Program Of The Year: Cornell Tech MBA

Students listen to a guest lecture in the Cornell Tech MBA program in NYC

When Vivian Ho started looking into MBA programs, she wanted an experience that would allow her to turbocharge her career as a technology consultant for Deloitte and that would provide the core skills to launch her own consulting shop or startup. The 27-year-old professional from Northern Virginia had studied computer information systems at James Madison University before getting her job at Deloitte where she had worked for nearly five years.

“I needed to get a better sense of my business skills and the thinking process in larger companies,” explains Ho, who knew she wanted to stay in the tech sector.  “I also wanted to understand what was required to build a startup. It’s a very different set of skills from managing a traditional business project.”

When she came across the Cornell Tech MBA program in New York, Ho felt she had found her ideal MBA experience. “There was more of a technology focus than in traditional MBA programs. A lot of other programs only offered a few classes and technology wasn’t as integrated into the program as it is at Cornell Tech.”

CORNELL TECH MBA: P&Q’S MBA PROGRAM OF THE YEAR IN 2017

So Ho enrolled in the program on the newly opened Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City and will graduate with her MBA in May. She not only has no regrets, but is a passionate advocate for what is one of the world’s most innovative MBA experiences. “I was very excited to learn the disruptive technologies and what impact they have on the world. I want to be able to make a difference and the students in this program are really ambitious and a lot of them are spinning out and creating their own startups.”

Cornell Tech’s unique MBA approach, the creativity of its curriculum and the devotion of faculty and staff have earned the degree Poets&Quants’ inaugural Program of Year award. Business schools all over the world are innovating new ways to teach business skills to young professionals, modernizing traditonal MBA programs and launching new more specialized degrees in such fields as data analytics and chain supply management.

But Cornell Tech’s MBA program stands apart, a sparkling jewel of an educational experience that has been creatively designed to deliver on what the blooming tech industry sorely needs: Ambitious and intelligent young professionals adept in product management skills. It is a program of and for the digital economy, where technology is transforming every facet of how the world lives, works and plays. No student leaves this MBA program without a highly valuable toolkit in turning ideas into real product and services, a core MBA function in many of the world’s leading tech companies from Amazon and Apple to Google and Microsoft.

GETTING A LEG UP IN THE TECH INDUSTRY

Dan Huttenlocher, the founding dean and vice provost of Cornell Tech

“If you really want to have one leg up in the tech industry, the best and most unique MBA is the Cornell Tech degree,” says Dan Huttenlocher, the founding dean and vice provost of Cornell Tech. “The experience of working on product development teams drives these tech companies. That is just such a critical part of the technology corporate landscape. Steve Jobs was a consummate product guy. Mark Zuckerberg is incredibly engaged in product development. So are Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. If you want to excel in the tech industry, this is it.”

What makes this MBA unique? Start with the fact that it’s not for everyone. This is a tech-focused MBA, a year in length, on the newest and coolest university campus in the U.S. in New York City. Unlike any other MBA program, you will study and work with students in computer science, engineering, design, law, and info systems. That alone makes for a rather exhilarating, if sometimes exasperating, experience and one that is far more real-world than merely working with other like-minded MBA classmates.

But the most innovative centerpiece of this MBA is its so-called studio curriculum. Experiential learning, involving project work, consulting assignments and formal presenations,  is all the rage in MBA programs these days. But Cornell Tech has taken this to a new and novel extreme. Up to one third of the MBA experience is all about studio work.

A TRULY UNIQUE STUDIO CURRICULUM THAT MAKES UP NEARLY A THIRD OF THE PROGRAM

First, in the fall semester, there is product studio. The school assigns students to five-or-six person teams to tackle new products, services and strategies for an organization. An advisor from the company issuing the challenge provides support. Students then roll up their sleeves and go to work. They do user research, hatch a strategy, develop and test prototypes of a new product or service that ideally meets the needs of the assignment. Ultimately, of course, they present their findings and demo their ideas.

These are wide-ranging assignments from well-known companies, such as Google, American Express, J.P. Morgan, Weight Watchers and Bloomberg, and non-profit or government organizations, such as the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York City Mayor’s Office. One team’s challenge from Weight Watchers, for example, was to answer the question, “How might we tackle teenage weight loss in a manner that makes teenagers feel good about themselves and not like they are on a program?” Google sought advice on how to encourage people to get a balanced view on such controversial topics as gun control.

But that’s not all. In the spring semester, there is startup studio. During this experience, students organized themselves into teams, finding classmates with complementary skills to do an actual startup. Students evaluate ideas, pick one to explore and then do everything from a pitch deck to a prototype before presenting to local VCs and angel investors. All through the process, teams gain the benefit of working with active entrepreneurs and managers who help to guide the group through the process of creation.

LEARNING BY DOING PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

While many teams turn their ideas into actual businesses, the real goal of startup studio is product management. It’s to learn what it takes to work with people unlike yourself on an idea and bring it to fruition—that is a much-needed skill at existing companies or in entrepreneurial ventures. One team has come up with a mobile app that provides young children with inexpensive and highly accessible speech therapy. Another team has done a fintech in the freelance insurance market.

“The studio is the embodiment of the fundamental principle of the Cornell Tech campus,” says Mukti Khaire, who joined Cornell Tech as a professor of practice after teaching entrepreneurial management at Harvard Business School. “It’s about building things with multi-disciplinary teams, putting into practice the classroom instruction. That is the core part. It enables all of the students on campus to work really hard at building things and to learn the relevant soft skills to be really effective. This is the future of the workplace because problems will always have a better outcome when they are approached from different perspectives and expertise. The students here are a very special group of people who know the relevance and the importance of the digital economy.”

The Cornell Tech campus is the result of an idea hatched in the New York City’s mayor’s office in December of 2010 when a pair of senior aides to Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up with the idea as a way to jumpstart a broader diversity of economic activity in the city. With Wall Street and finance in a severe downturn due to the Great Recession, the feeling was that New York needed a world class university to be at the center of a tech ecosystem similar to Silicon Valley.

The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City

  • TrueProspective

    Right…have fun at NYU. Stop using dirty tricks to manipulate digital media channels to defame a competing program. I am even getting ads for the NYU Tech MBA when I google Cornell Tech MBA. Get a life and stop trolling this thread for us prospective students!

  • FormerCornellTechMBA

    I’m the original poster that was using the name “FormerCornellTechMBA” … don’t know who wrote the above since I posted as a “guest” so anyone can use the name “FormerCornellTechMBA.”

    I do agree that most CT MBAs did not want to do the program in Ithaca, though. Every other program that I applied to was in a large city, and many CT MBAs only applied to the CT program and no others.

    In terms of the AMBA program, it is no shock that they felt the CT MBAs were young. The AMBAs are typically older than the 2-year MBA program anyhow, because they already have to have both a graduate degree and work experience to be admitted to the AMBA program. A few of the AMBAs even had MBAs from other countries, and were just doing the AMBA program to have a credential in the US.

  • FormerCornellTechMBA

    Yes — I did attend the program. You can choose to believe that or not.

    The only reason that I posted anything is to share my experience. I wish I would have known how negative the environment was when I was choosing Cornell Tech over other programs. You do what is right for you; I personally regret having chosen Cornell Tech.

  • M7Student

    Are you serious? Johnson over Kellogg and Fuqua???

    Sounds like you either got some real good scholarship money or you have very poor decision making skills

  • CornellMBA

    Ah, that’s where you’re inexperience clouds your thinking. Not everyone wants to do their MBA in a big city; asssuming that people are ‘better’ because of it is not only ridiculous but also shows poor critical thinking skills.

    Personally, I chose Cornell in Ithaca because it was a better fit for me. I can say that for 90+% of my classmates felt the same way. I wanted a collegetown location where I could make lifelong friendships, spend quality time with my partner, get a good job, and be the happiest during my MBA. I got admitted to Kellogg and Duke, which are both amazing schools and I am sure I would have been very happy at either place; however, I chose Cornell because it was a better fit for me.

    I am sure the Cornell Tech MBA will be an amazing program with amazing people, but I believe they lowered the bar with the ‘experimental’ classes. From what I’ve heard, the administration has corrected the problem with future classes and is now looking for more seasoned individuals, similar to any other top MBA program.

  • TrueProspective

    Is this person a true attendee of the program? Seems like FormerCornellTechMBA works for another B-School like NYU or Yale.

  • FormerCornellTechMBA

    Actually, I think the student quality is actually better with the Cornell Tech program. Cornell Tech MBAs think that the Ithaca MBAs were all forced to pick the dreadful Ithaca location because they have no other decent program choices. Cornell Tech MBAs picked the program because of the New York City location and the unique innovative tech approach. All of them would have never applied to the middle of nowhere Ithaca program.

  • TrueProspective

    Jeez.. it seems like Prospective2k is not a prospective student and works for another B-School, maybe NYU or Yale?

  • CornellMBA

    Funny you say this. MBAs at the Ithaca campus felt that Cornell Tech MBAs would not have gotten admitted to the 2-year MBA. From conversations with AMBAs, Cornell Tech folks were too young and inexperienced. People felt that Cornell Tech was diluting the brand initially but it would eventually help. Hopefully they’ll make the Cornell Tech MBA as selective as the 2-year and 1-year MBAs.

  • FormerCornellTechMBA

    Honestly, as someone who attended that program, I am shocked at this ranking and I really regret having chosen this program. They did a great job of branding, but the actual experience was already out-of-date in my opinion.

    Unprofessional, negative, and outright sexist — it really felt like the program combined the problems associated of working at a startup (the studio class is a disorganized mess where egotistical behavior is glorified) with the downside of being in a large institution (lots of red tape and out-of-touch leadership).

    Granted, I was part of the “experimental years” before the RI campus opened, but there are serious issues with the program that the administration has refused to address (for example, the multiple sexual assaults spanning multiple years… on a campus with less than 300 people).

    It really feels like Cornell Tech could have been an instigator in improving the tech industry, and instead embodies everything wrong with tech right now. Great place if you’re an domineering, sexist dude tough!

  • luislarrea

    Yes, you are missing something and lost in your own statement. Cornell is ranked currently number 10 on Forbes, 14 on Bloomberg,and 15 on Vault. Plus, you are talking about an Ivy League school with 150 years of academic excellence recognized worldwide. If You are planning to do an MBA based only on Rankings, you are doing entirely for the wrong reasons.

  • Moveout

    I think the long term strategy for Cornell 2 yr MBA program is to eventually move into their NYC campus and shut down Ithaca program.. I think that’s their only option to remain relevant or even survive. I don’t think they can do that right away because it’ll draw criticism from NYC since they got the NYC land based on promise that tt’ll be used to foster tech related programs. Once the new campus settles down, I think they’ll move in.

  • JohnAByrne

    None of the existing rankings even attempt to measure how creative and innovative an MBA program is. We are honoring this program on the basis of how inventive the school was in establishing the curriculum, listening to market needs from a core and booming segment of the economy, placing great emphasis on experiential learning and combining students from different disciplines to work together on major projects on a new campus built specifically for this purpose. We consider all of that a major achievement.

  • GettingTech

    In establishing Cornell Tech administration worked with McKinsey and Deloitte to understand what tech companies wanted from MBAs. Two major factors were interdisciplinary structure (working with engineers, designers, and other non business professionals) and speed to market (tech changes a ton in one year much less two).

    If you’re interested in working in big tech or a start up these factors should be a huge part of your calculus already. From my network at CT I know that folks have routinely performed as well or better than peers from other top schools (including HBS, Stanford, et al) in these two career areas appearing to provide support for the research from those two consultancies.

    However, if you’re trying to break into another industry then a two year program is probably a better fit for you.

  • Hexagon

    I guess the emphasis is on new. A launch in a saturated market can be seen as entrepreneurial, bold and innovative. Besides, PQ cannot award the same winners from previous years.

  • 2018applicant

    A new program from a business school that’s not even USN top-15. Can anyone help me understand how this is program of the year? Am i missing something?

  • NoBros

    NYC = more fun, more diverse than the tech bro culture of SF/Boston

  • TheOutsider

    I wonder what the Cornell’s business school administration is thinking? They obviously know that the 2-year program defines rankings and general perception for all other programs but continually to neglect it. The administration seems to be doing a poor job of running the business school with rankings trending down year after year. All of the students and alumni should demand a change in leadership and go for a better big time hire (just like Yale SOM did). Without a solid 2-year program, everyone in the graduate school suffers.

  • Red Layug

    Good back up school for Haas/Sloan/Stanford.

  • CornellUndergradNotMBA

    Great point. The full time Cornell MBA is at the absolute bottom of the priority list at the new overall business school at Cornell. The big focus is Cornell Tech, followed by merging the 3 programs in Ithaca (MBA, hotel, undergrad) no one in Ithaca is focused on improving the full time MBA program, the stats prove this. This is a huge problem for Cornell Tech applicants, no matter how amazing that program is, at the end of the day you’ll get a Cornell MBA and if the full time program stays as weak as it is, you’ll be dragged down by it.

  • calypso14

    I disagree with a few points made here.
    1) the distance between the Tech campus and the main campus is not an appropriate metric for comparison. Cornell Tech pumped in $2bn in the NYC Campus, so they’re not short on resources. I’m not sure how being closer to the parent campus would benefit such a program.
    2) NYU program hasn’t matriculated their first batch yet. All we know is what’s there on their website. So again, not a good comparison I think.
    3) the NYU and Cornell brands are comparable in terms of prestige IMHO. Columbia is of course a notch higher.
    The whole point of a tech MBA is a closer collaboration with the tech students and the engineering school, and of course the wider community in the city. In those respects, I think Cornell has an advantage.
    As another user pointed out, someone looking for a more traditional route to the tech sector through a 2 year program will be better off going to Stanford, MIT etc. But for those looking for a program built from scratch for the digital age, Cornell Tech is an attractive option.

  • Malvern

    Good question. Cornell’s 2 year MBA program actually lost ground in terms of overall application whereas peers experience a rise. Cornell’s acceptance rate went up (easier to be accepted). People say quality of applicants is not as high caliber compared to peers. Lost a few places in rankings. People argue that 2 year MBA lost priority with Cornell TechMBA taking up lots of manpower/resources.

  • Im

    In fact, my MBA friend travels between campuses every week. I have no idea how that’s being paid though.

  • Im

    There are only a few CS department better than Cornell’s in the U.S, none of them in NYC. The tech sector is booming in NYC at the moment. Also, they are trying to make remote collaboration work, all the rooms at Gates (in Ithaca) have equipments that allow you to quickly remote in. You can cross register and take the same classes at either place (with one side being remote in). You can get funded to travel across campuses and you can stay at either place on different semesters. I don’t know about the MBA much, but I’m a PhD student there. I think having campuses at different locations would actually work great if done well, you get to experience different environments. Quiet rural area for hard study and city area for networking and hosting big events.

  • Confused

    It seems like Cornell has only been hard selling the Tech MBA nowadays. Have they done anything to improve the 2 year program? I think I saw application volume dropped by like 15%???

  • Prospective2k

    Those are definitely great programs but doing a top brand MBA in half the time and in the greatest city in the world are hard to resist

  • M7orBust

    Totally agree. CornellTech’s MBA brand is driven by the overall Cornell MBA brand / ranking, NOT anything else Cornell related. Students come out of this w/ Cornell MBA, not a Cornell MEng. Cornell’s overall MBA brand is not even close to the top 10 level (let alone M7). No matter how amazing the CornellTech MBA is, it will always be weighed down by the weakness of the main 2 year MBA program. Another issue is the school has diverted all its energy / funds TO the CornellTech program (as well as the 3 school Ithaca mashup, MBA/Hotel/Undergrad) and AWAY from the full time 2 year program despite very little synergies btwn the two programs….so don’t expect the Cornell 2 year program to sky rocket to the top 10 anytime soon……It’s just so hard to get excited about Cornell Tech, with Cornell’s 2 year MBA’s lack of prestige.

  • maas

    Why not do a full time MBA at MIT Sloan, Stanford or Haas? Seems like a better option than both

  • Prospective2k

    I don’t think Tepper is the right tier for comparison. Hard to pick Tepper over Top 15, M7.

  • Prospective2k

    At the end of the day, you will be receiving an MBA and not a technical engineering degree. The NYU Stern/CBS brand is stronger than Cornell Johnson’s, and much of the prestige is based on the two year program. I see Cornell Tech MBA’s potential/attractiveness being limited by Johnson’s inability to compete with other top programs at the two year level. The NYU 1 year tech MBA will benefit from the strong recognition given to it’s residential program and continue to flourish.

  • PS

    I think you’re missing a very important point. Cornell, unlike NYU and Columbia, has strong engineering and sciences schools, making it a more attractive option for a tech MBA. Look at other MBA programs known for tech.

    Also, one doesn’t have to better than the other. Look at Kellogg and Booth. Both are in the same city and both are equally good.

  • 1stYearStudent

    Disagree, Cornell’s engineering/tech programs are much better. As Tepper has demonstrated, MBA opportunities depend on the quality of the broader university’s technology programs. Cornell simply has more technology connections within NYC to leverage.

  • Prospective2k

    Agreed that there is definitely room for more tech MBA programs but I just don’t see how as a prospective student I would pick Cornell over NYU’s tech MBA program. NYU has more alumni, connections, and resources in NYC than Cornell. All of NYU’s core departments are in NYC unlike Cornell’s – setting up even more opportunities for students. Cornell may have the short lead for now but will be dominated by NYU (or even Columbia) in the future.

  • lma

    I’m not following – why would proximity to the main campus matter? Here’s more important than distance: where alumni end up (a majority of Cornell alum are in NYC), how close partnerships are between the school and companies (Cornell Tech is designed for this), and how many resources the school has (Cornell Tech is a $2B campus and marketed as a hub for innovation in NYC). I think the program is fine. Second, the market for this kind of program, and more largely, the market for tech skills in general is growing. There’s more than enough room for multiple Tech MBAs in the city.

  • Prospective2k

    Cornell’s program is too far from the main Ithaca campus. I can see NYU Stern’s 1 year tech MBA dominating this program down the road with help from the nearby parent school.