The Gatekeeper to Cornell’s Johnson School of Management

So you’ve been the full-time director since August 28th, what’s it like?

I obviously love it. I feel this is where I am supposed to be. The culture of the school is a great fit for me.

In the admissions process when you are trying to assess their leadership ability and potential, I think we do it very well. Some of it is very intuitive. I talk a lot about making decisions from your gut because by the time you’ve gotten to whether an applicant is an admit or a deny, intuition is something you bring to bear and need to do very, very well.

You’ve got to be smart to get through the core because it is very intense. No matter how often we tell them how hard it is, I always get a few first years come to me and say, ‘well, you guys didn’t lie to us.’ Academically being qualified is really important. Employability, especially with the job market the way it is, is something we obviously look at.

As director for the first year, something I really focus on is work experience. That is one of the reasons I changed the essays this year. We really want to know the nature of what someone is doing and the progression of steps they’ve taken to get to their level of responsibility. I love it when people emphasize team decision making and the judgment calls that they’ve had to make. A lot of people try to inflate that somewhat because they think we are trying to find these perfectly molded people who they believe are the ideal candidates.

But your achievements are your own. That’s why I always tell people, ‘Keep an achievements journal. Write it all down for a year because when you go back to what you’ve written, you may not realize things you wouldn’t remember when you were in the trenches.

What’s the right attitude for a successful MBA candidate to have?

This isn’t a piece of paper that you need to get through. If you have that mindset, you are going to be a wallflower here. Everyone is going to point to you and say, ‘this guy is not even involved. He is going home after classes. We hardly know him. Why was he admitted?’ Then, all of a sudden I am drawn into that conversation.

Do you ever really hear that? After all, the general feeling is that when an MBA graduate has trouble getting placed in a job, the career development folks point the finger at admissions for letting in someone who isn’t employable—and admissions points back at career development for not getting either the right recruiters to come on campus or enough companies to come.

I was in a GMAC workshop that was moderated by my friend and colleague at Yale. I shared with my colleague the time that I have seen that. We have tried at Johnson very hard to eliminate that. So you put the supply chain people in a room on a monthly basis to talk through what it is that we are trying to do here. We are trying to help our students find the right careers, to help them get placed into jobs. And we also need to make sure we are admitting the right people. What kinds of strategies out there have we not discovered yet?

An advisory board member asked me two weeks ago, what is your job? Are you the gatekeeper or the face of the school? I had to really think about it, although in my gut I knew the answer. My job is certainly the gatekeeper. But I am not doing my job well if I am not focused on finding and recruiting people who may not have Johnson on their first list.

So is there an admissions committee at Johnson?

Yes. There are six people on the committee. I wanted the people who also recruit applicants at assistant director and up on the committee. They are the ones who are meeting candidates in the field, responding to their questions, engaging with them, providing insight to help them through the admissions process. We have two readers as well who also are on the admissions committee. They see about 70% of the pool in terms of reading and interviewing. And for Consortium files, our director of our office of diversity sits in on those candidates.

You have to be there for six hours. When you are making final decisions, the meetings can last that long.

You reengineered a lot of the processes and policies in admissions. Do you think applicants see that difference?

Yes. They know everybody here is on the same page. I started a blog. I put out there where we are in the process and what’s happening. I hide very little. There is no smoke and mirrors to the process. There are obviously boundaries because there is a process to this whole selection. The way I look at it from a blogging perspective is I try to answer the most common questions applicants have.

I also try to stay as general as possible in a way that is helpful to people. If I give an example of a certain kind of student, the people who fit that profile just jump all over it. Well, what do you really think about a 30 year old applying to the program? They get nervous about that.

In an admissions office, you never want to say never. We have seen the success stories and we have seen the failures. It doesn’t necessarily come down to how long they have been in the workforce or where they went to school. It comes down to the kind of person they are.