How Indiana’s Kelley School Became No. 1 In MBA Satisfaction

by John A. Byrne on

Philip Powell was faculty chair of Kelley's full-time MBA program when bad ranking news came in

Philip Powell was faculty chair of Kelley’s full-time MBA program when bad ranking news came in

In November of 2010, Philip Powell was in the middle of a class teaching MBA students economics when he felt his buzzing Blackberry vibrate. The text message from one of his associate deans was not good.

Powell, then faculty chair of the full-time MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, waited until after class to read the short message. It revealed that the school had slipped four places overall in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s biennial ranking of MBA programs to 19th, its weakest showing in eight years.

Even worse, the school sank to 29th in student satisfaction, a tumble of more than 20 places and an unusually low score for a hidden gem of an MBA program known for its collaborative and innovative culture as well as its top-flight teaching faculty. “At least we’re still in the Top 20,” his colleague wryly noted. Rather than absorb the news in his office, Powell was so disturbed he went straight to the library’s coffee shop to sit alone with the consequences.

‘I SPENT THE MONTH SHELL-SHOCKED AND IN MOURNING’

“I was devastated,” recalls Powell, an intense and frenetic academic who had only taken over the full-time MBA program five months earlier. “I take this stuff personally. I thought two things: I was very upset but I had to make sure I didn’t wear this on my sleeve because I could bring everybody down. Secondly, I thought I won’t have a chance for retribution for another two years. This is going to be a long journey. Not only did I take over the MBA program in the dark days of the Great Recession. I now had to turn this thing around. I basically spent the next month shell-shocked and in mourning.”

What made the disapproval especially painful was the fact that the school has long kept its MBA class sizes intentionally small and close-knit, with just 204 full-time students in the latest entering class. The idea is to create a intimate learning experience with highly accessible and surprisingly dedicated faculty. The B-school professors here offer generous office hours, dinner parties and tailgating events. They even come in on the weekends to give pre-exam reviews to classes and to meet one-on-one with students.

“Sometimes, I can’t even get a parking space on Sundays because there are so many faculty and students here,” says Dean Idalene “Idie” Kesner. The total faculty on Kelley’s Bloomington campus—229 at last count—is actually larger than the school’s annual MBA intake. That’s largely because of the school’s more sizable undergraduate business program. But it allows Dean Kesner to pick and choose only the very best teachers to put in front of MBAs.

A SCHOOL WITH A HIGHLY COLLABORATIVE CULTURE AND A REPUTATION AS AN MBA INNOVATOR

Through the years, the Kelley School has fashioned a reputation as a true MBA innovator, from being one of the few programs that give a single grade for the entire core curriculum to having a series of first-year academies that provide experiential learning, consulting projects and coaching to students interested in six core areas that range from capital markets and strategic finance to consulting and supply chain management. Kelley essentially delivers a life-transforming customized MBA experience. Individual and team coaching is so prevalent that each student gets as many as 90 hours of coaching over the course of the two-year program from faculty, staff, and fellow MBA candidates.

So getting such punishing grades from its own graduating students dealt the school a significant blow to its pride—and the high touch, collaborative model of graduate education Kelley had long embraced.

What Powell and his Kelley colleagues did to right the ship is a case study in how a top business school responds to a rankings decline that could wreck havoc with reputation, application volume and corporate recruiter interest. Within two years, the school’s leaders completely turned the situation around. Last year, no full-time MBA program beat Kelley in BusinessWeek’s student satisfaction poll where it skyrocketed to the number one position from 29 in 2010. Overall, the school bounced back to a rank of 15th in the U.S.

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  • Tara

    Awesome turnaround and truly well deserved for Kelley! :D

  • http://www.UrbanTurbanGuy.com UrbanTurbanGuy

    Awesome stuff, Phill & Idie. You guys rock!

  • Jess Kapadia

    Great article… Professor Powell, you are a rock star. Your genuine care and concern for your students is nothing short of extraordinary. It made me really happy to see this.

  • Allison Hardy

    Great article! Makes me want to come back for another go-round. Thanks for your commitment and responsiveness.

  • Adi

    Excellent Article. Studying here currently and can vouch for whatever is written here.

  • elvasco1

    Great article! I’m also currently a Kelley student and simply love the school and program. I can tell you, just last semester I took an IT Management course that took a new approach (which included meeting with the professor before large case studies due dates). At the time we didn’t know it was any different than how it was conducted before, but at the end, the professor and Kelley explained the differences and asked us for extensive feedback. While I can’t tell you firsthand how much better it was being that I hadn’t attended the prior format, I thoroughly enjoyed the class and more importantly was so pleased and surprised at the genuine interest in the students approval that was presented by the school and professor.

  • M Ryne Peddycord

    Just finished my Kelley Undergrad, I can’t do the MBA program because I are not smarts, but this was a cool read.

  • KelleyIntlGrad

    As an international alumnus, I find the comment the comment about international students’ frustrations with the career services funny…that they don’t buy into informational interviews & networking and what not. I honestly think Kelley is not the best place for foreign students. Most companies that visit kelley are all very traditional. Back when I was in school, almost 90% of them did not even allow international students to attend their info sessions. We didn’t even get a chance to touch base with them, let alone network & set up info interviews. There was this really huge brick wall. Only a couple of them would let us in & those were definitely not the most exciting ones. The career services did not really help us navigate this block. The director wouldn’t even hear us out. She had a separate point person for intl students who had no clue. It was not that we did not buy in, it was more to do with how difficult it was to network for us & the career services team didn’t really help us in sorting out those difficulties. Hope all of this has changed for the better!

  • John.Hollfe

    I am a first year MBA student in the Kelley MBA program and can attest to the many great things the program offers and this article is truly a good representation of the student bodies satisfaction and the commitment of the faculty.

  • John Hollfelder

    As a first year MBA student in the Kelley MBA program, I can attest to the student’s satisfaction and the dedication of the faculty. Students and alumni both have a lot of passion for the program, and in my opinion is a key differentiation from other top MBA programs.

  • Kelleygrad

    “We are this incredible hidden gem,”. Absolutely. The Kelley MBA program is a solid midwest program, with a midwest focus. It (career services) hasn’t worried about expanding beyond (beyond consumer goods and the rest of the good old midwest firms) and is not interested either, and that will limit its scope.

  • Amar

    Kelley MBA program indeed is a GEM! I learned amazing things from those amazing professors and enriched my academics and my professional skills. The location is awesome, and Bloomington is a real hep city. Those two years there were really fantastic. Some Professors including Kesner, Morgan, Boquist, Walters, Smart, Shockley are stars! So much to learn from them!

    Having said that, I completely agree with what ‘KelleyIntlGrad’ had to say. The comment made by Ray Luther is funny and irresponsible, and only underscores his ignorance. Each international student has a solid educational and professional background coming into the MBA program (that is the only reason why they are chosen), but the very unwillingness of Midwestern Companies to hire them limit their ability to effectively network. I mean, just imagine all the hard work & time spend in choosing a company and reaching out to people, only to note later that they are not open to international candidates. THAT is frustrating. The problem is exacerbated by the that pathetic Kelley’s Career Services. We joked among ourselves that Rhonda (the lady at the Career Services desk) was better in helping the international students than those ‘phony career guides/coaches’ appointed to help us.

    GCS is effective and helpful for American students, but for international candidates, they were just inadequate, and the guides there were like jokers. The school is non-existent for companies in west/east coast, and no work is done to bridge that gap. That also limits international students’ ability to network and get their dream jobs.

  • Pathik Bhatt

    What an excellent case study of what happens when people care! Phil is one of the reasons I signed up for Kelley Direct (the online MBA) over another big Chicago school (if you know me you’ve heard this story multiple times). The week before I had to make my decision, Phil personally reached out and had a nice long phone conversation to answer all my questions. We also talked about ME Inc. during that call, and I remember being very impressed. It honestly does feel like the Kelley staff and faculty are looking out for you – and I’m proud to say that I’ll be joining this team in a month (and that I get to call Phil my colleague)!

  • Reinvest

    I partly agree and partly disagree with this article. Though the business school including faculty is good it is not the right place for international students as well as domestic ones looking for a career at wall street. Hardly any core finance company visits campus. Those which do come hardly hire any international students.

    Kelley MBA program is a low profile very midwest and marketing docussee program. At times we finance major students felt like unwanted kids among beloved marketing folks.

  • KelleyMBACurrent

    Hi Amar,
    I am a current international student at Kelley and have been in school for over a year and a half now. I completely agree with you that a lot of companies on campus do not hire internationals and that becomes a huge challenge for students like us. At the same time, as of today I can vouch for this article because right from the time i stepped onto campus, be it Me Inc. or the staff at GCS (i understand there has been many changes at GCS in last couple of years and many staff members joined after the last rankings when students spoke out against GCS), I got such personal training that I am sure i would not have got in any other school. This was further solidified after the internship when i got a chance to talk to students of some of the best schools in the world. I assume that things have changed a lot since you graduated based on reading your post, especially GCS!
    In fact, now GCS is taking a lot of initiative to help international students and I wanted to share those with you because I know exactly how frustrating it can get for internationals when companies say ” you have the perfect profile, unfortunately we do not hire internationals..”. GCS started an initiative called “h-1b in a box” this year after receiving feedback from international students of our class last year. This is mainly to help companies, who do not sponsor intl. students, get legal help so that they can no longer give the excuse that they don’t have the resources to sponsor. I think this is very unique to Kelley and it will be interesting to see how future classes benefit from it.
    We also gave feedback that in order for international students to get placed, it was important for big tech firms to come on campus. I heard that folks from GCS spent the summer in the west coast this year and now Amazon, Microsoft and other big names have started hiring Kelleys in a big way. Same with consulting companies, this year we have had the cream of consulting companies come on campus and this was great news for us internationals. So Kelley is spreading to the coasts, slowly which is really great.
    I know that what Ray said about networking stings, however from my own experience and now with my experience of mentoring international students through the networking process, I see that we usually are not good at it and it takes a lot of effort to break into the dream firms. For me, GCS played a huge role in helping me compete with the best of the best. In fact, I feel personally connected to the GCS staff because they went out of their way to help me be a better candidate (living the Kelley culture!).
    Because of the support and training I got, I can see very distinct changes in me in the last year; and its all thanks to my seniors, classmates and Kelley. After reading your remark, I felt I should write and share what’s happening at Kelley today and also that while the things you mentioned about GCS may have been true in the past, it is a completely different story now. In fact, if you have the chance, you should visit and see for yourself! It feels like a family here and its sad that this will end after a semester for me!

    Best wishes!

  • KelleyMBA

    KelleyMBACurrent, As a current student I’m sure you know how career services works. It is a closed group and if you know the people inside well (esp the head of career services), you can do really well (get interviews slots easily etc.). Most international students who get off-campus jobs do so on their own. In fact, career services has a horrible track record of connecting with alumni (many of whom have lost interest because the head of career services does not respond and does not show any interest).

    Unfortunately, this article was not about how bad career services is but how good the school otherwise has done. As someone mentioned, the faculty is good and most of us have learnt a lot. Unfortunately, career services is a stain on an otherwise excellent experience and Phil should now look at revamping career services now ! I’m sure he’ll do a great job. It should be easy – remove the existing staff (some been there for 15 to 20 years) and fill it up with energetic people who know there’s life outside the midwest.

  • RacismisAliveandWell

    The same international lack of support also occurs at schools such as Ross. It seems like only white bread and butter domestic Caucasian kids get the corporate jobs. The internationals are forced into recruiting for consulting or banking even if they don’t want to because companies won’t sponsor them or want people with funny accents who doesn’t sound as smart because they are not articulate enough to work in their companies.

  • MITSloanisM7

    A great gem for the Midwest only…. Google doesn’t care about you, either does MBB or top BB IBD firms. Only CPG marketing and companies that recruit at the Vanderbilt, UNC, USC, and Emory level. It’s still a 100k job but ain’t elite. Sorry.

  • rohunr

    What Kelley does is well, is place students with companies/firms that are good fits for them. They also do a solid job of providing the tools and skill sets needed to network and find jobs with firms that don’t recruit at Kelley (a tool that might be needed post MBA). That’s why Kelley does place students at Google, McKinsey, Bain, I-banking firms etc. All my other points were highlighted by TomR below, but I would like to say I do not understand putting down a group of students or a school you never attended for no reason. I understand being an alumni and having complains about a process or program, but if you never went to Kelley, why go out of your way to bash it?

  • Renault

    i missed you, bro.

  • hangtime79

    Maybe its because I have been out seven years and I could really care less for the ratings game but so your point is unless Google somehow graces themselves with their presence you in fact less of a school? So being a the business head of a billion dollar CPG brand isn’t somehow “leet”?

    I know people that work for Google. They are extremely intelligent, typically much younger, unattached, and willing to give 80 hours a week. That wasn’t me. That’s not what I was looking for but others want that. The key is to try to understand what you want out of an MBA program.

    Indiana does something very well, places students in the Midwest and Northeast in corporate finance (actual FP&A roles, not IBD) and CPG. It does this so well that you had a better chance of getting one of these coveted roles (I know right, why would I want to work in CPG when I can go to McKinsey?) then going to just about any other school other then Northwestern. That’s not to say you can’t do it from Sloan or any other school and just like someone from Indiana can’t get a job with McKinsey (which I know 3).

    Not every school is for every student. If you want to be a CPG rockstar I would go to Northwestern or Indiana. You want to be a Finance Quant Jock, I would go to Sloan, Booth, or Tepper. If I wanted Investment Banking I would do Booth, Wharton, or Harvard. If I wanted consulting I would look at the bigger classes like Sloan, Harvard, Northwestern because those companies need 120+ people to apply to feel out their associate programs.

    Not every school is good at every specialty and ranking MBA programs against each other in aggregate I think is a fools errand. Students enter MBAs for extremely different reasons. Some want to live the consulting life, some want to go to the sell-side, some to the buy-side, some want to tap into their creativity, some want to go to non-profits. The key is not trying to find the “absolute” best program, but find the best program for you and your future.

    So please leave the elite business behind. That’s for the 23 – 25 year olds. Those of us who are older and have gone through the process know better.

  • MikeV

    I am currently enrolled in the Kelley Direct program and can say that this article is right on. The quality and energy of the staff is incredible. If you want to learn from the best this is the place to be.

  • Matt

    He didn’t even just bash your school, but pulled in Vanderbilt, UNC, USC, and Emory too by implying they all have similarly weak recruiting. I agree it seems so uncalled for.. This is nothing new for P&Q though!

    (UNC student here)

  • SMU Cox Grad

    At SMU Cox School of Business, the CMC is very clueless on how to place internationals. I agree the CMC’s job is not to secure placements, but instead it does a bad job on getting companies that hire internationals to campus. Other than the few investment banking firms and the two consulting firms (Deloitte and PwC), internationals have almost zero choice on getting placed with a good brand.
    Infact, in my opinion internationals are given admits only because they have high GMAT scores which enables the school in the Business week rankings.

  • JohnAByrne

    SMU Cox Grad,

    To be fair, what you are experiencing is pretty common. Many of the companies that recruit in the U.S. do not want to go through the hassle of getting visas for international graduates. So getting a job with those companies is naturally a more difficult proposition. There is a core group of global companies who know how to do this well, but they are not in the majority.

    Also, just to clarify, GMAT scores are NOT a part of the BusinessWeek ranking methodology. They are a component of the annual ranking published by U.S. News & World Report, but not BusinessWeek which only measures three things: student satisfaction, corporate recruiter sentiment, and published research by a school’s professors.

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