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Wharton AdCom Makes An Abrupt Exit

Ankur Kumar is leaving as Wharton's MBA admissions director

Ankur Kumar is leaving as Wharton’s MBA admissions director

Five days after a critical story on Wharton in The Wall Street Journal, Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid Ankur Kumar has resigned her job.

Kumar, who had been in the position for just two years, apparently told staff last week that she was resigning. In a note to colleagues on Wednesday–two days before the publication of the Journal article–Kumar said she had been “pursuing several different opportunities in New York City in the past few months.”

In a blog post today to Wharton’s prospective applicants, Kumar announced that her last day would be Oct. 4. “As they say, all good things must come to an end, and after nearly five years–and one of the most professionally and personally rewarding experiences–it’s time for new adventures,” wrote Kumar.

The timing of her announcement is both unusual and awkward, coming only one day after Wharton’s round one deadline.  “It’s like Santa Claus quitting on Dec. 24th after spending the summer touring shopping malls around the world asking toddlers what they wanted for Christmas,” said Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a leading MBA admissions consultant.

NOT AN IMPETUOUS DECISION

“This is not a decision I made impetuously; I did not want to start an application cycle that I could not commit to finishing. Nothing would be less fair to you, to my team, the school, and our alumni and other important stakeholders. It has been an absolute privilege to serve my alma mater in this role and a true honor to bring five incredible classes to the MBA program.”

Her abrupt resignation means that the school will end up having five different admission directors in just eight years, a highly unusual amount of turnover at such a prominent business school. Her predecessor, J.J. Cutler, also left after two years in 2011, only to return to Aramark where he had worked as marketing. Thomas Caleel took over the job in 2005 with the departure of Rose Martinelli who left for the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. But Caleel left within three years in 2008.

In an Oct. 2 memo to students and faculty, Wharton School Dean Tom Robertson said that the admissions team will continue to operate under Maryellen Lamb, the school’s former careers director who was named deputy vice dean in September for M.B.A. admissions, financial aid and career management.

LED WHARTON TO RECORD ENROLLMENTS OF FEMALE MBA STUDENTS

To her credit, Kumar helped to lead Wharton to record female enrollment, even when applications were declining. For years, the percentage of women enrolled in top-ranked business schools stubbornly remained in the 33% to 36% range. Kumar helped Wharton assume a lead over all top schools three years ago by putting together an incoming class that was composed of 40% women. The following year she did even better, pushing the number of first-year women to 45% of the class. “It’s a pretty significant accomplishment especially during a downward trend in application volume,” added Stacey Oyler, an admissions consultant with Clear Admit.

And though applications continued to decline this past year, the MBA class that entered this fall boasts record GMAT scores–a 725 average, up seven points from the previous year.

Dean Robertson noted her accomplishments in his memo today. “Under Ankur’s leadership,” he wrote, “the MBA program reached record breaking enrollment of women, with an unprecedented five years in a row of 40% or more women in the class. In addition, the entrepreneurial community grew triple fold. Under Ankur, MBA Admissions also emerged as an innovator in evaluation, with the successful launch of the Team Based Discussion as part of the admissions process last year. Ankur has been an outstanding administrator, an exemplar alumna, and an important asset to the school.”

Still, for Kumar, who joined Wharton’s admissions staff as senior associate director in 2009, it has been a turbulent ride. In the past five years, applications to Wharton’s MBA program have fallen by 17.2%. Kumar had earlier attributed the decline to new competition from B-schools in Europe and Asia. But while many rival schools also suffered declines, the falloffs have not been nearly as steep and in the past year applications to many peer schools have turned around. Not at Wharton where the school had a 5.8% drop. Rival Chicago Booth reported a 10% increase. Finance rival and powerhouse Columbia Business School had a 7% rise, and Harvard was also up, with a more modest 4% increase.

Many believe her decision to leave was prompted by year after year of application declines. “I’m sorry to see her go,” said Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted.com, another prominent admissions consulting firm. “It is not unusual for admissions directors to resign or be “reassigned” if applications dip. My guess is that she decided to go before she was shown the door.”