A Business School Where MBA Students Are Really The Customers

Jack Welch

Jack Welch

When legendary General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch hired a headhunter to search for new deans of curriculum and faculty for his online management institute, he had an unusual requirement. “Jack didn’t like pie-in-the-sky academic types,” says Michael Kirkman, a search consultant with Lochlin Partners.

Yet, Kirkman had little trouble rounding up a pretty impressive portfolio of candidates. “Everybody was very interested, particularly with Jack’s name attached to it,” adds Kirkman. “A lot of them are just tired of the bureaucracy and garbage that goes on in traditional academic environments.”

Welch ultimately hired Craig Clawson, former managing director of Duke Corporate Education, as dean of curriculum, and Mike Zeliff, a faculty member at George Washington University and a former marketing director for the U.S. Marine Corps, as the dean of faculty.


Both hires go a long way in telegraphing the fact that the four-year-old Jack Welch Management Institute is one of the very few business schools that is run like a business, with a laser-like focus on customer service. The school is closely managed on student surveys that measure the impact of the education as well as the likelihood that a student would recommend the institute to a friend or colleague.

At JWMI, every administrator and faculty member understands that students are customers. In fact, the incentive pay of the core leadership team–up to 25% of their annual base salaries–is based on satisfying those customers. Net Promoter Scores, the metric Welch is using to monitor student satisfaction, are widely discussed among the leadership team, even down to such scores on the 12 courses that make up the MBA curriculum.

“We’re running this school the way we would run a company,” insists Welch, who turned 80 last month. “Most business schools are disconnected from best business practices. It’s not that they don’t teach them. They just don’t practice them. In our school, the students are the customers. In every other school, the faculty is the customer.”

That approach to an online MBA program based on Welch’s leadership beliefs has led to fast growth at a time when the overall MBA market has been flat or in decline. The school has increased its student population to more than 1,000 MBA students in four years and expects to boost enrollment to 1,400 students in 2016 (see chart below). This year MBA enrollment jumped 35% to 1,057 students, from 782 in 2014.

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