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.

  • Suzanna Clark

    It’s hard to take Businessweek rankings seriously when they rank Cornell above MIT Sloan and Tepper above Columbia

  • obamaniac

    …with the exception of the metrics BusinessWeek used until the “smell test?” Besides, shouldn’t you be focused elsewhere?

  • Romney

    Face it. SMU is no way a top 15 school by any metric. Stop being delusional.

  • obamaniac

    I’m starting to feel like I’m being played by the Bloomberg hype machine – you keep coming with new little razor thin results at a rate of one a day – btw A salary of $100,000 in Dallas, Texas should increase to $353,714 in Palo Alto, California.

  • llavelle

    if you don’t like our job placement metric, maybe you’ll like the salaries metric better. we just put up a new slide show on the schools with the highest salaries;

  • obamaniac

    statistically speaking, isn’t SMU at greater risk under your past methodology as well? One unsatisfied employer would have booted them out of the rankings fast than your subjective change. Also, your job placement metric again disregards quality in favor of quantity. A three month metric may be satisfactory for DeVry and ATI rankings but not for business schools.

  • llavelle

    No Lynda, it’s not like changing the research to satisfy the hypothesis at all. It’s changing the methodology to make it reflect reality. Having a small handful of loyal recruiters doesn’t make a school better than one with a small army of slightly-less-loyal recruiters. Quality matters, but so does quantity. To understand why, take a look at our ranking of the schools with the best and worst MBA job placement for 2012: Twenty one percent of SMU grads had no offers at 3 months post graduation in 2012 (17% in 2011, 33% in 2010). I

  • Jack Bauer

    What this story essentially tells me is that Louis Lavelle’s opinions are reflected in the ACTUAL rankings through the modification of the methodology to meet the results that he supports. Check out the BW rankings to see his personal opinions when they are released.

  • Lynda Oliver, SMU Cox

    John & Louis: We appreciate your efforts to find solutions that satisfy constituents.
    But isn’t this like changing the research to satisfy the hypothesis? We
    are so proud to have “wildly enthusiastic” recruiters who are eager to
    hire satisfied students, our ultimate customer (and who account for 45%
    of the ranking). We’ll take quality over quantity any day. Thus, we’ll
    also take the licks of inconsistent rankings in stride knowing we are
    ultimately more concerned about producing happy graduates with great
    jobs than pleasing critics who need everything to “pass the smell test.”

  • test poster

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  • BW’s Louis Lavelle

    The “Louis” who commented about SMU is not me. The opinions he expressed are entirely his own.
    Louis Lavelle
    Associate Editor
    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • heyholetsgo

    Yeah, what’s up with that?

  • BW’s Louis Lavelle

    The “Louis” who commented about SMU is not me. The opinions he expressed are entirely his own.

    Louis Lavelle
    Associate Editor
    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • Louis

    Except the “rightfully” rising schools are UT-austin, UCLA, Emory, UNC and the likes, certainly not SMU. SMU is a joke.

  • Johm

    Why the paywall? I don’t read any articles on here anymore except to click and then remember how awful your User Experience on here is now. At minimum make it easy to connect with facebook or something?

  • Jack Bauer

    Does 0 top 15 MBA programs in the largest population centers in the Southern half of the United States pass the “smell test”? (L.A., Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami). Business has been moving to the South (and more specifically to Texas) for years and prospective students and corporate recruiters know that. Fixing the rankings to exclude the rising programs in the South and southwest is a mistake.

  • obamaniac

    So you want a great student experience and savvy recruiters anxious to hire you, you should go to SMU Cox. If you want to shell out 6 figures and have a lukewarm experience and a lot of hit and miss in the job market, wait for the rankings?