Confessions Of An MBA Ranking Guru

The year was 1988. As management editor of BusinessWeek magazine, I had just walked into the office of our editor-in-chief with the results of a 35-question survey sent to graduating MBAs at all the top U.S. business schools. I was trying to convince him to publish the first ranking of MBA programs.

For me, this was a labor of love. I crafted the focus groups of MBAs to come up with the right questions—questions that everyone considering an MBA wants answered.

Among the questions were:

* To what extent did your overall graduate experience fulfill or fail to meet your expectations of what a good business school should be?

* Do you believe your MBA was worth its total cost in time, tuition, living expenses, and lost earnings?

* Do you feel the business school has connections that can help you throughout your career?

* How did the teachers in your MBA program compare with others you have had in the past?

* In classes with popular or distinguished professors, how would you rank their accessibility after class?

* Were you given a way of thinking or approaching problems that will serve you well over the long haul?

* What percentage of your classmates would you have liked to have as friends?

In other words, these were substantive questions that got to the very heart of the MBA experience. They were the most basic questions every applicant would want answered—and still wants answered. [digital-magazine-ad] I created the survey on my Macintosh computer at home. I copied about 3,000 of the surveys at work, and with the help of my own family, I stuffed envelopes with the paper surveys for weeks on end. The completed surveys were returned by MBAs from the Class of 1988 at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, and every other major U.S. business school. One by one, I tallied the results.

What BusinessWeek ultimately published on the cover of the magazine would become one of the best-selling covers of all time. More importantly, though, it would become the first regularly published ranking of business schools in the world. Some 26 years later, the surveys still address the two key demographics: business school students and their prospective employers. There are now 50 questions on each graduate survey. Instead of mailing out 3,000 surveys to grads at 25 or so U.S. schools, the magazine sends nearly 18,000 to graduating MBAs at 101 academic institutions around the world. In 2000, BusinessWeek added a third component to the mix: a measurement of intellectual output by faculty at the schools, which now accounts for 10% of the ranking. But the ranking is still largely an attempt to measure customer satisfaction—not GMAT scores, selectivity, MBA pay packages, or the percentage of MBAs employed at graduation.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.