Michigan’s Ross vs. Northwestern’s Kellogg

The Ross School of Business’ new ultra-modern building in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and Michigan’s Ross School of Business may very well be more similar to each other than any other two top schools. They attract similar applicants–outgoing, highly collaborative, super smart, down-to-earth. They have similar program strengths, outside of Kellogg’s number one status in marketing. They attract similar corporate recruiters to campus, and grads from both schools tend to go into the same industries by nearly the exact same percentages. The only exception is that Kellogg produces a higher percentage of consultants than Ross.

There are some important differences between these schools, however, not least of which is the challenge for Ross of being near Detroit, one of America’s most troubled cities. “The single biggest misconception about Ross is that we’re all about the auto industry,” says Gene Anderson, senior associate dean of academic affairs. “What happened for us is we’ve gone from being a strong regional school to a strong national school. We now want to get a place in the group of really world-class premier schools.”

The most dramatic differences between these two MBA educational giants?

Geography: Ann Arbor, Mich., and Evanston, Ill., might not immediately come to mind as centers of culture or business. But they are among the most appealing college towns you’ll ever encounter, close American equivalents to Cambridge and Oxford. Evanston has the advantage of being just a 30-minute train ride from the heart of Chicago, one of American’s greatest cities. Chicago is an exciting place to be, with lots of music and cultural attractions. It’s a major advantage for Kellogg, though the downside is obvious: the winters can be absolutely brutal. Ann Arbor, of course, is a quick ride from Detroit, sadly a depressed and declining city that has seen better times.

Size: Michigan and Northwestern have among the biggest MBA programs in the world. Kellogg has a full-time MBA enrollment of 1,241 students, while Ross is slighly smaller, with 910. At either place, there’s a lot going on, from part-time MBA and Executive MBA programs to significant executive education programming. Ross also has a large undergraduate population of nearly 1,100 students. Bottom line: these are not small-scale, intimate settings where there is total focus on the MBA as there would be at Dartmouth’s Tuck School, Stanford, or a few other schools that rank lower.

The “Davidson Winter Garden” has become the gathering place for Ross community.

Culture: Despite its much larger size, Kellogg has managed to create a smart and down-to-earth community that is nearly as close-knit as Stanford or Dartmouth. Students are deeply engaged in every aspect of the school and deeply collaborative with each other. There are many reasons for this difference but probably the most influential one is the fact that Kellogg interviews every applicant to the school so that interpersonnel skills get greater attention than a many other schools. Put highly intelligent, yet friendly and outgoing people together, and you’re going to get a strong culture that approximates a sense of family. Ross isn’t quite Kellogg, but it also isn’t nearly as competitive as some of the top urban schools. “Ross has always had a strong collaborative culture and a willingness to try new things,” says Anderson, who has been at Michigan for 22 years. “You can see it in the way the students interact with each other. It’s a comfortable atmosphere. It’s a friendly place. People are willing to help each other. At some schools, the culture follows an eat-the-wounded credo. That’s not true here.”

Facilities: In early 2009, Ross moved into a brand new 270,000 square-foot, world-class building with 270,000 square foot of very modern space. The new place gives Ross a 320-seat auditorium, a 7,200 square-foot fitness center, along with a dozen tiered, u-shaped classrooms. Yet, the most striking feature of the structure is the “Davidson Winter Garden,” or town square that serves as a gathering place for everyone in the Ross community. “In a way,” says Anderson, “it’s architecture following culture. It creates an enviornment where the whole place comes together: students, faculty and staff.” The school knocked down three buildings to get this one new centerpiece, with about 90,000 additional square footage. In all, the Ross School has six buildings on the University of Michigan campus. The Kellogg School, in contrast, is largely housed in two connected buildings built in 1972, Arthur Andersen Hall and Leverone Hall. A six-story addtion was added to the northeast of Andersen Hall in 2001. Now known as the Donald Jacobs Center, it’s a compact and efficient facility that could use more updating.  A separate executive education facility, the James Allen Center, is a short walk away on Lake Michigan.

Teaching Methods: At both schools, there’s a fairly strong mix of lectures, case studies, experiential learning and simulation. One of the big overall differences between Kellogg and Ross goes to the root of the Kellogg culture: collaborative team work. You would be hard pressed to find a school that requires more work in different teams across the entire two-year experience than Kellogg. Sure, almost all the schools talk the teamwork and collaboration game these days. But Kellogg was the first major business school to make working in teams a core part of the MBA experience. It remains a profound difference between Kellogg and just about every other school. “Part of what makes Kellogg different,” says Dean Sally Blount, “is what is underneath the words ‘team’ and ‘collaborative.’ It’s about making everyone in the room more productive. We get ahead in the world by having everyone win, not by eating someone’s lunch.” That’s what the Kellogg difference is about. The average Kellogg grad will have been in roughly 200 team meetings by the time he or she graduates. Each student grades his fellow teammates on most of the group work and those grades go to the professor so there are no free rides. Some Kellogg grads actually think that the school puts too much emphasis on teamwork and not enough on independent thinking and study, but they tend to be in the minority. Adds former Kellogg Dean Dipak Jain: “I always believed that attitude is the best indicator of aptitude, how high someone will rise. At Kellogg, we bring in people who are best at working with each other and it makes a a difference.”

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