Emory’s Goizueta School: Anatomy Of A Turnaround Few Knew Was Needed

by John A. Byrne on

Dean Larry Benveniste of Emory’s Goizueta Business School

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.

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  • sgarden

    These numbers are very impressive. Kudos to GBS. A very insightful article at just the right time.

  • http://twitter.com/SassafrasMBA Sassafras

    Really great article! One thing that I find worrisome the reduction in the number of international students. Employability is important, but the rankings have made the school prioritize employment stats over potential diversity and applicant quality. I obviously can’t know for sure that they missed out by reducing the percentage of internationals, but they decreased the number for the wrong reasons. If internationals are harder to employ, the school could have sought to address that through its career center. Instead, they cut the number by 25% in order to ensure higher placement rates and therefore higher rankings. I don’t like to see the rankings driving program design.

  • Ricardo

    Emory still has about 40% of the class as international students. I think what they wanted to say is that Emory reduced the number of international without company sponsorship.

  • theKomodo

    Excellent article, John! Goizueta is one of the best schools outside of the Ultra Elites and Elites.

  • Realist

    It’s a great article. I went as an undergrad and even my friends in Wharton’s undergrad program admitted that they weren’t doing some of the coursework I was doing. I landed very well after graduation. Emory is continuously undervalued by those in the Northeast that focus on name brands only and that people who take jobs in the South are naturally getting lower paid positions than in NY or CA. So what if I take a consulting or IB job in Atlanta? Should Emory’s ranking be lower simply because the salaries are not at NY levels?

  • EMORIAN

    for me it is an ultra elite school.

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