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Roger Martin’s Transformational Legacy At The Rotman School

WHEN MARTIN ASKED BIG COMPANIES WHY THEY DIDN’T RECRUIT AT ROTMAN, THEY SAID THERE WAS NO PRODUCT THERE

Martin’s third big bet was on expansion. When he arrived at Rotman, the school had only 130 full-time students. “I looked at the market and said that is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter how good you are, unless your name is Yale. I think Sloan, Stern, Stanford, and London Business School is the perfect size. I went to Harvard Business School and it is such a factory. I don’t aspire to that size. Even Chicago, Kellogg and Columbia–in the 600s–feels too big for a Canadian school. It seems out of proportion to the market.”

His view was confirmed when he asked several multinationals why they didn’t recruit at Rotman. “They said there’s no product,” he recalls. “Why bother? I ran recruiting at Monitor for awhile and we never considered Stanford as anywhere near as important as Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago, INSEAD. Why? Stanford has good product but no product. There was just not enough product. If we were going to put on a big recruiting effort, let’s do it at a big school.”

Some of the biggest gains in enrollment, moreover, occurred toward the end of his deanship when most business schools, including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and others, were reporting declines in application volume. Some worried that Martin wouldn’t be able to boost MBA class sizes without a corresponding decline in student quality. Yet, this fall, Rotman enrolled a record 350 MBA students with an average GMAT score of 674, a significant increase from only two years ago when Rotman brought in 265 students with an average GMAT score of 661. The growth plan calls for further increases to an annual intake of 390 students.

 ‘THE BEST MBA STUDENTS WANT TO GO TO A BIG CONSEQUENTIAL SCHOOL’

“If I didn’t really care about making sure that Rotman is ranked among the best business schools on the planet, I would not have done it,” says Martin. “It has been an incredible amount of work. This is the hardest thing to do, to go from 130 to 260 and then 260 to 390. If you are going down this demand curve further, they say you are going to get lower quality. But it turns out that demand and supply brings demand. These kids aren’t stupid. They want to go to a big consequential school.”

The result: There’s been a spike in the demand for Rotman graduates from top global employers, many of which have decided to add Rotman as the only Canadian school that they recruit MBA students from. In the last 24 months, the school has added such global companies as Microsoft, Huawei, GE, Google, Fedex, Nike, Estee Lauder, Lululemon, Target, and Siemens.

The expansion phase of Martin’s plan obviously encompassed more than students: it required a hiring spree of faculty talent and a doubling of the school’s physical space. Faculty were recruited from Harvard, Chicago, Duke and other top business schools. Among the school’s standout faculty is Anita McGahan, a strategy professor and associate dean of research, who had taught at Harvard Business School; strategy expert Will Mitchell, who was recruited from Duke University where he had been a chaired professor; and economist Richard Florida. And then, there is Martin himself, who is staying on as a faculty member and director of the newly formed Martin Prosperity Institute.

Of course, one of the most complicated management transitions of all occurs when someone has to follow a visionary leader who is so closely identified with the institution he built. That is now the critical challenge for the Rotman School: To find someone who can fill Martin’s very big shoes and build on the school’s advances. “We have to maintain our momentum,” agrees Pauly, the interim dean. “Fifteen years is a long tenure, but he was the right person at that time.”

Not surprisingly, even MBA applicants to the school openly ask about Rotman’s future without Martin at the helm. Yet the iconoclast leader who made Rotman what it is expresses little worry about his own succession. As he puts it, “We are on a good trajectory and one of the gifts I left to the school is to make it good enough so that it will attract good people to apply for the job.”

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