BusinessWeek’s MBA Rankings Guru

An older BusinessWeek cover trumpeting the magazine’s influential business school rankings

When Bloomberg BusinessWeek last ranked the world’s best full-time MBA programs two years ago, there was much carping over the fact that Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business did so well. Astonishingly, the Dallas-based school, which was ranked 54th earlier this year by U.S. News & World Report, received a ranking of 12 from BusinessWeek.

The magazine, which largely ranks business schools on the basis of graduate and corporate recruiter satisfaction, found that Cox ranked sixth on the recruiter portion of its survey, ahead of Stanford University, Columbia Business School, MIT Sloan, Dartmouth’s Tuck School and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. The opinions of corporate recruiters have a 45% weight in BusinessWeek’s ranking, while graduate satisfaction accounts for another 45%. The remaining 10% comes from a measurement of published “intellectual capital” by the school’s faculty.

Louis Lavelle, a BusinessWeek associate editor who is the resident rankings guru at the magazine, tells Poets&Quants that SMU’s peculiar ranking success led the magazine to change its methodology of ranking business schools. So when the new 2012 ranking comes out on Nov. 15th , the Cox School is in for something of a hit that will in all probability cause a tumble out of the top 20 schools.

“Everyone was saying it didn’t pass the smell test,” explains Lavelle in an interview with Poets&Quants. “We looked at why that was happening and the reason was we had some schools, like SMU, that had very few recruiter mentions—not a really deep base of recruiters—but that small base was wildly enthusiastic about the school.”

Lou Lavelle of Bloomberg BusinessWeek

When Lavelle and his team begin the countdown of the top schools at noon EST in a live chat room, the 2012 list will reflect the correction in the way that BusinessWeek calculates its recruiter scores. The change is rather complicated, but the bottom line is that schools with few recruiter mentions that are all highly positive will no longer have an advantage over schools with many mentions (see BW’s actual description of how it will change its methodology at the end of this article).

It’s one of several changes that Lavelle is putting in place for the much-anticipated biennial ranking next month. While he won’t reveal whether the University of Chicago’s Booth School retains its number one ranking for the fourth consecutive time, Lavelle does say that BusinessWeek surveyed graduates at more schools (initially 114 in total) than ever before for the ranking. It is expected to rank more than 60 domestic MBA programs and close to 20 non-U.S. programs.

Lavelle and his team has also put through major changes in the visual display of business school profile information, adding more photos, video, tables and graphs, and contextual data. A new web tool will allow users to select from more than 100 data points across some 200 schools so they can see how each stacks up against each other on specific criteria.

The 52-year-old Lavelle, who does not have an MBA, took over as the magazine’s business schools editor in 2005, after a stint as BusinessWeek’s management editor. He is a hardcore journalist. Prior to BusinessWeek, Lavelle was a reporter at The Record in Hackensack, N.J. In 1998, he won the New Jersey Press Association’s Award for Business and Economic Writing. He also worked at The Tampa Tribune for nearly nine years, along with the The Daily Journal in Elizabeth, N.J., and The Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y.

Lavelle’s business school team includes two full-time staffers and one part-timer. There also have been at least half a dozen designers and technologists who have worked to create the design and code behind the new profiles for the past three months.

With BusinessWeek’s 13th ranking of the best full-time MBA programs about to come out next month (the ranking debuted in 1988 and was created by Poets&Quants founder John A. Byrne), we sat down with Lavelle last week in one of the glass walled conference rooms in the ultra-modern Bloomberg building on Lexington Avenue in New York to preview the changes.

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