How Hult Became The World’s Largest Graduate Business School

Aggressive marketing and recruiting has led to remarkable growth at Hult International Business School

First in a two-part series: Aggressive marketing and recruiting has led to remarkable growth at Hult International Business School

ONE MAJOR HURDLE: AWARENESS OF THE SCHOOL BY CORPORATE EMPLOYERS

On the marketing side, Hult faces one major obstacle. “I think the area that’s lagging is awareness among employers,” Hodges says. The school views the challenge in a positive light. “We see an opportunity to be much more relevant to employers than a typical business school,” says Hodges. “Traditional business schools overemphasize knowledge over skills and behaviors [such as] teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, communication. Soft skills are just as important as hard skills.”

However, some admissions consultants point to a glaring lack of awareness of Hult among high-performing prospective business students. In spite of Hult’s making the rankings in The Economist and Financial Times, the school’s brand appears to be “almost non-existent,” says San Diego-based admissions consultant Paul Bodine. “They are really trying to raise their profile. The ways that you raise your profile, at least from the admissions-consultant perspective and the applicants’ perspective, is by showing selectivity . . . and that your MBA has value in terms of salaries and the placements you get. My sense is there’s no selectivity at all. I’ve heard of aggressive tactics on their part in terms of sending emails to folks saying, basically, ‘You’re in.’ They are trying to fill up seats.”

‘THE MARKET SPEAKS: HULT DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ON MY RADAR’

Hult’s rapid growth in student numbers bolsters the notion that the school is not very selective, Bodine asserts. However, lack of selectivity does not necessarily reflect poor education quality, he adds, noting that some faculty members have good credentials. “As an international program they’re doing all the right things,” Bodine says. “They clearly get the international aspect of what people need out of business school.”

Los Angeles-based admissions consultant Alex Leventhal of Prep MBA says he mostly works with students targeting the top 20 or 25 business schools, and he has only had one inquiry about Hult. “The market speaks. [Hult] doesn’t seem to be on my radar when people are looking at top schools and they have even slightly above average or average credentials,” Leventhal says.

In July, Hult announced plans to merge with the U.K.’s executive-education Ashridge Business School. “We need deep connections with employers and that’s what Ashridge brings us,” Hodges says. “We’ll be looking to expand Ashridge’s education reach. We’ll be looking to expand executive education around the world with a focus on emerging markets.”
Hult hopes for another benefit from the merger, credibility-building certifications the school lacks but covets.

“Whilst Hult has no plans to launch a two-year MBA program, through the merger process with Ashridge it will be looking to retain Ashridge’s AACSB [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business] and EQUIS [European Foundation for Management Development] accreditations,” says Michael Lu, Hult’s vice-president of global marketing.
For the next five years, Hult will focus more on the merger and redesigning the MBA program than on growth, Lu says.

The re-tooling of the MBA program will focus on teaching of soft skills and cutting edge topics; educational techniques such as advanced simulations; and the undertaking of research that’s relevant and accessible to senior managers in industry, Lu says.

Lu says enrollment numbers for this fall’s student intake weren’t available yet, but school officials expect an eight per cent increase in new enrollments across all campuses.

Like its purchase of Arthur D. Little more than 10 years ago, Hult’s plans with Ashridge should allow it to move into a whole new educational market. But it’s not likely to allay concerns among students and others that the school has grown too quickly. Thomas Sanchez, a Hult MBA student set to graduate from the Boston campus in August 2014, believes the rapid expansion has a clear downside.

“Sometimes this . . . accelerated growth has its drawbacks,” Sanchez says, because the school’s promoters may provide an inflated impression of Hult. “The expectations of people coming here are, ‘Yeah, all the companies should know about Hult business school’ just because they’re ranked in The Economist and other rankings. You can’t compare it to Harvard.”

That may be the Mother of All Understatements.

DON’T MISS: The other articles in our series on Hult International: Hult Business School: A Rising Powerhouse or a Pariah? and The Kanye West Of Business Schools