Is Carlson As Good As Ross or Haas? Sri Zaheer Thinks So

If Dean Sri Zaheer could wave a magic wand to improve the standing of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, what would she wish for?

To have the Carlson School mentioned in the same breath as two of the best business schools at public universities in the world: the University of Michigan’s Ross School and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“We’re just as good or better than they are,” she insists, ticking off a list of attributes to make her case.

  • A highly admired faculty with superstars in such core areas as marketing, strategy, organizational behavior, and social media.
  • An impressive slate of corporate recruiters who have helped Carlson post job placement rates that exceed most of the very best business schools in the past two years.
  • An intimate student culture where classes are small and MBA candidates know each other and the faculty by first name.
  • A loyal alumni network with senior executives who have climbed to visible positions at Deloitte, 3M, Target, UnitedHealth Group, Toro, Polaris, and Medtronic.

“Our student outcomes are great,” says Zaheer, a 58-year-old dynamo of a dean. “We’re hands-on and high touch. What we offer our full-time MBA students is a boutique educational experience, customized to their individual needs. All the students know each other by their first names. They get attention.”


Last year, Carlson matched such schools as Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Harvard Business School, and Columbia Business School for the best placement record three months after graduation (see MBA Jobs Back For Class of 2011). Some 97% of Carlson’s MBAs had job offers in hand 90 days after receiving their degrees.

The 3% “unemployment rate” was five times better than Ross, where 15% of the class still failed to land a job offer three months after graduation, and nearly three times better than Berkeley, where 8% were without offers.

What’s more, Carlson’s MBAs reported average salary and bonus of $115,988 last year—impressive for a school in Minneapolis and comparable to Michigan’s $130,688 or Berkeley’s $136,576 after the difference in cost-of-living is factored into the numbers. Though all the data is not yet in, Zaheer says Carlson’s Class of 2012 has fared just as well if not better. Starting salaries for this year’s graduating MBA class were up $5,000.

Zaheer, who came to Carlson 20 years ago as an assistant professor after completing her PhD in international management at MIT’s Sloan School, was drafted to be interim dean in 2011 when Alison Davis-Blake departed for Michigan’s Ross School. After a nine-month stint as interim boss, the school named her dean in March of 2012.

Her main challenge has to do with her magic wand wish. It is to overcome a perception that the school is merely regional player. “We want to make sure we get recognized for what we are,” she says. “Our location is a blessing and a curse. We have these amazing relationships with Fortune 500 companies that are in our backyard, but our location is a challenge because we have to change the perception that we are a local or regional school.”

  • Try Again

    Carlson is a huge name in the Midwest let alone the entire U.S. It’s ludicrous to think that it is not as good as Kelley and especially Fisher. Carlson is definitely “mentioned in the same breath” as those schools and it would be easy to make the case that Kelley and Fisher would be lucky to get their name mentioned in the same breath as Carlson. “Being realistic” doesn’t mean going and checking business weeks rankings of the schools. You could at least try to be a little more educated than that.

  • bobo

    “…they are not on the ground and in the field building the googles and the microsofts.”

    And yet both those companies were founded by Harvard and Stanford alums.

  • Roger, in theory merit based for every aspect of life should be the rule. But in practice, it is impossible, unless we reach the era of Star Trek where the fact that there are thousands of planets with life make the color of one’s skin or gender on earth a non issue. Therefore, we will always need systems and activists to take offensive and defensive measures to ensure that everyone is treated equally. There is extensive research that shows that those who are members of a privileged class find it nearly impossible to understand discrimination at its core, the privileged class will always think that we are further than we actually are and that things are not that bad. I am not saying you are part of that class, I am just saying that since this is true and will always be true, Dean Zaheer will have to focus on diversity.

  • I shot the Sheriff

    Tucker Carlson?

  • Being Realistic

    Concur with the comparison to prestigious state schools, but you gotta crawl before you can walk. Perhaps it’s more realistic for Carlson to set a goal to be mentioned in the same breath as schools like Kelley (Indiana), Wisconsin, and Fisher (Ohio State) before trying to make the quantum leap to the Haas/Ross level.

  • I don’t think merit has ever existed. The pendulum has swung from out right privilege (do really think GW Bush would have made HBS if he had actually had to compete by today’s standards) to what we have today. I”m not so sure that either is the answer; but what exists today is certainly not replacing a meritocracy, as many who claim “merit” have often been provided with advantages that somehow they feel they’ve earned (or deserved–like being 3rd generation at Andover). If merit were truly the measure, very few Americans period would make the cut.

  • Somnath

    I know what you are saying. We have the same quota system in India and it is crippling to say the least. It’s not good for anyone but government is keeping it in place because of vote bank politics. I was quite surprised when I learned for the first time (many years ago) that even in USA these systems were in place. You may be surprised to learn that Britain (I know most Americans think it is some socialist dump) does not have any quota system — it’s based on merit. Those are the ironies of life.