The MBA marketplace would make for a fascinating case study. Like any industry, business schools boast revered brands with deep pockets and sweeping capabilities. However, these programs aren’t seeking to maximize market share. This has widened the field and spurred intense competition, boosting academic quality, student services, and financial aid in the process. It has also forced many MBA programs to carve out unique identities that differentiate them for every other market player.
The Simon Business School at the University of Rochester is one program that isn’t afraid to be different. Academically rigorous and data-driven, the program has followed the same script as any plucky and far-sighted small business: they’ve seized on an undervalued niche and built their program around it. Simon is fond of pointing out that they “were into data before data was cool.” Indeed, quantifiable data in general — and analytics in particular — is the cornerstone of the program. Here, finance, economics, and big data inform every course. Think of it as a smaller version of Booth or Sloan, with a more international cohort coupled with a smaller class size that provides greater individual support (particularly in career coaching).
AN MBA WITH AN “ANALYTICAL BIAS”
“Simon has a rock-star faculty and is a school that moves beyond management as usual and uses the power of data to drive smart decisions,” explained Dean Andrew Ainslie in an interview with Poets&Quants. “We provide the skills students need to solve complex business issues in a range of environments with a challenging, rigorous education, and with support, coaching, and personalized attention. We believe strongly in the value of economics and statistics in the analysis of all business problems, and it is reflected in our ranking as a top five school for economics and finance. Simon offers an education that will attract students who value our analytic bias.”
While Simon is found in the top 40 of every major MBA ranking — including Poets&Quants — the school has no interest in resting on its laurels. In fact, the program has made some big plans for the coming years, which appeals to ambitious first year MBA candidates like Chris DiGiacomandrea, a former executive with the Boy Scouts of America. “Ainslie has been very public about his aggressive strategy to reinvent the Simon Business School,” he shares. “We’ve always been a data and economics powerhouse and we’ve always been recognized for our finance and pricing programs. Dean Ainslie has set a course to maintain the history and prestige of these Simon programs, while bringing a new emphasis on strategy consulting, as well as technology and marketing. I wanted to be a part of this change. I’m inspired by challenges and wanted to make an impact. I wanted to attend a school where I could make waves, not just ride them.”
FORGET THE RANKINGS — ASK YOUR MOTHER
Ainslie hasn’t been shy about making waves since arriving in Rochester from UCLA in 2014. Last fall, he slashed total tuition by 13.6%, while making the program’s pricing more transparent with a flat-rate of $92,000 for the two-year program. A few months later, he established the program’s International Student Loan Program (ISLP), which enables international students — which traditionally account for half of the full-time MBA class —to be eligible for educational loans with an American cosigner. Such acts have given the program extra cache among applicants. However, the program has always been a hidden gem.
Just ask the mother of first year Alyssa Rinck.
A Rochester native who climbed the ranks of Macy’s, Rinck had no intention of returning home for her MBA. That didn’t stop her mother from relentlessly lobbying her to give Simon a look. Sure enough, Rinck was sold after a recruiting event. “Moms are always right,” she admits. “Simon is a small school (in terms of class size), where you can make a big impact. I was looking for a program to challenge my quantitative skill set, and I also wanted to study at a school where you could learn a lot from your classmates. Let me tell you, there are some really incredible, quanty geniuses navigating the hallways here at Simon.”
CLASS MARKED BY DIVERSITY AND IMPACT
There is a phrase you’ll commonly hear at the business school: “Simon strong.” Strength is undoubtedly a defining trait of the 2018 Class. This strength has produced a fearlessness that has enabled first years to quickly leave an indelible impact on the program, says Carin L. Cole, assistant dean of students at Simon.”This class is unique in the richness of diversity that the class brings — representing a broad array of countries, ethnicities, gender, and experiences. With this diversity, however, they have a common purpose of making a difference in the world, and have already stepped up to lead in impactful ways. Through new initiatives to support at-risk youth, as well as ambassadors to ensure positive dialogue and action, this cohesive class has already made its mark.”
Rebekah S. Lewin, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid echoes Cole’s sentiments about the class. “We are incredibly pleased, but not surprised, that they have come together so quickly. The class exhibited this desire to have a positive impact on the world around them during the application and admission process, and it was an intentional effort to find like-minded individuals as we created the cohort.”
The class brings an impressive pedigree to Rochester, matriculating at iconic brands like KPMG, Credit Suisse and Coca-Cola. That said, it is their vibrant personalities that jump off the page. Yosra Helal, another Rochester native, has “a brown belt in karate, two scars on my feet from horse riding by the pyramids, and took part in Egypt’s revolution to throw out Mubarak!” Bangladesh’s Modhurima Khan met the King of Nepal when she was 14, while Tite Jean-Pierre played several roles on Telemundo television programs. Gaurav Mittal was a natural for Simon: he started reading the financial news and following the markets when he was a teenager. Beware of Treadwell Singfield II, who studied physics before ending up in operations. He calls himself the “Ronnie Lott of flag football” (Wait, wasn’t Lott known for actually hitting receivers?).
Their accomplishments are equally eye-catching. True to Simon’s philosophy, the Class of 2018 knows how to beat their numbers. Nessi Harari was the brains behind the design, development, and implementation of a CRM system that increased his firm’s sales by 250% over two years. DiGiacomandrea increased the Boy Scouts’ revenues by 40% in his region while his counterparts struggled with uncertainty. Gavin Galloway was the driving force behind his company’s C.O.O.L. Kids initiative, which provides toys to 1,200 underserved children in New York City each year. Melaine Soro, who once dreamed of becoming a Formula 1 driver, devised a process for deploying optical equipment that saved his firm $500,000 a year. While working for the government of Columbia as deputy superintendent for insurers and re-Insurance brokers, Natalia Escobar-Mejia was able to place a struggling insurer into receivership and assign 98% of its policies to minimize the pain felt by policyholders.
AN EMERGING POWER? APPLICATIONS UP 21%
According to Ainslie, the Class of 2018 represented a banner recruiting year. The full-time MBA program netted 915 applications during the 2015-2016, up 22% overall and 39% domestically. Campus visits also rose 21% over the previous years. Overall, Simon accepted 33% of applicants, with the Class of 2018 featuring 105 students from 17 countries. Alas, Simon has not yet released figures on average GMAT and GPA scores, though the scores ranged from 590-710 and 3.0-3.8 in the mid 80% range respectively. In a October column with Poets&Quants, Ainslie noted that the class consisted of 49% domestic students and an academic profile better than our class profile last year of 665 GMAT and 3.40 GPA.”