An Interview With Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard

by John A. Byrne on

Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard

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.

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  • Steve

    Did he tell you to take your best shot?

  • Dreamer

    This guys sounds like an awful pretentious person. I also think that he has a lot of nerve to say only 4 or 5 schools are worth it as it really depends on what works for you. Also to be honest Columbia is not in the top 5 anymore, I’ll even venture to say not in the top ten and is probably partly due to his bad leadership.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    I think his point was made in the context of his comment about second-and third-tier schools charging roughly the same tuition as the very top schools – the upfront costs are the same, but the return on investment is likely to be quite different, paticularly as the top schools also offer the most generous financial aid packages. Someone who took out loans to pay full price at a low-ranked school with high tuition costs is highly likely to have a harder time getting an ROI than an HBS grad who had a full or half scholarship.

    Also, he didn’t actually say that Columbia would be one of the four or five schools that he would recommend.

  • Andy

    I’m surprised that Columbia didn’t replace him after Inaide Job. Probably because he managed to raise enough money for the school.

  • Matt

    That’s a pretty bold and emotion infused statement. Butthurt?

  • Rickk

    Hubbard mentions IQ several times, but not Emotional intelligence. No wonder he comes across as arrogant, elitist and pretentious.

  • Dreamer

    You could say his comments anger me but not for the reasons you probably think as I turned down Columbia undergrad for another Ivy and did not apply to CBS as I was accepted to HBS and Wharton.

    As a dean of a leading business school he should be more careful in the way that he addresses other schools. Imagine if the Dean of HBS or GSB said there are only two schools worth going, all the others are a waste. I think we can assume people will not be happy. People go to business school for a variety of reasons and not everybody can go to a top 5 school. However, in some corporations an MBA is a de facto requirement to move up and it does not matter weather that MBA is from Columbia or UC RIverside. I have family members and friends who needed an MBA to transition out of a career or move up. They could not get into a top 15 but went to a decent school that yes, it did not allow them to make $150K from the start but gave them what they needed.

  • Mike

    He’s remarkably frank about the present situation. The Bus Schools are pricing themselves out of the market, while trying to boost their image by raising their tuitions (all of which outpaced inflation for many years). He alluded to that as well. I personally agree with him that an MBA not from the top five schools is pretty much worthless if someone is trying to start off a new career with it, like going to work on Wall Street. If someone needs to be more secure in his present position (let’s say a middle-level manager), then even a degree from a marginal evening school will most probably do (people append the MBA title to their name for increased impact).
    Regarding Buffett financing fiasco, I’m not at all surprised: that SOB extensively invests in China, our future bitter rival, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, at the expense of the starving entrepreneurs at home.

  • Dreamer

    I agree with that point but I think people who end-up paying full price for a lower-ranked school might be due to the fact that they have no choice. I think most of those people will gladly pay full tuition for a chance at at top 5 school but what if they cannot get in. Take an engineer, for example, who wants to transition to a finance role. You could argue he can get that job without paying for the MBA but maybe an MBA from any school makes it easier and it is worth paying it even though it has a lower ROI.

    Yeah he did not say that but I think it can be infer he thinks that.

  • Nick

    Haha, surprised someone didn’t bring that scene up sooner!

  • ChrisP

    Do you guys really think an MBA from a school like Berkeley Hass or Dartmouth Tuck or Duke Fuqua or Michigan Ross or NYU Stern or Yale SOM or Virginia Darden isn’t worth the time, effort and money spent on tuition? People who say these types of things aren’t looking at the facts. Plain and simple. Just take a good look at the caliber of professors who teach there, the students who go to these schools and companies that recruit there. Yes, HBS is the best. But it’s not the only game in town. It’s this type of elitist thinking that is very dangerous. Where are the facts to prove that an MBA from the schools mentioned above are not worth the trouble? All the salary data – 3, 5 and 10 years post-mba indicate a very good ROI. The issue raised by Hubbard is more relevant to an MBA outside of the top 15-18 or so schools. According to Hubbard – the implication is that an MBA is only worth doing if it is done at HBS, GSB, Wharton, MIT and Chicago Booth? Do Kellogg and Columbia even make this cut? Hubbard should learn to be a bit more humble, especially coming off a 19% decline in applications.

  • DaredevilBala

    I’m an international aspirant and I don’t think HBS or any of the other top 5 schools are in my radar. But I would like to improve myself and get a good business education. I feel quite deflated after reading the comments from such a respected and influential person such as Prof. Hubbard. I was contemplating taking out a major loan and financing my studies at a top 20 school. But after these candid remarks from a dean of one of the best universities in the world, I have to re-examine my rationale for getting a top 20 MBA. I do feel strongly about wanting to gain knowledge and international exposure at a top American school; it’s always been my dream to get an MBA from the States. But after reading these comments, I have to think through this more carefully. It would have been great if Mr. Byrne had asked Prof. Hubbard what advice he would give students who cannot get into a top 5 school.

  • BostonLogan

    Do you guys consider Fuqua and Hass as top tier schools or as slightly below?

  • IQ

    Great interview. Really surprised by how candid Hubbard was

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    Yes, I understand what you mean. I think as long as people enter a low-ranking program with their eyes wide open, then fair enough. Some low-ranking schools are quite renowned is specific fields, such as Arizona State for supply chain management, and have very satisfied alumni indeed.

    However, there was an article on here a while ago by a Pepperdine MBA grad who ended up having to do an additional human resources masters (not MBA) program at Cornell to get the kind of job he wanted. He could have saved himself 200k, and 2 years of his life, by heading straight to Ithaca.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    PS Having read this “warts and all” interview, it would not surprise me at all if CBS was NOT in his top 4!

  • Notanass

    Dean Hubbard sounds so pretentious.

  • PhillyBro

    You may think Hubbard sounds pretentious, but the fact is that he was extremely candid. Would you prefer he sugarcoat everything and not tell it like it is? I applaud him for this. CBS is the only Ivy League business school in the greatest city in the world. That alone gives them a major advantage. I’m sure students have access to absurd resources because of the Columbia and NYC advantage. Hopefully Hubbard & co capitalize on this for all his talk.

  • Sim

    The top 5 comment is just elitist. It’s an insult to many top schools that have done some terrific work in the field.

  • Camos

    This man is the main cause of columbia decline! I’d suggest the trustees board to fire him today not tomorrow! Only four to Five schools worth to attend!!!??? what about the others??!! he is a prisoner of very narrow view ??!! and Now I understand why he wasn’t selected as secretary of treasury !

  • JimG

    The talk of Columbia’s decline is overhyped. Talk to employers about their opinions of business schools: Columbia is always mentioned in the same breath as Harvard and Stanford. It’s the only Ivy League school in the business capital of the Western world. It routinely doubles the salaries of its incoming students in two years’ time. It’s on the resumes of at least one senior executive for nearly every major consulting/banking/VC/PE/major corporation in the country – and across the world.

    Dean Hubbard is associated with the Bush Administration and Inside Job, so he’s easy to villainize. Look at what he’s accomplished, though. He’s raised nine figures for a sprawling new campus in the most expensive real estate market in the world. He continues to retain interest from Goldman Sachs, BCG, Google, etc., both to hire his students and sponsor his students for six figures each way. He will not allow magazine editor-invented formulas or fluctuations in applicant pool size to defray his confidence in Columbia.

    For those who will attack my background, yes, I am a recent Columbia graduate, and I am proud to be one. I can’t speak for other schools – Columbia is the only school to which I applied, and the only program in which I enrolled. All I can say is that my CBS degree has been worth it, one hundred times over.

  • http://www.facebook.com/braxton.bragg Braxton Bragg

    “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.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/braxton.bragg Braxton Bragg

    Dean Hubbard gives speeches all the time that include many of the opinions he shares in this article and I can assure you that CBS is “in his top 4.”

  • Dreamer

    I think most comments are not directed at Columbia but at his comments on other schools.

  • http://www.facebook.com/braxton.bragg Braxton Bragg

    Thanks, Jim! At CBS now and it has been an amazing experience. Despite a lot of negative hype out there, all anyone has to do is talk to someone who actually has a CBS degree to know that this place is phenomenal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/braxton.bragg Braxton Bragg

    He wasn’t selected as Secretary of the Treasury because Romney didn’t win the election. Columbia isn’t on the decline, anyway–it had one bad year in the BW ranking. This is the same publication that ranked SMU #11 last year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tia.trussardi Tia Trussardi

    Well, that just goes to show that he is rather out of touch with reality then. CBS may be a top 4 school for finance, but generally speaking? No way.

  • AGNY84

    Look. Those comments are his own views. Everyone is entitled to them. He voted for Romney. I may have voted for Obama. Whatever. What I take away from this article is that Hubbard is not trying to inflate Columbia to the public. He is honestly accessing the strengths and weaknesses of the school he runs. This give me confidence in him as an administrator. One can obviously see that he is thinking about it deeply and working overtime to make the school a better place. He knows Uris is not a great building, but is almost done raising $600MM to build another one. He knows business schools will be impacted by online learning, so he is working to take advantage of technological changes to improve the curriculum. He knows that students are overwhelmed by jobs, academics, social life, sleep, etc, so he is working to modify the class schedules. He knows that CBS does not have the financial resources of a peer school like Wharton so he is working to fix this and attract the best students. I wish other deans at other schools were so candid in their own analysis of their schools and discussions with students, faculty, and the public.

  • Jared Lake

    To the Columbia student Mr. Bragg — Columbia is a great school – no doubt about that. Congratulations on making it there – many would give an arm and a leg for such an opportunity. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is the lack of humility and overall attitude of Hubbard. I don’t think most people attack Columbia; in fact, many in Columbia have voiced dissatisfaction over Hubbard’s attitude. Do you believe that Hubbard should have made the point about the top 4? Isn’t that being disrespectful to a number of other peer institutions? Don’t you think comments such as his hurt Columbia? Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest any major difference in an MBA in terms of earnings / opportunities etc among schools ranked 4 to 10. They are all quite closely bunched up. I think Hubbard makes a bad impression on people and as a result it negatively reinforces the perception outsiders have about Columbia MBA grads.

  • JD

    what’s with the overly emotional rant about a guy’s opinion? and ps- it’s “whether” not “weather”

  • Seriously

    If you are rethinking the plans you’ve made for your future simply because of a comment made by one person who has an obvious incentive to make such a comment, then perhaps you didn’t think carefully enough about your plans to begin with.

    You want to listen to someone’s advice about the benefits/rationale for attending a “Top 20” MBA school that is not Columbia or a “Top 5”? Then talk to people who actually have experience with the programs you are targeting instead of listening to someone who has no experience with such programs (and who competes directly with them).

    Believing that Dean Hubbard is qualified to inform your decision about the value proposition any business school holds for you personally is like you dumping your girlfriend because I say that I’ve only met 4 or 5 girls who I think would be worth having as a girlfriend (and unfortunately, yours isn’t one of them). After all, I’ve had girlfriends for all of my adult life, so I’m an expert on all girlfriends!

  • guest

    Only top 5 schools are worth it? That top 5, according to P&Q ranking and the general public, will be Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Booth, Kellogg. What about other elite programs such as Tuck, MIT, and Haas? I totally disagree with Dean Hubbard. It would have been great to see some humility from such a business leader.

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    Can’t say I like his style, but I am impressed with his ability and willingness to introspect about what is broken in his house and lay out his plan to fix it. I have a few friends who got MBAs from CBS and they love that school. They might (arguably) be going through a rough patch, but I think they will come out better and stronger.

  • Camos

    before that, he was a nominee for the treasure many times..but always they find him arrogant.

  • Joe

    Top Tier.

  • NewYorkLaGuardia

    Slightly below. Top tier: Harvard. Next tier: Stanford. After that: Wharton, CBS, Booth. Next: Kellogg & Stern. Followed by: The rest.

  • disqus_VpevPoC8Yu

    I think that’s just your opinion of tiers. I’m not sure what you’re basing that on other than maybe brand name or maybe their

  • Gary Ciolorito

    Stern over Hass and Fuqua? See, this is the type of subjective analysis that depends on one’s perspective. I would put Stern well below Fuqua and Hass. But that’s my perspective. Bottom line is — there are 3 or top schools and then it’s really close among the next ten schools. A lot depends on personal factors and line of work. If someone is interested in Healthcare, I think Fuqua is right up there, if not the best.

  • Mili

    Let’s admit something right now. When it comes to the value of an MBA, the school’s brand matters more than the education you get. It is sad, but true due to the values employers hold. Columbia is an elite institution as are other schools in the top 10. Schools below that level definitely offer value on a resume but not as much as the top 10. Plain and simple. There is nothing pompous about this, it’s just REALITY. If you’re so offended by this, then you don’t get the game.

  • http://twitter.com/SassafrasMBA Sassafras

    The reputation is solidified or soured by individual relationships though. So over time if graduates from CBS (or any other school for that matter) perform below standards, recruiters will take note and they will be less likely to trust the CBS brand. So while I agree that the brand matters above all, the education you get is an integral part of the brand.

  • anon

    buffet: ‘You’re good but you’re not that good.’ Best sentence in this whole article.

  • NewYorkLaGuardia

    Sorry, I mean MIT Sloan, not NYU Stern.

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    True, but part of the reason that schools are so selective is because they want to pick people who they know up front will perform well and be successful with or without them. I doubt that the kind of people who end up at a school like Columbia are going to under perform by and large, regardless of how well or how poorly any of them might claim to have been taught while there.

  • TheGlobeTrotter

    This Hubbard guy is a fraud. You should definitely watch ‘The Inside Job’ as to how arrogant he was and clueless at the same time when asked some uneasy questions.

  • Poppy

    Every BSchool has the dean it deserves. Columbia has Hubbard. Amen.

  • Jason

    This guy is such a tool

  • Par lay vu francsay?

    Hubbard is an arrogant blowhard elitist… what’s ironic is that his lack of initiative and salesmanship of the program is causing increasing student dissatisfaction and declining rankings. I was very interested in applying to CBS until I quickly realized that the school thinks its on HBS/Stanford/Wharton level and rests on its ivy laurels rather than being proactive in the career center and getting prospective students excited about what the school has to offer. Needless to say, I scratched them from my list real quickly.

    My prediction: Hubbard will get canned in the next 2-3 years after CBS continues to slip slightly in the rankings. I really hope for the sake of CBS that it finds a dean that doesn’t just hang out in his ivory tower all day.

  • Par lay vu francsay?

    Spot on Jared — I happen to know quite a few 2012 grads who were less than satisfied with Hubbard’s lackadaisical approach.

  • Par lay vu francsay?

    I beg to differ on multiple claims you are making, particularly on his “efforts to attract top talent.”. If this were true, CBS wouldn’t be so stingy with scholarships and would be far more proactive in outreach to top candidates (like Tuck, Haas, MIT, Johnson, etc. are)

  • Par lay vu francsay?

    CBS might be on par with Booth (debatable, but you could make that argument) but is certainly not in the same class as Wharton

  • Par lay vu francsay?

    Brax ton, I appreciate your passion for CBS, but you can’t honestly say that he s improving CBS….

  • AGNY84

    CBS is stingy with scholarships because he doesn’t have the endowment that other schools like HBS and Booth have to provide scholarships. He’s doing the best he can. He specifically says that its easier to raise money to get a name on a building than to get a scholarship endowed. It’s behavioral psychology. The priority right now is to get a new building. After that, he’ll focus on other priorities such as endowing scholarships.

  • DataDriven

    Watch a little bit of Dean Hubbard in Inside Job

    And btw Columbia is in 7th place after Booth, Kellogg and MIT

    http://poetsandquants.com/2012/12/07/the-top-100-u-s-mba-programs-of-2012/3/

  • angry_pickle

    Is this a surprise? Money talks; and if you carry a big blunt intellectual cudgel, even better.

  • TTN

    I have visited CBS and Wharton and Stanford. CBS is an amazing place, the energy and NYC beats Wharton hands down. Wharton class is very blah.

    Stanford, however, has the best students and class discussion.

  • Occupy Wall Street Movement

    Hubbard is an elitist, power-hungry, nefarious, corrupted and double-dealing official who makes a profit off other people’s demise! Search your conscience, people and wake up!!

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