No other city in the world can boast tougher business school competition than Boston. Seven MBA programs in the Bean Town metro area make the U.S. News’ list of the top 100 business schools. Besides No. 1 ranked Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School (ranked fourth), there’s Boston College and Boston University (both tied at a rank of 37th) in the top 50. And then there is Northeastern University (56), Babson College (61), and Bentley University (75).
What about Brandeis University’s International Business School? It doesn’t even make the U.S. News cut of the top 100. Against its heady competitive rivals in the area, Brandeis’s business school is not unlike the little engine that could. It has a steep hill to climb through some very rough terrain.
A TOTAL MBA ENROLLMENT OF JUST 120 STUDENTS
The full-time equivalent faculty numbers just 36, not much more than the number of professors at Harvard who just teach entrepreneurial courses. The total MBA enrollment is just 120. Magid dialed back the latest class to a size of just 50 full-time students, from 75 a year earlier, to focus more on quality. While the program is ranked 92nd by The Economist, it couldn’t get a response rate high enough to make the last Financial Times ranking. Besides U.S. News, the other two major U.S. rankings—BusinessWeek, U.S. News, and Forbes—don’t rank the school.
“No, that doesn’t bother us,” says Bruce Magid, 61, dean of Brandeis’ business school. Even so, he concedes the importance of rankings in getting the school wider recognition. “Around the world, the first thing students look at are rankings. They don’t know where to start so that is the first stop. I’m rankings aware but I’m not rankings driven. Some schools have rankings in their five-year plans. Not us.”
So how do you compete, especially when the business school didn’t open its doors until 1989 and half of the school’s alumni of some 2,000 have graduated in the past five years?
A CORPORATE EXECUTIVE TURNED DEAN BETS ON SPECIALIZATION
Magid had been working on that challenge for the past five years, having arrived as dean of Brandeis’ International School of Business in 2009. A former Bank of America executive who oversaw the bank’s corporate finance activities in Latin America, Magid served as founding dean of San José State University’s business school and was the founding executive director of Michigan State University’s online and global distance education business unit. In all, he has spent 21 years of his career in the private sector and the last 12 years in higher education.
His solution to the competitive challenge is specialization. The school’s most popular degree is not the MBA, but rather a Master of Arts in International Economics and Finance. Named after early Brandeis benefactor and real estate executive Samuel Lemberg, the program was launched in 1987—11 years before Brandeis offered an MBA degree in 1998. The two-year program is distinctive largely for its internationally focused curriculum and the merging of economics and finance topics. For the past two years, The Financial Times has ranked it first in the U.S. among programs that do not require work experience. Currently, 167 students are enrolled in it.
Four years ago, the school launched what it calls a “Global Green MBA,” a program for aspiring leaders in the field of corporate sustainability: the MBA in Socially Responsible Business. The concentration, part of the school’s Green Global Initiative, integrates issues such as economic development, social development and corporate governance, into the core MBA program.
IN AUGUST, BRANDEIS DEBUTED FOUR NEW MBA SPECIALIZATIONS
This past August, Brandeis debuted four new MBA specializations in asset management, corporate finance, risk management, and marketing. Those new specializations add to its existing real estate concentration. Magid says he is about a year away from launching a new life sciences MBA to leverage Brandeis’ reputation in science. A Master of Finance degree program has 78 enrolled students.
Magid believes the specializations give students the opportunity to develop specific skill sets that will make them immediately marketable. Most of Brandeis’ specializations are a direct result of feedback from the companies that hire MBAs. “A couple of years ago, I went to recruiters and asked them what they needed to make sure our students were ready to bring the right skills to the market.”