MBA Programs, MBA Preparation

Why should MBA applicants care about the B-school Dean?

January 17 2017 By The MBA Exchange
Select viewing preference

The responsibilities of a Dean vary broadly but, in sum, are even more challenging that those faced by the CEOs of Fortune 100 corporations. B-school deans develop and manage relationships with internal constituents, including students, faculty, staff and other senior leaders within the same university. Deans serve as the official liaison with external stakeholders such as alumni, donors, media and industry. Deans are accountable for the school’s near- and long-term financial standing. They are also responsible for school rankings, accreditation, reputation, endowment and enrollment.

Deans must keep one eye on the past in order to honor school tradition, one eye on the present to ensure consistent quality, and one eye on the future to anticipate change. Yes, that totals three eyes! See what we mean about this being a challenging job?

So, why should applicants care about the Dean of the business schools they are targeting? Simply because there is no other source that provides a more current, accurate and actionable insight into what a given school seeks and prioritizes in those admitted to the MBA program. The attributes, skills, values and vision that the Dean says are most important to the school become a “mantra” that spreads quickly into the admissions criteria. So, it’s essential that serious applicants find, embrace and reflect those priorities – sincerely and authentically — when choosing recommenders, crafting essays, honing resumes, and preparing for interviews. A candidacy that is in harmony with the Dean’s mindset is one that is likely to resonate with the adcoms.

The good news is that you don’t have dig too deeply or search too widely to get inside the head of the Dean at your dream school. The visibility that these leaders seek means that you can find them quickly and easily on the Internet. Yet, it’s surprising how few individuals take the time to tap into this opportunity.

A few examples:

• Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria’s highly articulate and revealing commencement speech to the HBS Class of 2016 is featured on YouTube, but has had only 3,500 views. Dean Nohria’s amazing interview by PBS from January 2015 on the core topic of “How to Lead” runs almost 3 hours, but has attracted just 9,000 viewers.

• Newly appointed Deans, such as Stanford GSB’s Jonathan Levin, have a sense of urgency in sharing their perspectives and philosophies with the world. Since this exposure is also in the best interest of the MBA program, school websites typically feature interviews introducing the new Dean. Yet, in this case, only a few hundred individuals have realized the value of this information by sharing it via social media.

• And finally, business media continue to be fascinated by changes at the top of business schools. So, major publications scramble to get the first interview with Deans as they assume office. This was the case with Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett in 2014 when pursued by the likes of The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. However, a Google search on the Dean’s name and school reveals fewer than 12,000 results.

As an aside, while doing your research, avoid the temptation of using so-called “insider guides” that are published by third parties about top business schools. Featuring stale, overused and canned information only dilutes the uniqueness, sincerity and impact of your application.

The MBA Exchange encourages you to do your homework, thoroughly and properly. Before you apply to a highly selective business school, get inside the head – and the heart – of the individual who has the first and last word on what the school represents, offers and seeks. Remember, the Dean is the direct boss of the admissions staff who will be analyzing your application, interviewing you, and deciding whether or not to admit you. Enough said.