue for INSEAD. Should it offer online degrees, and if so, how should it do them? Should they be hybrid with stints in Abu Dhabi or Singapore or Fantom Lowe? Or even San Francisco? I mean, the multiple campus structure actually gives them a real advantage in the online space. I wouldn’t think that online or INSEAD would mean 100% online. It would be a superior premier program with a combination of high touch in person sessions on a campus, as well as weekly internet classes. And I do think that the INSEAD brand would translate really well to a very successful online program that could be very frankly, lucrative for the school and bringing a lot of money. It’s often a case of having to bring along the faculty and getting faculty approval to do that. But online degrees are so popular now and they’re so common that I think particularly with the teaching online during COVID most faculty member members are pretty much on board.

[00:15:45.310] – John

So it’s just a question of how does it affect our brand, our overall reputation, our prestige. Obviously, there are schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton and Columbia, and Kellogg and Chicago, Booth and Dartmouth who stayed away from online MBAs or hybrids for the very reason that they think it could cheapen their reputation. But INSEAD is a pretty innovative place, and I’m thinking that INSEAD is also very responsive to market demand, has a very big executive education portfolio, and we know that the Pandemic has forced a lot of executive education courses online. So I think this would be right. Maria, you bring up a really good point. Having Veloso, having launched a very successful online degree program at Imperial, you would think he could use those skills to do the same at INSEAD. We will see. Meantime, I want to talk about research. We just did a piece on an annual research ranking that’s actually done by another business school. They devote a lot of resources to this, and the school is UT at Dallas. That’s University of Texas at Dallas. And while this is not a school that’s ever ranked in the top 25 or in MBA programs or top 25 in almost anything in research according to its own ranking.

[00:17:13.190] – John

They’re number two in North America behind Wharton. Now, if your eyebrows are raised, I think there’s a good reason for that because of course the way any ranking works is who’s ever creating the ranking decides what to count and what not to count. And obviously UT Dallas has counted journals in its ranking on research that clearly favor the school. Now this is not to say that their research capabilities are pretty weak because if you look at the Financial Times ranking on research, UT Dallas is number six behind Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Chicago, Booth and UCLA, and just ahead of Stanford, which incidentally I would have problems with right there. But it is what it is. I mean, Maria, what do you make of a ranking by a school that’s not really all that well known and then coming in number two on research?

[00:18:19.070] – Maria

I mean, I think any ranking that you put out yourself, where you put yourself as number two is one of the most even if there were any fundamental credibility to using this methodology or research publication, whatever their methodology, even if there were any legitimacy to that, the fact that they come in second place in their own ranking kind of immediately calls it into question. It a little bit silly, right? I like that they’re not first because that would make it a little too blatant, but they’re like, well we’ll just be second because we’ll be humble. No, I mean, look, first of all, the fact that they’re second is kind of silly because then you start to ask yourself like, okay, well, how are they massaging this? And I think I was looking at their description of it and they look at I believe is it from 1990? It seemed like they look at a pretty broad time period for the publications to be measured. And so if that’s the case and if I did understand that correctly, which I may not have, but if I did, then what about schools that have more up and coming faculty?

[00:19:34.230] – Maria

That’s issue number one. And then issue number two is whether or not research itself is an indicator of what your business school experience is going to be and how that business school is going to prepare you to do well in the business world. Which I don’t know, if I had to choose the number one metric upon which to measure a school, I don’t think research would be number one or maybe even top five for me personally. But that’s because I’m very pragmatic and research is great and it certainly has its place, but wouldn’t be my top choice.

[00:20:09.290] – John

Yeah, I agree. And all the surveys that get into how does an applicant choose the schools that they apply to would show that in fact, faculty research ranks very low on the totem pole of decision makers is just really almost negligible. And I think there’s a good reason for that. Part of it is because it’s a professional school and a professional degree, and it’s very focused around career outcomes and those loom with far greater importance than how many journals faculty have been published in with esoteric articles that are read literally by a handful of other academics in the world. Not even by all that many academics, I’ll add, and can barely be understood by anyone and have little practicality for current management. I mean, that’s the reality. And yet research is an important part of what business goals are all about. And there was a tilt back in the 1950s toward research because there was criticism that business schools back then were merely trade schools preparing people for professions, and that the schools lacked academic legitimacy. And after those reports by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation, schools did a really sharp turn toward academic research, and that turn is still occurring today.

[00:21:55.780] – John

Deans are often graded on the basis of the kind of faculty that they’ve been able to retain and recruit and the research that they publish in journals that no practitioner reads. That’s just the reality of it. Caroline, you have a view on the value of research at business school.

[00:22:16.890] – Caroline

I agree that it’s not a top criterion for most prospective candidates, but as we’ve discussed, there are many stakeholders at business score, and it is something that faculty often care about, right? And it helps to attract good faculty if you’re known for doing good research, right. So you get a good reputation amongst your peer schools if you are well known for investing in research, and it can help schools to recruit good faculty. I think it’s just part of the mix of things that schools need to invest in, especially top schools. That’s part of what they are known for. It’s part of what the faculty care about. They want to dedicate some of them want to dedicate a lot of their time to this. Some of them want to dedicate their time to it. But you have a mix of people on the faculty and some of them care more about research than others, and some of them will do fantastic research. It actually does break out and become very well known and does have an impact beyond that particular institution. So I think it does have its place. It certainly is an important part of the mix of elements that’s important at a top business school.

[00:23:36.920] – Caroline

But I don’t think that you can rank business schools on research alone unless that’s something unless you are perhaps you want to apply to business school to do a PhD and faculty, the quality of the research that faculty is doing is your key criterion, then that’s perfectly legitimate. But for an MBA student, as you say, it’s going to be one of many things that they will be thinking about and probably not the number one criterion that they’re taking into account.

[00:24:10.110] – John

Yeah. In fact, a few years ago, GMAC Graduate Management Admission Council did a survey and found that when applicants were asked to name the most important selection criteria and choosing the school, the highest percentage of them actually slightly more than 40% name quality and reputation, which obviously are largely a function of rankings only 11% identified program aspects. As vague as that term might be, none of the full time MBA applicants named the curriculum, the school’s culture, or the program’s class profile. Career aspects came in second with about 20% of the folks checking off that factor in the survey. So it is what it is. Although an awful lot of money is spent on academic research in business schools and it does matter in terms of attracting the best faculty. If you’re going to pay big salaries and give a lot of research support to a faculty member, that often will determine whether or not you’re able to recruit the best PhD candidates and the best junior faculty to your school. I bet you that when you went to Harvard, Maria, you really didn’t look at the research agenda of the professors that you chose. You chose by course content and probably the reputation of a faculty member to teach well in the classroom.

[00:25:39.910] – John


[00:25:40.640] – Maria

Research wasn’t even for me personally. It wasn’t even on the list. It was not something that I considered at all. What’s interesting, though, speaking of what’s being considered and what isn’t, I’m back on the UT Dallas website, and I think they’re using about 24 different journals. And some of these journals are kind of head scratchers, like the Journal on Computing, which is not really one that when I think about I mean, who knows? Maybe it’s a highly business focused journal. And yet when you look at The Financial Times, because the Financial Times also looks at research as a criterion to use and the Financial Times looks at 50 different journals of which two of them are entrepreneurship based or at least have entrepreneurship in the name. The UT Dallas one does not appear to have any that have entrepreneurship in the name. And the Financial Times has the Harvard Business Review and also the Sloan Management Review as two publications. And the UT Dallas does not look at either one of those other rival schools. So it’s interesting. It’s like, well, we’re also not including the very journals put out by our rivals.

[00:26:58.950] – John

The only journals that actually have any readership whatsoever by the practitioner. The other thing you mentioned, the Journal of Computing. Well, it does so happen that UT Dallas has strong faculty in information technology management. So surprise, surprise that they’re including the Journal of Computing.

[00:27:22.190] – Maria

Well, yeah. They also have information systems research and Mis Quarterly.

[00:27:26.950] – John

Of course they do. Yeah. And not the Hard Business Review and not the Sloan Management Review and wow. How about that? Yeah. Well, and Caroline, when you went to INSEAD, I’m sure as well, that when you picked your courses, you weren’t picking on the basis of, oh, my God, was this faculty member published in this journal or that journal?

[00:27:52.860] – Caroline

No, absolutely not. As you say, you’re looking at the course content and you’re thinking about your career goals and what are you going to learn and what is going to be most relevant. And sometimes the course content is based on the faculty research. And that can be fascinating, but you’re not necessarily looking at it from the perspective of what research have they done? But it’s just part of the curriculum, and I think that the research does have a place. As I said, it’s an important element. I do hope that schools continue to invest in it. But as you pointed out, this ranking is rather odd. I think the FT research ranking does a rather better job of highlighting which schools are spending their money wisely here.

[00:28:52.080] – John

Yeah, I would agree. And not only that, but I would draw another conclusion from this. So, UT Dallas on research, even in the FT, like I mentioned before, ranks high. It’s number six in the world. And yet it’s a school that has none of the resources of a Stanford, a UCLA, a Chicago Booth, a Cornell, a Columbia, Harvard, an INSEAD, a Kellogg, a Duke, a Yale. So what conclusion can you draw from that? I’ll tell you what the conclusion is. This is my conclusion. My speculation informed by many years of experience in covering these things. And I will tell you that a school that is so focused on research and has limited resources and therefore can’t hire more balanced faculty member who are good at research and good at teaching has made a choice. We think that research is all important, and teaching, well, who cares? Okay? Who cares about it? So, UT Dallas may appear high up in these rankings on research, either because they’ve selected journals that are favorable to them, or in the FT case, the FT journals are favorable to them. But I can guarantee you that the quality of teaching at this institution is inferior to all the peer schools that are ranked in and around it on research, because they just don’t have the money to pay for a balanced faculty member when they recruit one or retain one.

[00:30:25.770] – John

So, to me, this is a sign for students to avoid this school, not to go to this school. Unless, of course, you want a PhD and you want to have a great mentor in research. And then that’s a different story. But if you are a graduate management student, I would think that the teaching quality at UT Dallas is subpar compared to any of the schools that are ranked in and around on any of these research rankings. That’s my conclusion, which I think is pretty damn valid. So there you have it. Hey, if you’re interested in research anyway, and you want to know where the schools rank either by the UT, Dallas or the FT. Take a look at the story. It’s kind of interesting. Nonetheless, even if we think the ranking is tilted in a certain direction, are.

[00:31:25.950] – Maria

You going to rank your own assessment of the ranking as number two in the world, John? Number one in the world according to your own criteria?

[00:31:34.930] – John

Yes. Why bother?

[00:31:37.970] – Maria

I love how that works. I agree, John.

[00:31:41.070] – John

Why shouldn’t you be number one? I mean, if you’re number two, does that give less credibility than if you’re number one?

[00:31:47.520] – Maria

It’s like a false modesty, but I think the three of us are collectively the number one business news, MBA News podcasters at least, posted on the Poets and Quants platform.

[00:31:59.600] – John

Yes. We declare it right here.

[00:32:03.570] – Maria

You heard it here first.

[00:32:05.690] – John

All right, everybody. Thanks for listening. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You have been listening to Business Casual on the weekly podcast.

How Important Is Academic Research At A Business School?
Maria |
April 6, 2023


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