Georgetown McDonough | Mr. Navy Vet
GRE 310, GPA 2.6
Stanford GSB | Mr. Pizza For Breakfast
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
INSEAD | Mr. Behavioral Changes
GRE 336, GPA 5.8/10
Chicago Booth | Ms. IB Hopeful
GMAT 710, GPA 2.77
London Business School | Mr. Indian Banking Leader
GMAT 750, GPA 3.32
Columbia | Mr. Infra-Finance
GMAT 710, GPA 3.68
Kenan-Flagler | Mr. Top Performer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Ms. Comeback Kid
GMAT 780, GPA 2.6
Darden | Mr. Military Communications Officer
GRE Not taken yet, GPA 3.4
Kellogg | Ms. Retail To Technology
GMAT 670, GPA 3.8
Ross | Mr. Top 25 Hopeful
GMAT 680, GPA 3.3
UCLA Anderson | Ms. Qualcomm Quality
GMAT 660, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Ms. Hotel Real Estate
GMAT 730, GPA 3.75
Chicago Booth | Mr. EduTech
GRE 337, GPA 3.9
Yale | Mr. Gay Social Scientist
GMAT 740, GPA 2.75 undergrad, 3.8 in MS
MIT Sloan | Mrs. Company Leader
GMAT 760, GPA 2.92
Wharton | Mr. Cross-Border
GMAT 780, GPA 3.7
UCLA Anderson | Mr. Career Change
GMAT Have yet to take. Consistent 705 on practice tests., GPA 3.5
HEC Paris | Mr. Introverted Dancer
GMAT 720, GPA 4.0
Kellogg | Mr. Safety Guy
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Harvard | Mr. Aspiring FinTech Entrepreneur
GMAT 750, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Fill In The Gaps
GRE 330, GPA 3.21
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Texas Recruiter
GMAT 770, GPA 3.04
USC Marshall | Mr. Strategy Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 4.0
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Entertainment Agency
GMAT 750, GPA 3.8
Chicago Booth | Mr. Quant
GMAT 750, GPA 3.7

Kellogg’s New MBA Gatekeeper: Gatorade’s Kate Smith

Kate Smith, Kellogg’s new director of admissions. Photo by Andreas Larson

It was over a lingering dinner at Convito Café in Wilmette, Ill., that Kate Smith first thought about the possibility of leaving her corporate job and working for her alma mater Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. A 1998 Kellogg MBA, Smith was dining with Roxanne Hori, who had successfully led Kellogg’s MBA placement effort for nearly 17 years.

Leaning over a table at the Italian-French trattoria, Smith confided to Hori that she might be ready for a career change. Kellogg had recently hired Sally Blount, a new dean from New York University, and Smith was keen to know how what Blount had in store for her alma mater.

“’I need to go through a more rigorous self-assessment of where I should go next,’” she recalls telling Hori. “’That said, tell me what’s going on at Kellogg right now because I’m so intrigued by Sally and what I’ve read and what I see coming. You’re in the middle of it. Tell me what’s going on.’”

By the time she and Hori walked out of the restaurant and onto the Sheridan Road sidewalk, Smith had decided she wanted to be a part of Kellogg’s new leadership team. After a series of interviews in late 2011, she was hired and arrived during the midst of the round-two application deluge in February of this year as assistant dean of admissions and financial aid. For someone who had spent the past 14 years working for some of the biggest consumer brands in America at General Mills, Quaker Oats, and PepsiCo, the MBA admissions game seems at first an odd fit.

FROM MARKETING GATORADE TO POPULATING KELLOGG WITH THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST

But Smith, 42, who left her job as senior director of marketing for Gatorade to join Kellogg, recalls an early desire walking the hallways of Kellogg as an MBA student to someday return to the university in a working capacity. Over her corporate years, she stayed close to the school, returning to interview and recruit MBA students as well as to participate in classroom and panel discussions on marketing.

And in nearly every way, Smith is the quintessential Kellogg grad: an exceptionally bright and engaging person with infectious enthusiasm and passion—especially for the school. “I am literally here as a byproduct of the experience that Kellogg is,” she says. “I loved Kellogg. I was thrilled to be admitted and accepted here and it was an amazing experience.”

          SMITH’S FIRST CLASS OF KELLOGG MBAS     

Born in Minnesota, the six-foot-three-inch Smith was a hot basketball prospect in high school. Some 100 colleges and universities vied to recruit her. Smith ultimately went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she became captain of the women’s basketball squad. She graduated in the 1992 recession with a marketing degree. “There weren’t any great marketing roles for an undergraduate in that era,” says Smith. “So as I looked at my opportunities and I followed another path: commercial real estate.” Two years into it, however, and the desire to do marketing was felt. Kellogg became the obvious choice for a career-switching MBA.

In her first season as Kellogg’s gatekeeper, Smith saw applications to Kellogg’s full-time MBA program fall by 7% to 5,071 from 5,459. Interestingly, though, applications to Kellogg’s one-year MBA program rose 6% and the school increased the size of its one-year program by 15% to a record 100 students. In July, Smith unveiled an entirely new slate of essay questions for this season’s MBA applicants while cutting the total word limit to 1,525 words from 2,200.

What makes Kellogg’s admissions virtually unique is that the school requires all applicants to request an admissions interview. No business school interviews more applicants in any given year. About 67% of those interviews are done by alums, 26% by Smith’s admissions staff of eight full-time staffers, with the remaining sessions done by current Kellogg students.

In a lengthy interview with Poets&Quants, Smith explains the process Kellogg uses to select its MBA students as well as the core characteristics it seeks in an ideal MBA candidate. And Smith explains why she quit her job to return to the school she loves.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.