It was a March day in 2009 when several members of the senior leadership team at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School walked into the dean’s office for an urgent meeting.
Dean Larry Benveniste knew the news was bad. If his coiffed hair had not already been shock white, it certainly would have turned quickly.
“I could see the look on their faces,” he recalls. “They had something to tell me I knew I wasn’t going to like.”
Goizueta Business School had fallen five places to 27th from 22nd the year before, its lowest U.S. News & World Report ranking in years. Only four years earlier, Goizueta had been ranked a solid 18th.
“Oh my,” Benveniste thought. “But I knew this would be the worst because this was the in-between moment and our focus would begin to payoff and we would see better days ahead.”
GOIZUETA POSTED THE BEST PLACEMENT STATS OF ANY TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL LAST YEAR
True enough, that is exactly what happened. The school has since bounced back to a rank of 19th. More importantly, last year no 25 top school did a better job of placing its MBA graduates than Goizueta. Some 91% of the Class of 2012 had job offers by graduation and 98% had offers three months later. That was better than Harvard (95%) or Stanford (90%) or nearby Duke University’s Fuqua School (93%).
The school, moreover, has shown the largest growth in reported salary and bonus among U.S. News’ top 25 schools over the last four years and the only double-digit growth during that time: 18.6%. Average salaries rose to $103,463 last year from $91,074 in recession-plagued 2009, while average bonuses jumped to $25,549 from $17,710.
Behind the impressive numbers is the tale of a leadership group that made painful decisions to dramatically overhaul a school that by all surface accounts was doing just fine. When Benveniste arrived at Goizueta in 2005, succeeding Tom Robertson who moved to Wharton as dean, the school had just achieved its highest U.S. News rank ever, 18th.
A PRESTIGE MBA PROGRAM WITH A SMALL, INTIMATE CULTURE WHERE EVERYONE KNOWS EACH OTHER
Goizueta, named after the legendary CEO of Coca-Cola, was firmly in the top 20 and on the rise. It had a prestige reputation as a high touch, high quality, small and intimate MBA program where faculty put much emphasis on teaching and being accessible to students who knew each other by their first names. As Associate Dean for Full-Time MBA Programs Brian Mitchell puts it, “It’s not just about being small. It’s knowing what to do with small. Intimacy is not a natural condition.”
Beneath the cozy culture and impressive numerical ranking, however, the new dean sensed trouble. The less visible gap between Goizueta and schools directly ahead of it, such as Carnegie Mellon and Cornell, was considerable, largely because Goizueta significantly trailed those schools on placement stats and starting salary numbers. “I had sensed we reached a plateau with the existing strategy and something had to change,” says Benveniste. “When I came, everyone was asking how do we get to the next level. But there just just an enormous difference in the quality of institutions as measured by the value added between the group we were in and the group we are joining now.”
A listening tour by the new dean, a finance professor who had come to Goizueta after an eight-year stint as dean at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, yielded other key insights. Recruiters and alumni felt the MBA graduates coming out of the school could be better prepared, particularly when it came to using more rigorous analytical tools to solve business problems.