Across the pond, at London Business School, 91% of the Class of 2010 found employment within three months of graduation, a 10-percentage point improvement over the previous year. Those MBAs gained median base salaries of $105,280; many with $24,100 signing bonuses and $24,100 guaranteed year-end bonuses. Some 38% of the class—the largest single group–went into the once-devastated financial services arena.
At these top schools, there also is no shortage of highly qualified applicants. For the latest crop of students who will make up the Class of 2012, Harvard had its pick from the second largest number of applicants in its history—9,524 for 910 seats in the first-year class—an increase of 5% over 2009. This year’s entering class had the highest GMAT score (722) in Harvard’s history.
Harvard’s advantages, of course, are the envy of the business school world. The school’s resources are so expansive, its financials so rich, that it could easily be a university itself. Some 33 separate buildings, from a massive fitness center to a small, quiet chapel, adorn its 40-acre campus alongside the Charles River. Only two months ago, the school received a $50 million gift from Indian entrepreneur Ratan Tata for a 34th building—a new academic and residential center for executive education. The school’s $2.3 billion endowment casts a shadow over all rivals. In comparison, the endowment at Stanford is $825 million, at Wharton, $800 million, and at Columbia, $410 million.
A new Harvard dean, Nitin Nohira, is promising to pursue “bold, brave things” that will set the course for the entire field of management education over the next 100 years. Just five months into his deanship, Nohira has yet to clearly articulate a vision for his school’s direction. In stump speeches before alums, he has talked about what Harvard is now calling the “five I’s: innovation, intellectual ambition, internationalization, inclusion, and integration (increasing connection with the rest of the university).
For all the politically correct talk that comes out of Harvard these days, the school remains a business boot camp. In the first-year “required curriculum,” MBA candidates must read, absorb and debate some 270 case studies in 10 courses, often fighting for “air time” with equally clever students just as eager as they are to score points with professors.
Yet, the school has worked hard to make itself less a competitive hot house than a more nurturing environment. Recalls second-year Justine Leichuk, co-president of the MBA Student Association: “When I first arrived and was welcomed to the school, the dean told us to ‘look to your left and look to your right. These people will be sitting next to you on the graduation platform.’ It was such a welcoming statement, so different from what you might hear about Harvard. There’s the old story about a dean who said that a certain percentage of the people to your right and left wouldn’t make it. That’s not true anymore. The school wants you to succeed here and thrive.”
Students say Harvard doesn’t live up to its reputation as a place that only attracts people with sharp elbows and cutting comments. “It’s not cutthroat,” insists Brett Gibson, the other co-president of the MBA Student Association. “So many classmates helped each other get jobs this past recruiting season. No one hoards his or her contacts. We’re like family. When one of our section mates was in the hospital, six of us went out to visit him. In times of difficulty, we rally around the people who are down; in good times, we celebrate together.”
Whether Harvard or London, Chicago or INSEAD, the good times seem to be coming back. “When you talk to recruiters, they argue that MBAs offer incredible value for money,” says David Wilson, CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council. “Our surveys show that 99% reported satisfaction with the MBAs they’ve hired. That is the highest level of satisfaction we’ve recorded and that was in May of this year. In 1999, there was softening in the number of MBAs hired but now nine out of ten MBAs in 2010 (versus 84% in 2009) now have a job.”
And Harvard is on top again. (The complete list of the top 100 U.S. B-schools follows).