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

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 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.


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • 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.