How Yale is beginning to crack into the elite B-school ranks

December 17, 2014, 6:22 PM UTC
yale school of managment
Courtesy: Yale School of Management

(Poets&Quants) — It’s an alluring morning in New Haven, Conn. Under a brilliant sun, the air is crisp and cool. The leaves on the trees are beginning to transform into a kaleidoscope of colors. And Dean Edward “Ted” Snyder of Yale University’s School of Management is strolling the halls of the school’s brand new $243 million complex.

Gathered in the lobby are a group of young people—a dozen or so prospective applicants to SOM—who are waiting for an admissions official to give them the pitch and a tour of the building, which looks so modern it could be the Starship Enterprise. Dean Snyder moseys over to the group and asks what interests them most about Yale’s School of Management.

The first and second people who answer his question make him nearly wince. One earnest-looking young man immediately says that it is the school’s non-profit slant. Another says it is the relatively small size of Yale’s MBA program, which this fall enrolled just 323 students, a little more than a third of the totals at Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, Kellogg, and Booth.

What Dean Snyder had hoped to hear was that these potential applicants were keen on Yale because it is, in the dean’s own words, “the most distinctively global U.S. business school.” That is, after all, what Snyder has tirelessly worked to do in repositioning the school since his arrival as dean in mid-2011. There are only two other answers that he would have preferred to hear this morning: that they’re keen to look at SOM because it is among the most integrated business schools with its home university or because it is the best source of leaders for all sectors and regions.

Those are Snyder’s three aspirations for the Yale School of Management. Becoming a truly global business school, however, has required reengineering of the school’s mission and purpose. And as the answers from the young professionals suggest, going global may well be easier than gaining recognition as global.

After all, despite years of effort by rivals to rid themselves of the narrow identities placed on them, too many people still consider Harvard the school for future CEOs, Stanford for entrepreneurs, Wharton for finance, and Northwestern for marketing. Undaunted, Snyder is plowing full speed ahead with his global strategy for the school and has made remarkable progress in just three years, notwithstanding the cluelessness shown by the applicants in the hallway.

“If we succeed,” proclaims Snyder, “what’s going to happen is we are going to get students who respond to the call. They will already be über global or aspiring to be global and that will be a big difference. It’s a fundamental repositioning for the school.”

Snyder’s global push is at the center of SOM’s transformation, which includes a new modern building, significantly increased scholarship money to get the best MBA students, a new focus on entrepreneurship, and far more outreach to Yale University as a whole. The school’s rankings in both The Financial Times and Bloomberg Businessweek are up dramatically. In Businessweek, SOM climbed 15 positions to sixth place, the highest rank ever achieved by the school in any major ranking. Round one applications have increased by 10%, with 55% of applicants coming from outside the U.S., slightly better than the traditional 50-50 split.

“Right now, there is an incredible sense of excitement about the growth of the place,” says Andrew Metrick, a finance professor who also serves as deputy dean. “It has really taken us a while to grow up. We’re only 30 years old and that is really young for a business school. We used to be in other people’s buildings. We didn’t have an endowment. We had an allowance where the university would just write a check. We now have a physical space that matches the quality of the faculty and the students. We really look like a 21st century business school….”

For most other business schools, going global has meant increasing the percentage of MBA students from outside the home country, recruiting faculty with foreign passports, boosting international case studies and examples in classes, and adding a few exchange programs with other schools. Few schools have fundamentally overhauled their curricula, however, and even fewer have genuinely partnered with other universities.

“U.S. business school deans have not globalized,” insists Snyder, who believes that if you put aside the long-standing student semester exchanges and partnerships over Executive MBA programs, most of what has occurred is changes in the markets for faculty, applicants, and graduates. “Those changes have been thrust upon top schools. There are so many interesting places in the world that have been left out of business schools.”

Building a 27-member global B-school network

In contrast, Yale has upped its game considerably, creating a network of 27 top business schools from every corner of the globe, including the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Launched in April 2012, the Global Network for Advanced Management schools share unique programming, from on-campus network weeks to small network online courses or SNOCs. They develop global case studies, facilitate faculty partnerships, and hold events with speakers like Google’s Eric Schmidt and micro finance pioneer and social entrepreneur Fazle Hasan Abed.

Member schools are adapting their programs to sync with the global network. Technion in Israel recently launched a full-time MBA program in English called the Startup MBA and built its academic calendar around the network. “Schools are adjusting their strategies to take advantage of it,” says David Bach, senior associate dean for global programs at Yale. “It’s cool to see how the network effects are kicking in.”

The global initiative has been central to Snyder’s strategy to make Yale SOM a Top 10 business school. “That really is a very important unifying theme for what Ted is trying to do,” says Fiona Scott Morton, an economics professor at the school. “And the way Ted is going about it makes an enormous amount of sense. We’re not opening a far-flung campus or doing a partnership. Those are expensive and very 20th century solutions. Ted puts this network together and waits for these ideas to bubble up, and they do.”

Consider the Global Network Week, which gives students a chance to travel to another member school for a weeklong module with students from throughout the network. The host school for network week offers a course that takes advantage of its faculty expertise, often on a topic that is especially relevant to business in its region. The themes have ranged from “Global Strategies for Emerging Economies” put on by EGADE Business School in Mexico, to “Doing Business In China” hosted by Fudan University’s School of Management.

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology did a week on “Start-up Nation,” exploring what cultural and public policy attributes have helped to make Israel a welcoming place for new business ventures. Yale has weighed in with “From Madison Avenue to Wall Street–Everything You Need to Know About Behavioral Economics,” building on its expertise in the area. Yale Professor Robert Shiller, who teaches behavioral and institutional economics, won the Nobel Prize last year.

Of course, many business schools offer MBA students the chance to visit a foreign country for a one- or two-week experience. More often than not, however, these visits are organized in collaboration with a partner school. But students generally experience the foreign country with students form their own school and rarely interact with other students in a meaningful way. Yale’s network weeks, as well as a series of online courses, are meant to move beyond that model.

The first time out, five schools and about 240 students participated in March 2013. Next year, in March 2015, Snyder expects at least 18 schools and as many as 900 students to participate, up from 12 schools this year and 469 students. Yale alone plans to host four global network weeks during the 2014-2014 academic year, each with budgets of $50,000 to pay for faculty, student advisors, and program materials.

Then there are the SNOCs, Small Network Online Courses offered by faculty at member schools where students work in cross-school teams in real-time class sessions as well as via online class work. The current 2014-2015 academic year will feature six to eight SNOCs, attracting up to 300 students across the network. These range from “Inclusive Business Models” by IIM-Bangalore and “New Product Development” by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to Management of Humanitarian Emergencies” by the London School of Economics and “Value Based Leadership for Business Model Innovation” by the University of Cape Town.

Fiona Scott Morton is teaching a SNOC called “Analysis of Competition Law and Enforcement Across Countries.” Formerly the deputy assistant attorney general for economics in the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, she had 25 students in her online class. Watching her teach in a classroom at Yale filled with video screens of students from all over the world is a surreal experience. There are little more than a handful of students in the largely empty room.

“It’s hard because the students are not in the room,” she concedes. “But I had a couple of great students last year who were not from Yale and they got a lot out of the course and wrote fantastic final papers. We record the classes so students can look at them again and repeat the slides and the lectures. And this is a course offering they cannot get at home.”

There are Global Network weeks for faculty, and network-developed case studies on issues in Mexico, Indonesia, Spain, and Ireland. In the spring of this year, Yale’s Leadership Case Competition attracted teams from a half dozen network schools.

A brand new degree

Yale also has introduced a Master of Advanced Management Program that brings recent MBA graduates from network schools to Yale for a one-year program where they mix with current students in the full-time MBA program. This year, some 62 students are in the program, up from 20 in the 2013 inaugural class and 38 in the class of 2014.

As Snyder describes the program, “it is a Yale degree program and not a global network initiative though we have agreed to recruit only from network schools. It is part of the strategy of pulling the schools closer together.”

All told, the school welcomed students from 58 countries this fall, including Afghanistan, Bolivia, Ghana, Ireland, Israel, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, Turkey, and Zimbabwe. “The nature of the community is that it does not have a dominate cultural norm. It reflects an equality of perspective,” says Anjani Jain, senior associate dean of Yale’s MBA program.

Yet, some students apparently came away with a more nuanced view of the experience, both at orientation and in the elective coursework. Concedes Snyder: “One view is that these new MAM students have not had the core. ‘They are not Yale trained and there is friction in the class and a drag on our teams.’ Others have said, that ‘these students are the best and brightest from around the world. What a great resource they are.’”

The challenges were especially prevalent when MAM students joined MBAs in some of the second-year electives. “There were some points of friction,” says Jain. “Most of it came from language skills. There are students with less than perfect command of the English language and the practices with respect to career development are different and they are new. But we’re seeing that there also are friendships deeply embedded between the MAM students and the second-year MBAs.”

Jeffrey Adadevoh, an MAM student from Ghana, agrees. He voices enthusiasm for the mash up, noting that during orientation, the school created teams of eight students each, mixing both programs together. “The first assignment we did was together with the MBAs,” he says. “We had a global challenge and MAMs were put in groups with MBAs and had to develop an idea to solve a problem in the world. We came up with a mobile cloud technology that manages health records for developing countries which find it hard to keep track of those records.”

The MAM students, moreover, are different than the traditional international students who come to a top U.S. business school to study. Many of those MBAs are often more Western in their approach and focus. The joint orientation seemed to move the groups closer together. “The integration really started things off on a positive footing,” says Alexa Allen, a second-year MBA student who is president of SOM’s student government association. “The different ideas you hear change your way of thinking. Your classmates push you. Most of the MBAs would agree that it’s so positive to have access to the MAMs. They have this wealth of knowledge about their country cultures.”

Full-time MBA students also gain exposure to the network in other ways. Yale, which initially required a global experience in 2006, has put in place a broader, global studies requirement with greater options. An MBA can now fulfill the requirement by doing two of the global network weeks, a 10-day global enterprise course or the more traditional international travel course.

At least some deans are enthusiastic, saying the network has exceeded expectations. “We thought it was a good idea at first but how it was going to develop wasn’t mapped out,” says Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, dean of the University of College of Dublin’s Smurtfit Graduate Business School. “We wouldn’t have thought the SNOCs would be developed so quickly or the global network weeks. This is a much richer experience than expected.” Smurfit has hosted a network global week on “Digital Marketing: Understanding Opportunities and Devising Strategies.”

But not everything has been successful. “The network weeks have been a big hit,” says Snyder. “The SNOCs are emerging to be extremely positive. The cases are at best an incomplete with indications that they are a real challenge. We thought global cases would have been more featured in the portfolio.”

Some network schools simply lack the resources to be major contributors to the partnership or, in some cases, to even send students to the network weeks.

But as Synder’s hallway conversation with current applicants suggest, this is a work in progress. With an endowment of $725 million, only a quarter of Harvard Business School’s total, SOM lacks the deep resources to go head-to-head with HBS, Stanford, and Wharton. As Professor Morton quips, “At Harvard, they catch the leaves as they fall off the trees. The landscaping budget at HBS is higher than most business school’s educational budget.”

Yet, as word spreads about the unusual experiment going on at Yale, more students keen on engaging in a true global business school are likely to show up and take advantage of what SOM has put together. Already, Synder has achieved his goal of making SOM “the most distinctively global U.S. business school.”

Arguably, no U.S. school can boast a similar package of unique global offerings and SOM, given the halo of Yale University, can now offer a global experience that rivals London Business School and INSEAD. Key rankings are turning up for Snyder, which will help bring the school more positive attention. For the first time in SOM’s history, the school seems on the verge of breaking into the truly elite category of business schools.

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