Everyone loves the underdog. We naturally root for the little guy, the long shot who shocks their world. It is a feel-good story as old as reeds and clay tablets. A motley band of misfits — small and unseasoned — seize their destiny through a mix of moxie and extra effort. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the favorite get knocked down after selling their opponents short? Whether you tear up for Rocky, Netflix, or the Cubs, underdogs provide a short reprieve from the stale status quo. They are a hopeful reminder that we too can beat the odds.
Among business schools, the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University is this year’s underdog. Like all good dark horses, the Sultans of Space City left chaos in their wake. This month, Jones shot up 11 spaces in the annual Bloomberg Businessweek rankings to rank 8th among full-time MBA programs. In the process, they vaulted over established powers like Kellogg, Haas, and Columbia (not to mention the state’s flagship program in Austin). How did they do it? It’s simple: Like any good business, they delighted their key constituents.
ATTENTIVENESS AND RESPONSIVENESS ARE THE HALLMARKS OF THE RICE MBA
Each year, Blooomberg Businessweek conducts intensive surveys with alumni, students, and employers. As you’d expect, each of them gave Jones a vote of two thumbs up. The program placed 4th in alumni satisfaction rankng only behind Stanford, Haas, and Berkeley. At the same time, Jones finished 14th among employers and students for satisfaction, beating out favorites like Stanford, Haas and Yale among recruiters and Harvard, Columbia and MIT with students. In fact, the program jumped an impressive 26 places among employers in just one year.
Alas, Rice isn’t technically an underdog. Last year, for example, the program was ranked 2nd by students and 3rd by alumni for satisfaction. As a result, the program’s ranking surge may stem from employers buying into the infectious enthusiasm displayed by their Rice MBA recruits. That passion comes from the program’s underlying culture, which prizes personalized attention and student input. “We place great value on being attentive, responsive and kind to everyone we touch,” explains Dean Peter Rodriguez, who joined the school in July after a dozen years as a faculty member and administrator at Darden. “We know that if we keep our focus on how we treat our students even before they’re our students good things will always follow.”
If you could slap Rice’s defining virtue on a bumper stick, it would be “Rice is nice.” This difference was something that the Class of 2018 seized on during their first month on campus. “People genuinely want to help others and be part of something bigger than themselves,” says Edward Clark, a first year who graduated from West Point and served as a U.S. Army Company Commander. “Everything from the size of classes to the outreach with the Houston community lends itself to a team atmosphere and culture.”
In fact, the Rice MBA represents a true academic community, where students are treated as individuals whose aspirations and needs require personal care. “As a small program, faculty members know who you are from day one,” observes Maria Clara Leiva, a brand manager from Venezuela. “Through the entire admission process, the staff knew my background and supported me in every step. It was a one-on-one relationship. This personalized approach provides a custom experience for every student as they guide you throughout the selection of curriculum which will ultimately shape the MBA’s impact in your career.”
ORACLE PARTNERSHIP TURNS FIRST YEAR INTO AN INDUSTRY MEDIA STAR
If you pictured the Rice MBA being populated by brash talking Texans headed to the oil and energy industries, you would be sadly mistaken. Instead, they are as varied as any class you’ll find in the Ivies or out west. They are certainly a colorful bunch. Luxembourg’s Adrian Troemel describes himself as a “quadrilingual mutt who’s lived in four countries, working on nanomaterials innovations.” You can’t ask for a better b-school name than Carrie Leader, who is “equal parts quant and free spirit, chasing entrepreneurial thrills in the digital retail world.” Someday, you may even find “Senator” attached to the name of Cecily Lynn Rivers. “I’m a human chameleon to any environment who has a passion for helping others and is an advocate for change,” she says.
Indeed, there are plenty of Jones first years who are truly one-of-a-kind. Leiva, for one, has turned an office staple into a hobby. “I love post-it’s as I love shoes,” she admits. “I have them in different colors, shapes, fashions and sizes.” Troemel is the Ralph Lauren of the 2018 class, crewing a transatlantic and logging 3,622 nautical miles before starting his full-time MBA program. And Stephen Sibley is still a bit confused on how he ended up pursuing an MBA degree. “Two years ago, I would have bet my life savings (which really wouldn’t have been much) that I would never return to business school,” he quips. “It’s funny how things work out.”
They are as equally accomplished as they are engaging. Clark commanded two companies in the 101st Airborne Division. Sibley teamed up with the bank chairman to author a speech that was given to the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. At TPH Partners, Trey Mattson was so knowledgeable and trusted that he was the go-to guy on five portfolio investments — despite being an associate. Leader was also a standout at Elaine Turner, which gained notoriety for being among the first to implement Oracle’s cloud technology in the digital retail space. As head of eCommerce, Leader spearheaded the Oracle implementation — and became a celebrity for her troubles. “The Oracle partnership opened the door to a world of personal opportunities as well, such as magazine interviews with two industry publications: Internet Retailer and Profit. It also enabled me to hone my public speaking skills through webinars, customer videos, and on stage at Oracle’s annual conference attended by 60,000.”
The class includes its share of risk-takers too. A case in point is Sonny Nguyen, who turned an $800 investment and a dorm room office into Ivy Planners, which has emerged as a leading admissions counseling and test prep agency that boasts of increasing average SAT scores by 215 points. “An overwhelming majority of our students earn acceptance into their dream schools – many competitive undergraduate schools and combined BS/MD medical programs,” he notes. “We built our team of over twenty counselors who not only serve as mentors to our students, but often times they serve as an older brother, sister or friend.”