Dean Q&A: MIT Sloan’s David Schmittlein

MIT Sloan School of Management – Ethan Baron photo

P&Q: What is Sloan’s best-kept secret that applicants sometimes overlook or underestimate?

DS: If I had just one thing to say, it would probably be these opportunities for global experiential learning. But we’ve already talked about that.

What I would like to mention is the opportunity to get involved with not only the MIT entrepreneurial ecosystem that we just talked about, but more deeply involved with the rest of MIT in general. It is surprising to me the number of opportunities that students take up to learn about the cutting edge of computer science and data analysis and nano-fabrication and new bioengineering opportunities and the like. While they’re not going to be mathematicians, they nonetheless are interested in encountering MIT’s many Nobel Prize winners, or study cybersecurity, other cutting edge tech innovations that open up management opportunities in many organizations. Like research coming out of the Koch Institute or the Broad Institute in life sciences. There is no place else where you can get that kind of access.

It’s not the kind of thing that everyone wants — and we’re not trying to make everyone into engineers or scientists — but it is informative and inspiring, to see how fundamental change in the world is happening, and to see it where it is happening. When the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research opened, the head of the National Cancer Institute spoke, and said, ‘Let us be clear: because this center brings together engineering and science, it is going to become the most important cancer research place in the United States.’ And that’s what it has become in the 6 years since then. Our students find access to such a place pretty interesting.

P&Q: MIT is based in Boston, a metro with a vibrant technological and entrepreneurial culture. How does MIT both contribute to and benefit from the synergies created in this area?

DS: It is of course easy to talk about entrepreneurship: we contribute via tech courses and displays open to the region and through the $100K competition and by serving as a magnet for companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Takeda, and many others including tech-based growth companies; and our entrepreneurs benefit from those companies, but also from the top life science and health care providers (such as top U.S. research hospitals) that host clinical trials for new MIT technologies. Beyond entrepreneurship, there is an amazing arts and music community, from which we draw both fulfillment and inspiration, and to which we contribute via events like MIT Hacking Arts.

P&Q: Over the past two years, where have you been focusing your energy?  What types of progress have you made in those areas?

DS: There is a new program that I should mention. It was launched in September. As a school, our story strategy is to build the things that MIT does better than anyone else. As I mentioned, we have the pre-experience Master of Finance program. We also created a complementary Masters of Business Analytics program that’s also a pre-experience program. It’s a 12-month in-residence program, just as the Masters of Finance program is. If there is one thing that MIT ought to be pretty good at is business analytics. I would hate for someone else to own the high ground there.

MIT Sloan School of Management – Ethan Baron photo

When we launch a program like the Masters of Business Analytics (or the Masters of Finance for that matter), it gives our regular MBA students the opportunity to do deeper dives in these areas than they would have had otherwise because we have those courses for the masters students. It has been important for us, again, to tell the story about what is distinctive about the business school and in growing the school and for providing opportunities for all of our students, (not just for the analytics students). On the program side, that’s really the innovation of the last two years.

Another thing that we’ve worked pretty hard on in the last couple of years is alumni engagement. For 10 years, it has been adding something each year. We’ve built a staff and a set of outreach mechanisms. Some of that is distinctive because our alumni base is distinctive. Some of it was also deferred maintenance for the 20 years before I came in.

Outreach to alumni, hosting alumni events, and using other modes of engagement with them has been key. Alumni engagement has lots of dimensions. I don’t want to reduce it to foot traffic and money; those are two easy measures to take. When I started as dean, we were doing nine alumni events a year. This past year, we did over 90. Universities may not move as fast as some internet companies, but a tenfold increase is pretty good. Our alums have noticed and that’s really great. For the philanthropic support for the school, our alums were very proud of their experience and the faculty that they worked with, but they were disengaged. So we had to make sure that, as people are leaving the program over the past 10 years, we engage right from the beginning. We’ve had to do the blocking and tackling of engagement with more senior alums, particularly more prominent ones. During the last 10 years, we’ve had the opportunity to triple our restrictive giving and our overall level of giving has more than doubled over that time. That has been an important cornerstone of these investments in staff and new facilities.

Of course, we’ve done some things around online learning, including in areas like innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s not just in taking MIT technology out into the world, although that provides an extraordinary opportunity for students of ours who are interested in being entrepreneurs to look at the online learning that we’ve done. We’ve quickly come to a place where a lot of people who are interested in getting a better sense of what it would take to be a successful entrepreneur are coming to us online though MITX and also custom things we do through other channels.

Those are all areas where we had to invest a lot. With some of that, you have the opportunity to leapfrog some competitors. In other cases, it is really making sure that we’re at the top with other leading schools. It is a mix of both.

P&Q: MIT Sloan traditionally scores very high with recruiters in the U.S. News and Bloomberg Businessweek rankings. What have companies told you about your grads? What are two or three main appeals of Sloan MBAs in the marketplace?

DS: Early on as Dean, I met with a recruiter from a prominent firm and thanked him for his interest in us.  He replied that there was no need to thank me and he was not here to receive those thanks. He was solely here because that firm tracks the progress of MBA hires, and “your graduates simply go farther, faster, in our firm than the graduates of other schools.”  That is what I hear most – from the firms that track such things.  Our graduates do more to move the whole organization forward (not just moving themselves forward), and that keeps them coming back.

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