Ultimately, however, one of Tufano’s biggest challenges at Oxford is the school’s lack of critical mass. The school is small, so it will take more time for the B-school to enjoy name recognition in the right circles. The school currently ranks ninth among non-U.S. schools in Poets&Quants’ 2011 ranking of the best MBA programs, up from 11 a year earlier. The business school’s alumni network is also tiny: 2,321 alums vs. Harvard’s 43,347. The Oxford imprimatur helps, of course, given Oxford’s status as one of the world’s great universities.
Still, lacking that critical mass of MBAs, the school isn’t as instantly attractive to recruiters, who like variety when they visit campuses. Indeed, one recent graduate told Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “careers support is still embryonic at Oxford, and not well connected to the U.S. market, where I intend to return. I was warned by a sibling at Harvard, but I didn’t listen.”
If you think that Tufano’s solution is to double the size of the program, you – and he – are out of luck. Saïd is closely checked by the university, which must not grow, literally, too big for its britches if it’s to keep the locals happy. “I’m not free to double size of my class,” he says. Is that maddening? “Sure, I’d love to be able to expand my class faster than I can…. but any large organization has its own set of rules and bureaucracy. Until you get used to them, they’re surprising. I have found far more similarities to Oxford and HBS. Maybe that’s because they are both elite institutions. The biggest difference is the collegiate system, which is both a restraining and tremendous asset.”
Luckily, the students coming to Saïd are attractive by the usual b-school standards. The MBA class draws from 51 countries, and they report respectable, average GMAT scores of 690. They have more work experience than most U.S. B-schools, with an average six years on their CVs before they arrive to Oxford. The school’s MSc in Financial Economics program, another nugget with just 82 students, is also well regarded.
Until the school grows and graduates more students, Tufano will also have to work harder to keep his alumni happy. “They want the same things that alumni at other business schools have: opportunities to get together, but also deep intellectual engagement with the school. We’re young. We’re small. It’s a logistics nightmare to put our 60 professors on planes, send them around the world and satisfy our alumni. We cannot deliver that in the same way that schools with 10 times the alumni and faculty can. But the good news is that our alumni are relatively young. They use social networking all the time. So we’re asking, ‘how do we (maintain) a set of relationships, face-to-face, and virtually… to set up a model to continue to engage our alumni?’”
There’s a glimmer of hope in sight. Just outside of Tufano’s office is the shell of a new building for the school, its second new build since opening. It will have all the usual bells and whistles: new lecture theaters, breakout meeting rooms and social spaces. And it should allow Tufano to us to expand his MBA program a bit. “It’s tough,” he says. “We’ve been in discussion with university to have another stream of MBAs. It’s not quite nailed down, but we’d have capacity to do that with new building. And to expand exec ed a little bit, and more important to combine what exec ed does with our MBA and EMBAs. Currently, the Templton location [for executive education] is two miles away. It would be far better if our exec ed pograms were here, so faculty and students could interact more.”
Any plans to expand are aided by the fact that Saïd’s namesake, Wafic Saïd, remains the school’s benefactor. “He is a remarkable philanthropist, and continues to be a tremendous asset to our school,” Tufano says of his initial £20 million donation, and subsequent £15 million gift toward the new building. “His father was one of the foremost educators in Syria, which is why he’s so interested in business. He’s the perfect patron: from what I can tell, he is deeply respectful of the school, and doesn’t second guess what we’re doing.”
Tufano has spent most of his adult life at Harvard, where he earned top grades for his BA in economics, an MBA and a PhD in Business Economics. A well-published academic, he enjoyed a steady rise through the Harvard ranks. And when Tufano wasn’t convincing the larger Harvard community to share their toys, he was advancing the field of consumer finance. This work, blending finance, psychology, sociology, history, and management, has influenced businesses and policy makers, lead to two changes in US federal tax policy, new models for savings products, and new approaches to financial education, according to the press release that announced his arrival. He also authored 50 case studies and created new courses at Harvard.