Motherhood & The MBA, Plus The New 2022 Economist MBA Ranking
Maria |
June 29, 2022

Our hosts, John, Maria, and Matt (co-founder of Fortuna Admissions standing in for Caroline this week) have a guest this week! Tamar Schamroth Liptz joins the team to discuss her recent essay The Motherhood Penalty Starts in Business School, which reflects on her journey of giving birth before she finished her MBA at Stanford. General convention says you can’t be a mom while in business school but there are definitely people who do it. Tamar talks about what her experience was like and the team talks about whether or not pursuing business school should be contrary to pursuing a family (and whether or not its OK to mention your goals of a family in your essay or down the road during recruiting.

Secondly, they’ll all dissect the latest Economist MBA ranking and discuss the surprises and shocks with it. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.630] – John

Well, hello everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast. Today we have a special guest, actually two. Replacing Caroline, who is running around Europe these days, is your colleague Matt Symonds, who also is a co founder of Fortuna Admissions and a long time, I would say observer and participant in the business education, having been in charge of the very first Kaplan test prep franchise in Europe. And we also have with us, again, obviously, Maria Wich Vila, who is the founder of Applicant Lab. We have a special guest, special guest besides Matt Stanford MBA, who just graduated only a few weeks ago. And she wrote a very provocative essay for us called The Motherhood Penalty Starts in Business School. So I want to welcome Tamar Schamroth Liptz, who will talk about that essay and what it’s like to be a mom in business school. And that will form the first portion of our podcast. The second portion, we’re going to get into the new . Matt has been a long time follower of ranking, so I’m really eager to get his thoughts on this ranking. You’re familiar with my own and Maria’s thoughts on these rankings.


[00:01:31.310] – John

We’ve talked about them a lot, but it would be nice to have a new voice about them. So let’s turn to Tamar. First, thank you for joining us. I have to say that when I first read your essay, I was totally immersed in it. I found it incredibly compelling and let me tell you why. Even you thought that it would be incompatible for a mom to go through business school and in fact, you said to yourself, you can’t be a mom and do an MBA. And actually your husband was the one who talked you out of it, right?


[00:02:01.760] – Tamar

Correct. Nice to be here. Thanks for having me, John.


[00:02:05.160] – John

Absolutely. Now, you wrote the GMAT exam five days before, as you pointed out on your essay, a second miscarriage. In your first trimester of your pregnancy, you had your first quarter at Stanford, you gave birth an exam week, and in the same weekend of your graduation recently, you actually celebrated the one year birthday of your child. What was it really like to go through this experience and probably be, I’m sure, the only person in your Stanford class pregnant at the time?


[00:02:41.710] – Tamar

Well, I would say it was a whirlwind of an experience and a roller coaster. There were many hards and many lows. There were hazard of wonderful friends, prize baby showers, lectures, being very understanding. But there were also loads of juggling it all, feeling very isolated and just trying to find my feet in the whole MBA jungle whilst also being a mother and full time recruiting.


[00:03:12.060] – John

I can only imagine. Maria, can you imagine what it would be like?


[00:03:16.850] – Maria

  Yeah, I can, because actually, several of my friends in business school either came in as mothers or became mothers during business school. In fact, especially students from overseas would joke, one of my dear friends had a baby. She tried her best to get pregnant during business school for two reasons. Number one, she joked that MBA for her stood for making baby in America in order to get yes, seriously, like, that child is given automatic citizenship, and that is no small thing. She said that that was worth more to her than the degree was, frankly, from sort of a long term immigration potential perspective. And also, the MBA is a lot of work, but it’s also like it’s super cushy. Right. I am a mother now, but I was not at the time. But I remember I had, like, a health thing, and I just went to my professors, and I’m like, hey, I can’t do anything for a week because of his health thing. And they were like, Okay, cool. There were no real negative repercussions. And so that’s why so many of my friends, men and women, had children during business school. And I felt like a number of people actually entered the class.


[00:04:30.260] – Maria

Admittedly, more men were fathers and there were women who were mothers. Yes, absolutely. But there were several people. I don’t know, I think my section had maybe six or seven people who were parents. So out of a section of 90, call it 6%. It’s not huge.


[00:04:46.790] – John

No, but it’s a lot larger than I would have thought.


[00:04:49.250] – Maria

Yeah, no, there were a lot of people with kids, and they also had special housing. The students with kids got special access to special housing, and there was like a little daycare center for the kids. Anyway, my friend who did have her baby, also at the end, she’s like, as soon as we landed in August, we started trying to get pregnant, and she was like, no, this is great, because she’s like, at least I don’t know. I just don’t feel that business school, it’s a lot of work, but it’s also not a high stake situation. The perspective from some people is that it was kind of the best time in their adult lives to have a child.


[00:05:29.010] – John

Yeah. Now, Tamara, one of the things that you note is one of your loneliest journeys ever, and I get that because there weren’t other women who are in the same boat as you were at Stanford. How did you navigate that journey, given the fact that it was so lonely?


[00:05:46.770] – Tamar

That’s a great question. So coming into Stanford, I knew that there would be very few mothers in the class, but I didn’t expect to be the only one when you’re into the MBA. So it was up to me to form our own community of mothers. And fortunately, as Maria pointed out, stanford did give me family accommodation. So I’m in a courtyard, which is incredible, wonderful resources and surrounded by mothers. And I also had a few mothers in the executive program in Stanford. But as Maria also pointed out. The majority of those mothers weren’t also at Stanford studying. They were offering the spouses of husbands who are doing the MBA or husbands who are doing the MSX, or husbands who are doing the PhD. But I did have to reach out and find my own community outside of the MBA to find people who could empathize a bit better.


[00:06:43.510] – John

Now, Matt, you’re a father to many children.


[00:06:49.270] – Matt

I thought that was the British Prime Minister.


[00:06:54.590] – John

What are your thoughts about what Tamar went through?


[00:06:57.260] – Matt

Tremendous admiration. We so often talk about the business school experiences, life changing transformational, this personal and professional development and path, and yet what is more extraordinary than parenthood for so many people? And we try to juggle work life balance. And the fact that Tamar approached all of this with the joy you described, the highs and the lows. So great admiration. And very interesting as we think about the 40 foundation of which Stanford and HBS are members, the efforts that they’ve been making in the last 22 years to drive or encourage more women to consider business education, the initial report that they wrote, the Gateway to Opportunity back in 2000, identifying these sort of milestones in people’s lives and how starting a family could put so many of those business school plans on hold. So the fact that you said, these are the things, plural, that I want in life, and grasp both of them with both hands, I think it’s absolutely wonderful. I was struck in the piece that you wrote Tamar talking about obviously, we see perhaps in the corporate world, the efforts that have been made, even as we look at gender pay gaps or maternity and paternity leave options.


[00:08:29.390] – Matt

But that possibly business school still comes up short, even with five or six in Boston, just yourself in Stanford. It’s great that they provided the accommodation, but clearly an outlier. And very interested to see, as you’ve sort of concluded this experience where you think that schools like Stanford and HBS can go next. Not everyone is going to be 25 as they start their MBA. The idea of starting a family that is concurrent to that. I mean, did you have conversations with the administration based on that experience to sort of think about how they could continue to evolve and provide greater support?


[00:09:08.030] – Tamar

I did. So I’ll take you through a few things and a few points. So I did have a conversation with the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Kirsten Moss, about the lack of mothers in the MBA. And a very interesting point that she said was, on average, Stafford has around one mother in the MBA class year, which you would think is extremely low, a class of around 400, 450. That’s not even half a percent. And it hasn’t necessarily been a specific target area of MBAs. MBAs have gone to target international students. They’ve gone to target women, black Americans, Asian Americans. But mothers are not a specific target group for MBAs and I think that translates directly into the information and the messaging of the admissions of the application. For example, it’s extremely difficult trying to piece together what it would look like to be a matter during the MBA when you don’t have someone to speak to who went through it, or you don’t have someone from the student life office who can talk you through it. So it’s really quite a big black hole of information that’s extremely daunting and makes you question your decisions. The other thing is the messaging by the admissions or the MBA consulting company, as I mentioned in my essay, when I was thinking about writing an essay for a specific business school, speaking about one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had in my life that was going through multiple miscarriages, and the MBA consulting company told me not to put that in because business schools may question my commitment to studying if they knew I was also trying to start a family.


[00:11:00.020] – Tamar

And that was a huge concern because although there may not be one specific business school, because that was coming from an MBA consulting company, I assume that there is some truth behind it and there is some reticence in admissions when they see mother or they see miscarriages or they see family planning on essays. And lastly is the resources. There are a lot of resources out there, but it’s about accessing them and it’s about not just accessibility, but actually knowing about them. So the one example I gave was the on campus childcare. The on campus childcare stampin is exceptional. It’s such a wonderful resource that I’m lucky to be able to utilize. But the waitlist can be over a year long and you aren’t guaranteed on campus childcare as a student. So I was extremely fortunate the week before I was starting, I was due to start class again. We got off the waitlist after eleven months, but without that resource, I don’t know what I would have done. So I think that those are a few things that can be done. Making matters a specific target group, making sure that admissions weigh it positively in their decisions, and having accessible resources as well as the information available.


[00:12:27.470] – John

Actually, Tamar you raise an interesting question because both Matt and Maria, of course, advise candidates to help them improve their candidacy to a business school. Would either of you had given Tamar the same recommendation that she not mentioned?


[00:12:43.730] – Maria

Absolutely not. Sorry, I thought you were done with your question. Absolutely not. I was shocked when I read that in your essay Tamar. I cannot imagine. One of the challenging things about our field, and I’m sure Matt would agree, is that there’s no licensing test for admissions consultants. So you never know who’s talking to you, like what their perspective is or what their experience is. First of all, I’m not going to say who, but one of the mothers in the HBS mom’s club was in fact one of my clients. And so I’ve worked with candidates who talked about pregnancy and childbirth and all of that stuff in their essays. And also, I think admissions committees want to get to know the full people that we are. And to the extent that the parenting journey is a big part of that, it’s a big part of not most, but a lot of humans lives. I can’t imagine that business schools wouldn’t want to hear that. And yes, lots of women might not have babies when they’re in business school, but I can tell you Tamar, within the next two to five to definitely ten years, a lot of your female classmates are going to have kids and a lot of them are going to drop out of the workforce.


[00:13:52.610] – Maria

And so when it’s like, Oh, well, the business school might think that you’re not committed to in that case, they wouldn’t let in any married women either. They wouldn’t let in any women who still have functioning reproductive systems. Like a lot of women who go to business school end up having babies and they end up dropping out of the formal workforce. That sort of perspective of it was just very strange because the reality is so different when you look at not only current students, but then what most not most, but what a lot of women end up doing in the years following graduation.


[00:14:27.740] – John

And if you follow that person’s advice, how do you present an authentic, genuine self? Or is that a fiction?


[00:14:35.300] – Matt

Matt, I’m just thinking with Chad Losing, the managing Director of Admissions at HBS, we both have four kids. We’re both mindful of what it brings to our lives and obviously the place and how it really does define the individuals that we’ve become. So I completely agree with Maria when HBS says, what more should we know about you or Stanford? Of course, a very similar invitation to really share a far more personal story. This is who you are. There’s always that sort of awkward area applicants when they apply for jobs at McKinsey or Goldman or the private equity firm, and it’s like, don’t tell them that you have a partner and you think you’re having a family. Don’t even let them know that there might be a golden retriever, a goldfish would be all because if McKinsey wants you to be billing 90 hours a week and traveling across the country so we’ve created all of these sort of scenarios of what we shouldn’t say, and yet McKinsey, I think, of BCG and their women’s MBA fellowship and efforts, they’re trying to provide a far more healthy working environment for people to pursue everything both professionally and their personal lives.


[00:15:48.130] – Matt

So, yeah, with me, this is so integral to who you are, and I assume with IV treatments and everything else, the courage that you showed to go through that whole area. And I believe that the strongest admissions offices in the US and Europe have the imagination and the understanding to be able to contextualize all of that. Of course, you yourself described that, I guess in giving birth at the end of the first year and exams then precluded from summer internships and how that might have sort of helped orient your career. Did you feel that that did then have an impact because you were looking at the graduating job market without being able to leverage a summer internship?


[00:16:35.230] – Tamar

I felt that it had a very positive repercussion because although I wasn’t able to have a summer internship that could lead to a full time job, when I did actually recruit for full time positions during my second year of the MBA. And people ask when I did my internship saying that I had given birth, or as I said, that I had a full time boss that demanded me 24/7, including weekends, and was still extremely demanding coming on my internship, it actually led to wonderful discussions, and especially with people that I was interviewing with who were parents, their way of empathizing, their way of understanding, it was wonderful. So I think it was actually extremely positive because of the conversations that led to subsequently, even though it was harder that I had to recruit quite a bit during my second year and I didn’t have that offer coming out of summer.


[00:17:33.630] – John

Also, if you believe what is taught in business school about the need to differentiate, you are clearly differentiated as a candidate.


[00:17:41.990] – Tamar

Yes, very much so, yes.


[00:17:44.650] – Matt

Now, a question that I have to.


[00:17:46.360] – John

Ask is, did Stanford know when you were admitted that you were going to have a baby in their MBA program?


[00:17:52.810] – Tamar

They did not. I wasn’t pregnant when I was admitted and I went through IVF during my first quarter, so I only became pregnant once I had already started the MBA.


[00:18:04.430] – John

Right now, I imagine that given the demand, particularly in the core curriculum in the beginning year, and the fact that you had a baby during exam time posed really significant demands on you and your time and your energy and just your headspace. I’m wondering if there is a moment where you had some remorse and you ask yourself, oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?


[00:18:32.510] – Tamar

I think during pregnancy, unfortunately, you can’t ask yourself that question because there is no going back. And I would say that I was actually extremely fortunate because Stanford and the lecturers were extremely understanding. If I had to go to a doctor’s appointment, I was a high risk pregnancy, so I had many more scans than the usual pregnancy. Whenever I had to miss class or change a schedule for that, they were extremely understanding and even when it came to exams and I knew that I would be giving birth that week, they pulled forward the exams for me. I was writing exams a week before anyone else in the class would be seeing it. So I would say that it was definitely a Juggling game. But Stanford really came through in that respect to assist.


[00:19:22.550] – John

That’s great to hear that they accommodated a very big and important special event in your life. So, having gone through this, what advice would you have for other women who may in fact have a child in the middle of an MBA program?


[00:19:39.470] – Tamar

The first thing I would say is that it is possible that there’s so many people out there who I would hope would apply for an MBA if they knew that it could be done. And it is harder. There are things that you have to prioritize compared to your classmates, but there’s also that wonderful world of fulfillment and joy that you get from Juggling at all. The second thing is reach out to as many resources as possible. Reach out to previous people in MBAs. They can put you in touch with the Madison class, reach out to the admissions office, reach out to the student last office and try to understand as much as possible what resources and what help is available to you when you’re going in and then go in our wide open and it will be a wonderful experience with a lot of exhaustion, but you come out the other side smiling.


[00:20:36.600] – Matt

If I may, you spoke earlier about lack of role models and very few precedents for you yourself to be able and I suppose with Maria, we talk with so many applicants about the business school experience. It’s great to see that close to 10,000 have read the piece on Poets and Quants. I think it’s very interesting that there have been zero comments and I wonder why there hasn’t been greater discussion. But perhaps you’ll have lots of people reaching out. It published in the same week that Lamant, a French newspaper, ran a piece about a guy who grew up in the suburbs in a region of France, went through his education system and applied to Stanford and speaks about arriving at the farm and being overwhelmed by the trips to Las Vegas, the international. We talk about, of course, a very vibrant and supportive community. And you yourself said that you had any number of offers with Babysitting and that this networking piece taken perhaps to a whole new level of support that you then received. And I suppose I wonder for candidates as they think about their personal journey. On the one hand, this guy that was daunted and said I didn’t have the budget for all of these expensive trips, others reading your story to understand it is possible.


[00:21:58.410] – Matt

It’s hard. Any advice in terms of how candidates, as they think about their situations back to resources again and just conversations that both the schools can be proactive to connect with people like yourself so that they can get a better sense of the experience?


[00:22:15.950] – Tamar

Yes, for exactly that. I think it’s just about reaching out. But the second thing that I would say is also about taking a step back and having your priorities clear. And the birth of my child was actually a wonderful catalyst for that because I was forced to prioritize much more than my classmates. So it meant that I had to know every single second of my time, every single hour of my day, where was that going towards? And that exercise really stood me in good stead because it meant that I could say no to so many things and I could know what were the things that were so important to me that I would dedicate my time to that. And I think if that can be applied to everyone across the MBA, that’s one of the top tips that I would give. Prioritize your time, prioritize what you want to get out of the MBA and go after that and learn to say no to things because it is overwhelming.


[00:23:14.150] – John

Yeah. In fact, I wondered about the co curricular part, which is often a fairly important part of an MBA program in terms of developing the bonds that lead to a strong network afterward and how whether or not you were limited in participating in some of those co curricular activities as a result of your pregnancy.


[00:23:35.390] – Tamar

I definitely was. So some of the cocurricular activities of traveling or large gatherings during COVID, I stayed away from, and I didn’t want to be in large gatherings while I was pregnant or with a newborn. But what that led to was other things. I had very intimate interactions with the classmates that I did. I had one on one walks, one on one coffee. I became a person that people would come to Bass about fertility, about Charlesbourg during the MBA, about balancing things. So in a way, I was also able to form wonderful relationships in other ways which were actually more suited to me. So I didn’t partake in the big core curriculum activities that you would hear about in many MBA essays. But coming out, I think that I’ve got a phenomenal network of incredible friends and incredible relationships.


[00:24:33.190] – John

That’s great to hear, Maria.


[00:24:35.120] – Tamar



[00:24:35.620] – Maria

I was going to say, first of all, I salute what you went through. The IVF part of it is actually in some cases just as hard, if not harder than the actual giving birth. So I really do salute your tenacity in juggling all of these things. And I’m not trying to be sort of like flippant here, but I think the silver lining is going to be number one. Before you even started talking about the coffee chats and the walks, I was thinking, yeah, you didn’t go to the parties, but so what? Like you’re going to be at a party with 50 people that you speak to each person for 20 seconds. I’m like, Oh, man, it’s going to be so much better if you had people come over and help babysit. So I just think I feel like you probably came out of business school with more close friends than the average student. And I can tell you again, I think the reason why there aren’t a lot of mothers in business school is because I think a lot of women do want to become mothers, but a lot of them are just like, I’m going to get business school out of the way first.


[00:25:35.470] – Maria

Which is why, on average, women are younger in business school than men, right? Why women tend to apply a bit younger because they’re like, well, I want to get the MBA out of the way so that way I can get on to the next part of my life which will involve baby making. So I think a few years from now, Tamar, when your friends from business school all, not all of them, but many of them start having babies, I think you’re going to be like, oh, I’m so glad I’m out of that phase. I’m so glad I don’t have the diapers anymore. And just my final words are, it gets easier. Those first three months are the, oh my God, I thought I was going to die. And I can tell you I’m sitting right now. I’m on vacation in Europe. I’m in a hotel room. My twelve year old son is snoring gently next to me. We’re sharing this hotel room. It gets so much easier. And I don’t know, I think looking back, you’ll be like, wow, I think your timing was actually impeccable is what I’m trying to say.


[00:26:29.690] – Tamar

What I would add to that is before I was starting to fall pregnant, I had a discussion with a female mentor and she said, elan, that has always stuck with me. She said, for women, there’s never a rough time to give birth, which means that it’s always the right time because you’re always just starting business school or you’re just about to start a new job or you’re waiting for promotion, so it’s always the right time and you can always do it. It will be hard, but any woman can have a child anytime that she wants and get through.


[00:27:04.210] – Maria

There you have it, you’re here.


[00:27:06.290] – John

And I think just a discipline that you showed in going through a demanding MBA program and really performing the only miracle in life, which is giving birth. It’s just momentous. I mean, it’s just fantastic. It’s an inspiration to many people. And for all of you out there who haven’t yet read tomorrow’s essay, look it up at Poets and Quants. It’s called The Motherhood Penalty Starts in Business School. It’s really a very sharp and intimate and compelling essay on her journey through one of the most the most selective MBA program in the world. Tamar. Thank you so much. I also should note that Tamar in September is going to work for a multifamily trust fund sorry, investment fund in San Francisco. So you have a few weeks at least to just settle down and enjoy your family. I think.


[00:28:01.890] – Tamar

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me on this podcast, John.


[00:28:05.170] – John

Thank you. All right, now we want to turn to the new . It came out last week and as is often the case with The Economist, or frankly with any MBA ranking, there were a good number of surprises and shocks. And you’ll be surprised to find out that one of the big surprises was that actually Maria’s alma mater is number one. Now why is that possibly a surprise? It’s because in the history of The , Harvard has never been at the top of this list. Number two is Wharton, three is Kellogg, four is Columbia, five is MIT. Then comes Duke, HEC Paris, Stanford, Chicago and Michigan. Now, a long time watcher of these rankings certainly is. Matt, what’s your take on this newest ranking by The Economist, which incidentally is quite late. Typically The Economist publishes its ranking in a fall. This is like eight months after. But given COVID, given the reluctance of many schools to participate the last time The Economist did this, I guess the delay is understandable.


[00:29:19.550] – Matt

Yeah. The last two years of you have described The Economist’s ranking of what? It was, January 2021. It was a marketer’s dream for so many of those schools. We saw 17 of the world’s top schools, the great majority of them the M7, the top US. Schools, and then also the likes of Insulin and London Business School that did not take part. I think that was already brewing. And of course, the work that I’d done with The Wall Street Journalist, they looked at the ranking space and had 256 conversations with the communications, alumni relations representatives of all of the top schools. They certainly didn’t want to see more rankings entering into the space and themselves, alluded to perhaps making some choices among the five media rankings that have dominated over the last 20 years. I mean, your comment about Harvard now ranking for the first time at number one, perhaps sometimes we have to step away to come back stronger. It’s always been a roller coaster. I actually have great affection for The Economist and it’s ranking because with the Financial Times, of course, they’re the only two rankings that mix up things with schools from across North America, south America, Europe and Asia.


[00:30:40.090] – Matt

I’m trying to think if they have any African business schools in the top 100 list this year. I’m not sure that they do. And of course, this idea and candor that the previous rankings editor, Bill Ridges. He always talked about the futile exercise of comparing apples and oranges. But I like some of the areas that The Economist explores. You yourself as the godfather of rankings, John, with what you started in the late 80s, business Week, of course, for very long and hard about how to best take a snapshot of any given year and any given MBA program. And I think that The Economist has got some great criterion, one of the consequences, perhaps this is what can lead to so many roller coasters. So if we take out a pandemic and the fact that 17 top schools stepped away, which of course meant there were lots of double digit movements, mostly upwards, I think 81 of the schools last year rose in the ranking. Perhaps that’s going to be 81. I know that in your analysis on Poets, you’ll share with readers just how many have been gone down and again by double digits. But it is interesting to see Harvard in there.


[00:31:52.410] – Matt

Just a reminder for our listeners of the four areas that they’re evaluating, of course there’s salary. That’s true of so many of them. Forbes looks at it in terms of ROI at the Ft as much as 40% of the ranking. That’s based on salary. But The Economist also then breaks it down into opening up new career opportunities for which they look at the diversity of recruiters. The alumni rating of career services, which is often, I think, overlooked and yet so critical to the experience. There’s a whole category for personal development and educational experience. Sometimes those numbers are hard to catch, and it does lead to a lot of alumni survey responses that lead to great shifts and finally potential to network. But I think for so many individuals, as they think about an MBA and criterion that might matter to them, I suspect that those four areas are probably on a lot of people’s list. But you’ve often commented, John, of course, one of the things that is very unsettling to you is to see such big swings when fundamentally from, what, 2018 to 2019? Has NYU Stern’s program changed that much? Has Georgia Tech so transformed things to jump into the top ten?


[00:33:08.210] – Matt

What’s your take? You have a certain skepticism for The .


[00:33:12.450] – John

Yeah, I guess the volatility bothers me because year to year, these programs don’t substantially change. And the changes that are reflected in the numerical ranks given a school can be quite sizable. Now that’s a reflection of the underlying dynamic that all numerical ranks are based on some sort of index number. And those numbers are so clustered together that tiny, minute, inconsequential changes that are absolutely statistically meaningless can factor into these rankings in a way that makes out size changes. And that’s somewhat problematic. And people are fixated on who’s number five and who’s number ten and who’s number 20. They’re not fixated on the underlying index number. That shows that a given rank could be quite meaningless in the scheme of things. And no one looks at the tiers. The Economist tries to break itself up by saying there’s an A tier and a B tier and a C tier and a D and an E. But everyone is really focused on that number, and I guess that’s what troubles me. I do like the fact that they are still serving thousands of students and alumni. There are some problems in those surveys because there is a cheerleading aspect to them.


[00:34:36.770] – John

If you’re a student or alum, you know that the survey that you fill out will have an impact on how your program is ranked. You don’t want to destroy your program, so you tend to rank it higher than it probably should be. Also, the expectations of a student who goes to Harvard might be very different from a student that goes to Georgia Tech. And so those expectations are going to be reflected in how a given student or lump fills the survey out. So it’s not completely apples to apples, but if you are doing your own research and you have the ability to talk to hundreds or thousands of students, their perspectives to you would be helpful. So I think the fact that The Economist is out there doing the hard work of gathering those opinions is helpful as long as you look at the data and you can ask yourself, does it make sense? Does it not? And generally, over the long term, the data makes sense. In any given year, it can be just a big anomaly. Don’t you find that to be the case?


[00:35:40.530] – Matt

Yes. We’ve talked about center court and in other situations, just how important it is to understand the methodologies of any of these five rankings because they are quite different. And what you’ve done at Poets and Quants, bringing all five of them sort of amalgamating those results to perhaps then provide an even broader sense and an underlying stability, I think that sort of the ranking of rankings can then generate. Inevitably, we always have that sense. What is it? Sort of the wet finger in the wind if we don’t see the M7 in the top ten, is this ranking credible? Well, The Economist, with the results that they’re publishing this year with Harvard number one, Wharton number two, I must say how surprised I am to see Stanford at number eight. And as you sort of read along the line, their salary, they come in fourth, behind Harvard, behind MIT, and behind Columbia Business School. And I wonder how that result came about when Stanford, of course, for years, have so consistently dominated those salary lead tables. I think I also wonder how the schools can then use this themselves, not just for that marketing. We’re in the top 20, and we want to tell the world about that.


[00:36:57.930] – Matt

But if you break down the results for MIT Sloan, it’s unusual for them to be in the top two in terms of salary. They’re number one in terms of personal development and educational experience, and they’ve got a solid score for opening up new career opportunities. You would expect all of that. It’s flown. And yet the Fourth Criterion sees them ranking 89 on the potential to network. And I wonder if the school then looks at this and says, hey, we need to pull our socks up, or how did that come about? If that’s students or alumni now responding to this survey, why are they saying that the potential to network is relatively poor? Maybe it’s still good, but just compared to others, do you think that the schools do take the time to look at the breakdown results and sort of hold up a mirror to themselves and say, what can we do better?


[00:37:50.410] – John

Yeah, I definitely think that particularly schools that are not Harvard Stanford Award, they’re going to be much more thoughtful about analyzing and parsing these rankings and determining what’s legit what isn’t. If they see something that’s amiss, I think they’re going to address that. As we all know, all these schools have, I would call them ranking gurus who do nothing but submit data and think about these things. And as much as the school say they’ll acknowledge that rankings are important, but they won’t acknowledge managing to a ranking, even though that does happen at a good number of schools. Maria, I want to get you in on this discussion because you have strong views about the value of rankings in general, and The Economist probably in particular because of all the rankings. The Ft, Business Week, US news, Forbes, a lot of people think The  is like the quirkiest of them all. Why don’t you just give your take on the whole usefulness or not of rankings?


[00:38:56.270] – Maria

Yeah, my strong views on the usefulness is that they’re not necessarily super useful, other than for collecting interesting data that would otherwise take you or be a real pain in the pituit to try to collect yourself. I feel like long time listeners of this podcast or listener hi, mom. Will know that I am not I think a lot of these rankings are bunk. And because The Economist is so quirky, as you put it diplomatically with Caroline not being here. John, you are now taking over the diplomacy, the ability to use euphemisms. You use the word quirky. I would use the word wackadoodle, which is hyphenated. So it’s actually one word. But yeah, any quote unquote ranking that has such wild swings from year to year, how can you possibly take that seriously? But it’s great because it gets us talking about them. It gets them clicks. They do have some interesting ways to look at things, as Matt pointed out. So the more the merrier. The more data out there. The merrier. But I wish they wouldn’t do things in terms of a one, two, three, like forced rank. I wish they would just do general buckets, because I do think it’s ridiculous when people start to stress out and they’re like, Oh, no, such and such school.


[00:40:14.260] – Maria

Stanford is number one this year, and I got in. Maybe I shouldn’t go. And I’m like, of course you should go. That’s where things, I think, just get crazy. And this is why I’ve always said, I know this is overly simplistic, but if you had to do a quick and dirty ranking. It would just be like, ask every applicant. Do you have them force? Where would you go? Where would you most want to go? Let’s assume you got into this School A, school B, which would you pick? School B, school C, which would you pick? Almost like when you’re at the optometrist and they’re like, okay, which lens looks better? One or two is that sort of thing. And then where would you want to go? Where would you most want to go? Because I think that’s do you do that with students and do that with recruiters? Where would you most want to recruit students from? Not, oh, I went to Stanford and nobody took any of my job offers. And so now I’m grumpy and I’m going to say bad stuff about because all these kids now, they all want to start their own businesses or whatever.


[00:41:08.240] – Maria

So I don’t know, it’s more like where would you want to go or where would you want to hire from? That’s what I would do.


[00:41:16.790] – John

True in the marketplace, as you point out, is super important because it tells you so much about the perception of what the best goals are. I mean, after all, yield, which is a percentage of admits who actually enroll in a program, may be the most revealing of statistics because it does tell you, look, if you’re able to bag 90% of the people you invite in, that’s really good. And that’s typically what Harvard and Stanford tend to do. They tend to be at the top of the yield tables. The other thing is, I want to go back to what Matt said about starting salary, and how can it be that Stanford is where it is on this table? And I’ll tell you why. It’s because in many cases at Stanford, there are more people going into early stage companies and startups and starting your own company. And the truth is that if you go into a startup or a noise stage company, you’re going to get equity. And a high percentage of Stanford graduates do get equity right out of the gate. And if you’re only looking at starting salary, you’re only looking at one actually could be a small component of what an MBA will ultimately earn, because you’re eliminating sign on bonus, you’re eliminating guaranteed year and performance bonuses, and you’re eliminating stock options and stock grants, all of which are going to be more likely to accrue to people who go to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton than they are to many other schools.


[00:42:48.600] – John

And that would change the game entirely. So you’re not even looking at first year compensation, you’re looking at a tiny slice of it in the case of the Stanford MBA, where the portion of equity, the signing bonus, and the year end guaranteed bonus after your first year could equal or even exceed your first year salary. And that’s the problem with these rankings. You pick and choose what you think you can measure, you avoid what you think you can’t measure. And oftentimes what you can’t measure is more important than what you can, I.


[00:43:26.140] – Matt

Suppose, to do that, John, maybe not at least five years now that Stanford has dominated the salary league tables in the Financial Times, that places 20% waiting on salary three years out, and then there’s a 20% waiting on the increase in salary from when you began the program. And that’s actually quite tightly aligned with how The Economist does it. Forbes jumps and then with an ROI assessment five years out. So I was thinking, well, if Stanford has been such a consistent high fire in the Ft, how are we coming up with a different result, irrespective of all of those other aspects, as you say, that come into the reward structures that these successful graduates enjoy? So that’s an outline. I do remember being at an EFMD conference, and we had this sort of the morning shift panel with Dela Bradshaw, who of course, had launched the Ft ranking. And it was the night after the gala. Everyone had been drinking. We’re thinking, God, there’s going to be nobody in the room. What the hell are we going to talk about? Other panels had dropped out, so we had about a three hour slot. At the time, the Ft was the only school that offered a Master’s in Management ranking, and it was quite an interesting contrast to the five rankings that have now been around for a while with the MBA.


[00:44:48.050] – Matt

And much as I haven’t advocated just seeing a blizzard of other rankings for lots of different things, I did feel that the Masters in Management market was underserved and there was the danger of having a monopoly. If the Ft was the only media that in any way took this snapshot every year, then you’d see this distorting effect, because, as you’ve said yourself, we see it at the university level, particularly for the World University rankings of times, higher Education and QS and Shanghai, just how schools will organize themselves based on sort of Anglo Saxon collegiate models to achieve strong results in these lead tables. Do you think it’s good to have a number of them and therefore we just end up with a mass? You take what you like so that we can avoid the monopoly, and people always convert you because at the same time we just talk about the M7. When does Berkeley fit into that list? When does Yale squeeze into that list? Are they really in any way inferior? There’s a lot of protection in the market, and we play into that model with our M7 S. And what do we have?


[00:45:58.960] – Matt

E five S and S seven S or S ten S. It does feel that there should be more movement, and I’d like to be an industry where challenges perhaps not on a year to year basis, as Maria was describing, but over a ten year period, a school that has truly be doing innovative stuff. It should be perhaps a top five school. And we break away from this M7 rigid description that we’ve used for too long.


[00:46:26.970] – John

That’s true. And you’re right. I think competition is healthy. And as you pointed out earlier, one of the things that we do is we do a composite ranking, but we show you the latest rank for each school in the top five most influential rankings. And what that does is you look at that and you can see where there is consensus and where there is none. So when a school rises or falls in an unusual place, and it’s truly an anomaly among the other rankings, you know that you should discard it. Our system kind of does that. And the other thing, you can do that personally by looking across the five rankings and saying, well, clearly, if four rankings believe the school is number five, and one ranking believe it’s number 15 or 20, it’s really a number five. The other thing I’m going to point out is you mentioned the Ft Masters in Management ranking and you were expressing you that you wish that there was more competition in that field because it’s such an important degree. In fact, it’s the number one management degree in all of Europe. And I’ll say that that would be very welcome, because for years the University of St.


[00:47:38.610] – John

Gallenan has been number one. And everyone who’s below it accuses St gallon of having a small, intimate program so that it could literally get their hands in the data and make the numbers look exactly what they need to look to achieve a number one ranking in the Financial Times for that program because it’s so small. So clearly more competition in that field would be helpful for people to make more informed decisions about Masters in Management programs. Well, do read our analysis. We not only have the full story on who the big winners, who the big losers are, what the problems are with the ranking, what things you should discount, what things you should listen to, but we also have, of course, what we often do, the ten biggest surprises in any given ranking. And that story is on her side as well. I want to thank Matt for joining in this week. He will be with us next week as well because Caroline is taking a whirlwind trip. Maria, obviously, is on a Whirlwind trip of her own in Europe, but she’s able to join us. And I want to thank Maria for joining. So thank you, Maria, Matt.


[00:48:54.090] – John

Thank you, Maria, and thank all of you for listening. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual, our weekly podcast.


Motherhood & The MBA, Plus The New 2022 Economist MBA Ranking
Maria |
June 29, 2022


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