BusinessWeek’s MBA Rankings Guru

Lou Lavelle of Bloomberg BusinessWeek

So Lou can you tell us what changes we’re likely to see when the new ranking goes live on Nov. 15?

There is a very, very minor change to the methodology on how we handle the recruiter survey. Two years ago, SMU was ranked really highly and everyone was saying it didn’t pass the smell test. 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. The way our methodology worked until then was to reward those schools for the enthusiastic part of it and ignore the small recruiter base it came from. So that has been corrected.

The recruiter survey is completed by more than 200 companies every year so the total three-year weighted average is a little bit less than 700. It’s not a huge base. It’s still small enough that it can be skewed by a lot of different things, namely who you reach and fills out the survey.

BusinessWeek typically takes its newest survey and then combines it with the two previous surveys in both the graduate and recruiter portions of the ranking. The latest survey is weighted 50% while the two previous surveys, in this case from 2010 and 2008, are each weighted 25%. So will this change apply to all three surveys that will drive this year’s results?

The change in the methodology applies to all three surveys, not just 2012. The schools that would be affected by this would be those outside the top 10, but only if their recruiter survey results had been skewed in the past. If not, then there will be little or no change. We make very minor tweaks to the methodology every once in a while but either two years ago or four we started surveying more than one recruiter at some companies if, for example, the company has a completely separate recruiting operation for Europe. But the last major change you already know about was adding intellectual capital to the ranking in 2000.

Any other significant changes?

All the fun is happening this year in our online profiles of the schools. You are not going to recognize them. They’re going to be graphic heavy. They will have art and video. The display is contextual so you will have a tuition number for UC-Berkeley Haas and you’ll have a little icon under it with five dollar signs so it will tell you which quintile their tuition falls into. So is this the most expensive or least expensive school or something in the middle?

You will be able to compare schools on more than 100 different data points — everything from selectivity and yield, to top employers for graduates. Let’s take salary for example. You’ll have extensive information on alumni pay, with a level of detail not available anywhere else on the web. For each school you’ll be able to view graduate salaries for those with up to 20 years of work experience. And, you can dig deeper into specific industries, functional areas, and world regions. You’ll also be able to see the top undergraduate institutions, top majors, and top employers for each school’s admitted students.

Lou, as you well know, these rankings can be quite controversial. But the BusinessWeek ranking is now 24 years old and generally accepted as one of the more influential, if not most influential business school ranking published. So has the criticism died down?

It will never die down. Every year you hear the same kind of complaints. ‘Well, so and so ranks our school X and you rank it Y so your methodology is obviously deeply flawed.’ If I hear that phrase ‘deeply flawed’ one more time in my lifetime, I think I’m going to snap. I swear to God. My other favorite it, ‘It doesn’t pass the smell test.’ What does that even mean?

Do you pay much attention to the other rankings?

We do.

Do you think that all of these other rankings have diluted the impact of the BusinessWeek ranking?

There are so many rankings, it’s hard to keep track. I have to remind myself how we do things half the time. One thing that completely distinguishes us is complete transparency. I don’t think all these other rankings have diluted our impact. But it has confused the marketplace. We are getting to a point of rankings overload, and I’m talking about two different kinds of overland. One is where the schools don’t have enough bandwidth to provide the data for all the rankings out there, and I think there is a little rankings fatigue in the general audience. We put a lot into these things and sometimes it feels like they just peter out and people say, ‘Oh, there’s another ranking that just came out.’ There is a core group of obsessives that will dissect every aspect of a ranking for weeks on end, but the broader audience may be more ho-hum.

Unlike The Financial Times or The Economist, BusinessWeek ranks schools in the U.S. separate from schools outside the U.S. Have you given much thought to doing a combined global ranking?

Yeah, we have thought about that and ways that we can expand international to make it comparable to our U.S. list. But we haven’t really decided what we are going to do there. Our methodology makes either of those things a little problematic and I’m not sure how to do that without completely overhauling our methodology which I don’t want to do.