How Hult Became The World’s Largest Graduate Business School

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Sara Olsen, adjunct professor of social impact assessment at Hult’s San Francisco campus, says that operations-wise, the school could use “a little more bench strength in certain areas,” but she’s found it to be effectively run in spite of rapid expansion. “I am well aware of the challenges of operating in a startup environment which effectively is the case for the San Francisco campus administration, where the school is growing very rapidly, and I think they do well given the fast growth and the number of degrees the administration is fielding,” Olsen says.

For its part, Hult makes no apologies for either its fast growth or the big investment it has made in recruiting would-be students. Hult has on its payroll as many recruiters to sell and close prospects as many other schools have faculty. The school acknowledges that 100 recruiters are on staff around the world: in Boston, San Francisco and Miami; in Shanghai and Hong Kong; in Dubai and Mumbai; in London and Lucerne. A new recruitment office is coming soon to Brazil.

“We’ve heavily invested in recruiting and marketing to make people aware of Hult and what we offer because we have to,” says Hult President Stephen Hodges. “We only have a 10-year-old brand name.”

Just how far the school has come in that time is nothing short of remarkable. In 2003, when Swedish entrepreneur Philip Hult and his father Bertil bought the school, formerly the Arthur D. Little School of Management, it had been in bankruptcy for more than a year, a languishing asset of the once famous management consulting firm. At the time, the school had little more than 26 enrolled students. Kaplan, the test prep company, initially tried to acquire the school but the deal fell through.

Swedish entrepreneur Philip Hult

Swedish entrepreneur Philip Hult

The Hult family had made a fortune in the for-profit education world with EF Education First, largely teaching languages to students. They saw the deal as an opportunity to enter a new educational field. “Why did we possibly want to take over a failing business school?” asks Philip Hult, who is now based in London. The answer, he says, was to create a new type of business school more suited to the globalized business environment than established schools, and more capable of responding to rapid change.


“Globalization of business happened first in large multinationals, but was now trickling down to everybody,” Hult believes. “The other side of it is that most schools, they live with, really for historical reasons, a very slow-moving and slow-reacting management structure. Especially at the top end, a lot of schools were very complacent and even professors and administrators that wanted to do innovative stuff were held back. We saw ourselves as being able to be much more nimble.”

The Hult family’s ownership of EF Education First positioned them well to move into internationally oriented business education, Hult says. “We had built up at that point, over 40 years, a successful global language school,” he says. “We’d gotten pretty good at finding students around the world, and delivering language education, which is easier to do, in multiple locations.”

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