GMAC Chief: ‘Go East, Young Man’

Dave Wilson, CEO of GMAC, would encourage his son to go to China for an MBA

If Dave Wilson’s own son or daughter were accepted into just two schools—Harvard Business School or the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, Wilson says he would now encourage his child to study overseas. That’s despite the fact that Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, had once taught at Harvard and claims to have a “soft spot” for the school.

Why? “Whether you are looking to work there or here in the U.S., you are going to discover that you’ll have to deal with Asia and especially China,” he says. “The chief financial officer of Barnes and Noble is probably negotiating with the Chinese with supply chain and contract terms for the Nook. And we are going to see continuing growth in our reliance on other parts of the world. If I were a young person again, I would go to a school outside North America and learn more about other cultures. As we go forward that is going to be mission critical.”

Wilson, who has an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, knows the North American MBA market well. From 1968 to 1978, the Canadian certified public accountant taught accounting at Queen’s University, the University of Illinois and finally Harvard Business School. Before taking on the job as president and CEO of GMAC in 1995, he was a managing partner at Ernst & Young. So the theoretical advice he would give to his own child to pass up Harvard in favor of CEIBS is quite a surprise.

Today’s (Feb. 2) new study by GMAC, which is the owner of the GMAT test, shows that Europe is drawing a growing share of the prospective MBA applicant pool. It is also increasing evidence of the diminishing dominance of the U.S. business school. GMAC said B-schools in Europe attracted 11 percent of all GMAT score reports sent in testing year 2010 (July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010), up from a 7.5 percent share in 2006. Put another way, European institutions received 85,262 score reports from people who took the GMAT exam in 2010, up nearly 90 percent from the 45,079 score reports test takers sent to European institutions in 2006.

For all the growing interest in Europe, Wilson believes that business schools in Asia are coming on strong as well. “Five or ten years from now,” says Wilson, “I think you may see some interesting new horses in the race. You are always going to have the elite ones from around the world. They have the brand recognition and the financial resources. But just as the Indian Business School (which has been ranked 13th in the world by the Financial Times) came out of nowhere, you’ll see others. It will take them awhile to get their faculty set. That is the region of the world is growing rapidly, and Asian school may start taking a much more substantial role in business education and that may shape the way curriculums develop.”


Just 10 years ago, concedes Wilson, CEIBS would never have come up in a discussion of top-rated MBA programs. The school only graduated its first MBA students in 1996–a full 86 years after Harvard turned out its first class of MBAs. It didn’t gain accreditation from the Association to Advance College Schools of Business (AACSB) until December of 2008. And the school only has slightly more than 2,100 alums from its full-time MBA program, compared to more than 42,000 currently living Harvard MBAs. CEIBS is now ranked 17th in the world by the Financial Times, up from 92nd in 2002 when it first broke into the FT’s top 100 list. “It (CEIBS) would not have come up at all,” emphasizes Wilson. “Only 20 years ago, CEIBS didn’t even exist. Neither did Oxford’s Said or Cambridge’s Judge School of Business. But the landscape has changed dramatically.”

The Financial Times global ranking, one of only two that combine U.S. schools with others around the world, provides a good picture of those landscape changes. In the Financial Time’s inaugural ranking in 1999, 20 of the top 25 schools were based in the U.S. This year, only 11 of the top 25 business schools are located in the U.S. In the top ten alone, half of the top schools are outside the U.S.: from England (No. 1 London Business School), France (No. 4 INSEAD), Spain (No. 8 IE Business School and No. 9 IESE Business School) and Hong Kong (No. 6 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology). Just over half of the top 50 schools in the FT survey are now from outside the U.S., including eight in Britain, three in Spain and two in India.

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    In my oblique way I was trying to make the point that, vogues aside, our common intellectual culture puts Latin and French ahead of Spanish and Chinese. Similarly, a vast majority of American MBAs, 99+%, will stay home, irrespective of the advice offered here or financial incentives. A rare few extremely well-networked or entrepreneurial people will go to China and ride the wave, capture a share of China’s more rapid growth rate for themselves (until political unrest breaks out, the renminbi appreciates or both). I’m not that entrepreneurial and my network was just good enough to help me find employment in NYC after two years at HSW. Speaking of which, have you seen Thomas Robertson’s article in today’s WSJ? He argues that 25% of MBA grads are taking international positions so Wharton is becoming more international. Yeah, but that program is already 41% foreigners, so the reality is that MBA graduates are going out of their way to avoid going abroad, whether to Europe, China, India, Russia, or South America. What’s his point.

    Here’s the thing. I think opportunity in America (my main concern because I am an American) does not reside in going to NYC or San Fransisco. Opportunity is local. If you grow up in Alabama, South Carolina or Minnesota, you should go to a local colleges and the local b-school; pay in state tuition; and graduate to earn a salary that is just as high, adjusted for cost of living, as the mean paid to graduates of HSW going to consulting shops, i-banks, etc. This is the interesting story of life in America. A diversity of economic contexts and circumstances that make affluence attainable in all sorts of places far from the coasts. But your version is poor boy grows up to attend HBS, goes to NYC, and buys a private island after five years at Blackstone. To David Wilson I’d say: “Go to a state school in the Midwest or South, take your wife shopping in NYC when your kids have grown up.”

    And this is why I like the FT rankings. Without the PPP adjustment there is no place for Alabama and Minnesota. You have to go to HSW (which do produce the highest NYC/SF incomes) to earn the best money. But real money, money deflated by a regional cost of living index, is far more complex story.

    HTH, John

  • Arthur,

    Love that column by Kristof! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    To which the venerable Nicholas D Kristof would reply “Primero Hay Que Aprender Español. Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen.” See:

    As in, Spanish first then Chinese.