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Yale B-school wants a piece of the spotlight

(Poets&Quants) — Ever since Yale University launched its School of Organization and Management in 1976, the place has been something of an unconventional business school. Its founders envisioned a school that would be small, communal, unorthodox, and steeped in theory and research, able to groom leaders for both business as well as the public and non-profit sectors.

But the decision to avoid creating another me-too business school has had some unintended consequences. For years, SOM has unsuccessfully battled the misperception that it is merely a school for non-profit management, a haven for do-gooders outside the MBA mainstream. And despite basking in the glow of one of the world’s most valuable educational brands, the school has never been able to develop the stature of any of its Ivy League rivals.

Enter Edward “Ted” Snyder, the 58-year-old veteran dean who signed on as SOM’s new leader last fall. He arrived with extraordinarily high expectations. “I like what I do so I don’t feel pressure,” says the soft-spoken Snyder. “I feel really good about the prospects here. I’ve been at business school deaning for awhile so it gives me the credibility to say, ‘Folks, this is what we face.’”

Snyder is more than just another dean in a hot seat. Having served as dean at two other major business schools — the University of Chicago and the University of Virginia — he’s something of a business school physician. He worked magic at Chicago’s Booth School of Business, bringing in the largest gift to any business school ever — $300 million — nearly doubling the school’s endowed professorships, tripling scholarship assistance, and moving Chicago to the very top of BusinessWeek’s influential rankings.

What’s the matter with Yale?

After seven months at Yale, what’s his diagnosis?

Snyder believes the school has been under-funded and under-marketed. There’s been too little effort devoted to leveraging the university’s formidable brand, no advertising budget, and mediocre scholarship support to get the best students. The small size of the school has made it difficult to gain critical mass, so its alumni network isn’t as strong as it should be and many corporate recruiters find the MBA pool too small to fish in.

And, like most other U.S. schools, SOM lags in getting up to speed on globalization.

A good comparison is Cornell University’s Johnson School, a similarly sized Ivy League institution. Although SOM’s $536 million endowment is more than three times the size of the endowment at the Johnson School, its annual operating budget is roughly the same: about $60 million. If Yale spent at the same ratio of endowment to budget as Cornell, SOM’s operating budget would be more than triple its current outlays. That money could be spent to improve the quality and size of its faculty, to provide a more sizable support staff, to fund more scholarships to entice the best applicants, and to more aggressively promote Yale’s strengths via marketing and advertising.

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Cornell’s money, moreover, has been put to better use over the years. Both the school’s faculty and career services office regularly outperform Yale’s in student satisfaction surveys. And Cornell has consistently outperformed Yale in several key MBA rankings, especially the BusinessWeek list, which currently ranks Yale at No. 21 versus Cornell at 13.

Another problem. Yale is woefully behind in scholarship funds to get the best talent in the door. Currently, SOM has a scholarship kitty equal to 6% of its gross tuition. That comes to less than $1.5 million. Harvard Business School, by comparison, doles out $28 million annually in scholarships, accounting for 30% of its gross tuition. Vanderbilt University’s Owen School, with nearly 100 fewer full-time MBAs than Yale, is providing $3.9 million in scholarship support this year, equivalent to 26% of its gross tuition. Concedes Bruce DelMonico, head of admissions, “We’re playing with a BB gun when some schools have bazookas.”

With all that said, Snyder is working with some very strong assets, including the Yale brand, a modern MBA curriculum launched four years ago, a new home for the school that will open late this year, and a handful of faculty stars and exceptional students who come to SOM with credentials not all that different from those at Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, Dartmouth, and Cornell.

Getting credit where it’s due

So his plan to gain the recognition he believes Yale deserves is rooted in fixing the underlying fundamentals of the school and charting a new course. Snyder says he plans to increase the size of the school’s class to 300 from 225, increase the size of the faculty to the low 80s from roughly 65 professors now, and to increase scholarship support to about $3.2 million from $1.4. Scholarship funding will become the new priority in fundraising. “We lose a lot of our great applicants. I want to win more of these people,” he says.

Snyder also wants to have an advertising budget that better promotes the school and dispels enduring perceptions that SOM is a non-profit school, largely focused on soft skills. “We spend more time doing than amplifying,” he says. “I want to change the ratio of doing to telling people about what we’re doing.”

The new dean also wants to slightly increase the ratio of students to faculty. Currently, Yale SOM has one of the lowest ratios of any major business school, with eight students for every professor. At what he calls the “full scale, full scope schools,” such as Wharton, Columbia, Chicago and Kellogg, the student to faculty ratio is closer to 20-to-one. He wants to retain the school’s intimate culture but get more value out of the faculty by upping the ratio to about 11-to-one, still below MIT Sloan’s 14-to-one ratio.

The bigger strategy is to more closely align the school with the university and to drive a bold stake in the ground on both globalization and entrepreneurship.

Most business schools, he believes, are isolated from their universities, a separation that comes as a consequence of their desire to build better facilities, have the newest technology, and pay faculty significantly more than in other disciplines. “That is now a manifest mistake for our business schools to have done that,” says Snyder. “But it’s a huge opportunity for us given what the world needs.

“We will be the exact opposite of the standalone business school. We will be part of this place.”

Dual degrees and joint faculty appointments are one part of the strategy, but Snyder is especially attempting to promote other cross-school interactions in and out of the classroom. SOM students are more likely than MBAs at other schools to take classes across the university. They serve as associates for the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and contribute to the university’s Climate and Energy Congress, a large, annual, student-run energy conference. Snyder is working to set aside course sections specifically for non-SOM students and increase the number of non-SOM speakers the school hosts.

Building a global alliance

The most ambitious of his many ideas has to do with the B-school topic du jour: globalization. Snyder believes most U.S. schools are well behind the curve, playing catch-up mainly with their European counterparts. Most U.S. schools have attempted to “globalize” merely by partnering with other non-U.S. schools to deliver joint-degree programs.

“We’re the most decentralized industry in the face of globalization,” he says. “We haven’t figured globalization out. All U.S. business schools have done is a little bit of green field but mainly joint venture partnerships in tuition-rich markets. Wow.”

His solution? A clever program modeled after the University’s Yale World Fellows, an initiative that allows international students to study at Yale for a full year in a non-degree capacity. It’s one of the most selective educational programs in the world, with some 5,000 applicants for just 18 seats.

Snyder’s version is quite different. He has organized a network of more than a dozen business schools outside the U.S. and plans to use this group to put SOM at the forefront of globalization by accelerating the sharing of research, case studies, students, and faculty. As he puts it, “The joint venture model is very overused and those partnership degrees are really tricky. Networks are better than partnerships because it provides more immediate and deeper access to existing resources.”

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Among other things, freshly minted MBA graduates from the network schools will be able to apply for a new one-year master of advanced management degree at SOM. Snyder plans to accept no more than one student from each network school for a total of up to 20 students a year. The program, which is only open to graduates of schools that sign up for the network, debuts this fall.

This cohort will join the typical contingent of international students who now make up slightly over a quarter of the MBA students at SOM.

The network, which includes schools in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa, will share research and case study materials to more quickly globalize the SOM curriculum. A Fellows Program for faculty is being formed to allow member schools to send their professors to Yale for short spurts. And the network will be used to connect the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute with other groups of entrepreneurs at member schools.

Finally, Snyder hopes to get SOM students far more engaged in the university’s existing Entrepreneurial Institute, where Snyder has been named one of three people overseeing the center.

All told, it’s an ambitious agenda, designed to get Yale the attention and influence that has long eluded the business school. How long will it take? “I don’t know if it will take five years or so, but it’s been a very good start,” says Snyder. “We’re part of a purposeful, eminent family at Yale and the convening power of the place is palpable.”

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