If Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard were to advise his McKinsey-bound son on where to get his MBA degree, Hubbard says there are only four or five programs that he would recommend. He declines to mention the schools by name but you can rest assured that Columbia would be on the list along with Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. That leaves a lot of very good schools off the list.
In a wide-ranging and engaging interview with Poets&Quants, Hubbard explains why anxiety is rising in MBA programs over landing summer internships, why Columbia’s new curriculum will improve the school’s MBA program, and why he felt like Wilie Coyote when the school’s MBA applications plunged 19% last year, vastly exceeding downturns at other elite business schools.
Hubbard, now dean of Columbia’s business school since July of 2004, also surmises how online technology will impact business schools in the future and why his efforts to persuade Columbia alum Warren Buffett to give money to the school’s new $600 million campus have been unsuccessful.
The 54-year-old dean was visiting San Francisco to attend the last graduation of the Executive MBA program that had been a joint venture between Columbia and UC-Berkeley and was in a good mood. His remarks were often humorous and remarkably candid, including an acknowledgement that Uris Hall, long home of the business school, is just plain “ugly” and that Columbia significantly trails rivals Harvard and Wharton when it comes to financial aid for students.
An economist by training, Hubbard joined Columbia Business School in 1988 after beginning his teaching career at Northwestern University. He served as senior vice dean of the business school from 1994 to 1997 and co-director of its entrepreneurial program from 1998 to 2004. He was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George Bush and a top economic advisor to Mitt Romney during his recent Presidential campaign.
Since becoming dean of Columbia in 2004, he has raised some $610 million, including $350 million toward the construction of a new home for the business school in the Manhattanville section of New York in West Harlem where Columbia University is developing another campus.
Last year, applications to Columbia’s MBA program fell by 19%, more than at any other top business school. How are things looking this year?
We are fortunate that our applications are up 9% year-over-year. What was weird about our drop is that it came along all at once. I told the faculty I felt like Wile Coyote (the cartoon character with Road Runner) where he ran off the cliff and didn’t know it yet. We had a couple of years where applications had plateaued and then all of a sudden crashed. But fortunately we are back up.
Your decline was generally attributed to Wall Street’s troubles and the fact that Columbia’s fortunes are so closely tied to Wall Street. Agree?
Wharton had a similar pattern. And if you were to do a trend line, we are both on that line. Harvard is above it. Harvard is the one school at the top where if you did a trend line pre-crisis and looked at applications it’s above it.
Do you think the decline is related to the belief that the value of the MBA degree has declined?
No. I think the value of the degree is still very high if you can go to a good school. If you go to any top business school, you will gain a skill set and mindset to make you a very good business leader. If you have in mind only an analytical job track, you might want to question the ROI. But if you see yourself as somebody who will swing for the fences and you can go to any of the top business schools, you’ll have a great background for doing that. I think it’s really hard to defend, at least in money terms, the value of an MBA beyond the top business schools.