Derrick Bolton, who has helped to direct MBA admissions at the most selective prestige business school in the world for the past 15 years, is leaving his job as dean and director of admissions at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. On Sept. 1, Bolton will take on a new assignment as dean of admissions for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program.
In the 15 years that he has been the primary gatekeeper at Stanford GSB, Bolton and his admissions team have read and reviewed the applications of more than 90,000 candidates to the school’s MBA program and ultimately enrolled well over 6,000 students, many of whom were called by telephone by Bolton and told of their invite to the school. Bolton’s departure, which will take him out of admit decisions for the forthcoming 2016-2017 admissions cycle, follows a recent changing of the guard in admissions at Harvard Business School.
A Stanford GSB spokesperson said the school will immediately begin looking for a new admissions director to work under Dean Jonathan Levin, a Stanford economist who is the son of former Yale University President Rick Levin, who takes over the deanship on Sept. 1. MBA Program Director Margaret Hayes will lead the Office of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid in the interim.
MBA APPLICATIONS HAVE RISEN BY 55% TO NEARLY 8,000 A YEAR
Under Bolton’s tenure, applications to the GSB have increased 55% to 7,899 last year from when he started in 2001, giving the GSB an acceptance rate of just 6.1%. At the same time, undergraduate GPA and GMAT scores have risen, to a record 3.75 and 733, respectively, signaling an increase in the academic quality of students. While admissions director, Bolton also has overseen the enrollment of a record number of women, reaching 40% of last year’s class, and international students, who now hail from 53 different countries.
Bolton’s utter devotion to his job has also earned him much respect across the university campus. Faye Deal, associate dean of admissions and financial aid at Stanford Law School, recalls back-and-forth email dialogues with him in the wee hours of the morning. “Derrick and I have very different sleep schedules,” she says. “I’m waking up as he’s about to go to sleep so over the years we’d find ourselves having email conversations at about 4 a.m. We laugh about how between the two of us someone is always awake!”
Deal extolls what she calls Bolton’s intuition and judgment, reflected in the quality and diversity of the GSB admits. “I’ve admired his ability to build deep and lasting relationships with his students while they’re here in residence and to sustain these relationships when they become alumni. Derrick has been a wonderful colleague to work with over the years. His willingness to talk through applications, to discuss policies that affect our applicants and students will certainly carry over to his new role, but I will miss these conversations.”
TRAVELING 140,000 MILES A YEAR FOR THE GSB
Joelle Kayden, a 1981 alumni of Stanford University who is managing member of Accolade Partners and a Stanford advisory board member, lauded Bolton for being instrumental in shaping a truly diverse student body. However, his advocacy and commitment to diversity went far beyond gender, ethnicity, and native country, Kayden explains. He also looked for a wide range of experiences, particularly in career backgrounds where he looked beyond the traditional finance and consulting sectors to areas like not-for-profits and technology. “He traveled 140,000 miles a year,” Kayden notes. “Derrick worked really hard to have great classes with a great esprit de corps among the students at the school.”
Kayden adds that Bolton was a legendary figure for his innate ability to make students feel special. “His unique ability was to connect with the students. He knew each person who went to the business school and could almost recite their application to them when he met them. People always commented on that. How does he remember all that about me having read how many thousands of applications?”
Shari Hubert, associate dean of MBA admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, also heaped praise on Bolton. She and Bolton served as chair and co-chair of the Education Testing Services’ Business School Advisory Council. That’s when I was really able to see his great sense of humor and leadership,” says Hubert. “His soft spoken, yet thoughtful comments are always insightful. It’s like the old EF Hutton slogan of years past … ‘When Derrick talks, people listen.'”
STRONG OPINIONS ABOUT THE MBA MARKETPLACE
When Bolton took over the job just before Sept. 11, 2001, the Texas native was making a return trip to the Stanford campus. He first came to Stanford in the mid-1990s after a stint as a junior consultant with McKinsey & Co. He did a summer internship with Goldman Sachs in 1997 before joining Goldman in New York when he graduated in 1998 with a dual MBA and MA in education degrees. Three years on Wall Street apparently were enough, because Bolton came back to the GSB to take on the admissions role from the person who admitted him into Stanford’s MBA program, Marie Mookini, who served as director of MBA admissions for nearly ten years from August of 1991 to May of 2001.
During his early years at the GSB, Bolton was outspoken about the role of consultants in MBA admissions as well as the impact they have had on already anxiety-ridden candidates who compete for a seat at an elite business school. Once asked by a reporter about applicants using admissions consultants, he replied, “How can someone who doesn’t know you help you to be a more authentic version of yourself?”
Bolton has said he believes there is a lot of information in the marketplace that misleads candidates. In an interview with Poets&Quants, he noted that he downloaded an application from one GMAT test prep company that purports to help candidates narrow down their selection of schools based on such personal criteria as undergraduate grade-point average (GPA), GMAT score, work, and leadership experience. Bolton plugged in his 3.7 GPA, his two years at McKinsey, his GMAT score, and other requested data. The program told him the best he could do was Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He sighs when telling the story. If there was an iPad and an app when he applied to business school in 1995, he says, he might never have applied to Stanford — and his life would have been very different.