Is Carlson As Good As Ross or Haas? Sri Zaheer Thinks So

If Dean Sri Zaheer could wave a magic wand to improve the standing of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, what would she wish for?

To have the Carlson School mentioned in the same breath as two of the best business schools at public universities in the world: the University of Michigan’s Ross School and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“We’re just as good or better than they are,” she insists, ticking off a list of attributes to make her case.

  • A highly admired faculty with superstars in such core areas as marketing, strategy, organizational behavior, and social media.
  • An impressive slate of corporate recruiters who have helped Carlson post job placement rates that exceed most of the very best business schools in the past two years.
  • An intimate student culture where classes are small and MBA candidates know each other and the faculty by first name.
  • A loyal alumni network with senior executives who have climbed to visible positions at Deloitte, 3M, Target, UnitedHealth Group, Toro, Polaris, and Medtronic.

“Our student outcomes are great,” says Zaheer, a 58-year-old dynamo of a dean. “We’re hands-on and high touch. What we offer our full-time MBA students is a boutique educational experience, customized to their individual needs. All the students know each other by their first names. They get attention.”

LAST YEAR 97% OF CARLSON GRADS HAD JOB OFFERS THREE MONTHS AFTER GRADUATION

Last year, Carlson matched such schools as Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Harvard Business School, and Columbia Business School for the best placement record three months after graduation (see MBA Jobs Back For Class of 2011). Some 97% of Carlson’s MBAs had job offers in hand 90 days after receiving their degrees.

The 3% “unemployment rate” was five times better than Ross, where 15% of the class still failed to land a job offer three months after graduation, and nearly three times better than Berkeley, where 8% were without offers.

What’s more, Carlson’s MBAs reported average salary and bonus of $115,988 last year—impressive for a school in Minneapolis and comparable to Michigan’s $130,688 or Berkeley’s $136,576 after the difference in cost-of-living is factored into the numbers. Though all the data is not yet in, Zaheer says Carlson’s Class of 2012 has fared just as well if not better. Starting salaries for this year’s graduating MBA class were up $5,000.

Zaheer, who came to Carlson 20 years ago as an assistant professor after completing her PhD in international management at MIT’s Sloan School, was drafted to be interim dean in 2011 when Alison Davis-Blake departed for Michigan’s Ross School. After a nine-month stint as interim boss, the school named her dean in March of 2012.

Her main challenge has to do with her magic wand wish. It is to overcome a perception that the school is merely regional player. “We want to make sure we get recognized for what we are,” she says. “Our location is a blessing and a curse. We have these amazing relationships with Fortune 500 companies that are in our backyard, but our location is a challenge because we have to change the perception that we are a local or regional school.”