The Ten Biggest Surprises In The Financial Times 2021 Global MBA Ranking


It didn’t take long for people to question whether the Financial Times 2021 global MBA Ranking can truly be global if it doesn’t include Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. Truth is, it really doesn’t matter where those schools rank on any list. The thousands of candidates who apply to those three schools would still apply to them whether they were ranked or not. And those applications would flow regardless of where they were ranked.

Bottom line: A trio of American schools, far less global than any of their European rivals and several other U.S. business schools, hardly make the new FT ranking less global. A total of 143 schools and 6,570 MBA graduates took part in this ranking from every corner of the globe. The slightly more than a handful of coastal elites in economically advantaged California and the Northeast corridor that bowed out represent less than 5% of the schools that eagerly participated.

If anything, their absence made the ranking more globally diverse than ever before, clearing the way for MBA programs that were not on last year’s ranking from India, China, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Spain and Britain. They also made it more possible for other U.S. business schools to make the list from Tempe, Arizona, Williamsburg, Virginia, and East Lansing, Michigan.

So set aside any misgivings you might have about the Financial Times ranking. This year’s list is no less relevant nor no more flawed than any of the previous 21 rankings published by the salmon-colored business newspaper. We agree with the assessment of the FT‘s Andrew Jack. “Most institutions supported the argument that continuity, transparency and accountability in business education were more important than ever,” he wrote. “With competition intensifying, they recognized the need to help students, recruiters and academics alike to benchmark and differentiate between different MBA programs.”

That said, here are the ten biggest surprises and takeaways on this year’s unusual ranking.

INSEAD’s full-time MBA program took first place for the third time

1) Why INSEAD…Why Not?

The Business School for the World.”

That’s a clever slogan for INSEAD. It conveys prestige, expertise, access, and globalism. And now it might need to be updated thanks to the 2021 Financial Times MBA ranking.

“The #1 Business School in the World.” 

Yes, INSEAD reached the top in the most international of business school rankings, edging out the  University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the London Business School along the way. But it’s important to note that INSEAD has won top honors on two previous occasions when Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and Columbia Business School participated in the rankings. The case for INSEAD’s time in the sun had been convincingly made when it first topped the FT list five years ago in 2016 (see Why INSEAD’s Time Has Finally Come).

Still, it’s worth examining what made the difference for INSEAD in 2021?

Well, that starts with understanding the methodology, which is comprised of 20 different measures. However, there are three benchmarks that account for 50% of the ranking: Weighted average salaries (20%), salary increase (20%), and research (10%). In weighted salary, Chicago Booth came out on top at $200,287, besting INSEAD ($188,432) and the London Business School ($177,234). Booth also produced a higher boost over pre-MBA salaries (121%) than either INSEAD (96%) or London Business School (103%). In terms of research, Booth ranked 2nd, just ahead of INSEAD (3rd) and well ahead of LBS (15th)

With 50% down, Booth surprisingly owns every category. What could possibly go wrong? To borrow a cliché, it was death by a thousand cuts…literally.

For starters, 6% of the ranking weight goes to international mobility, which the FT defines as “the countries where they worked before their MBA, on graduation, and three years later.” On this measure, INSEAD ranked 6th, LBS 9th, and Booth 47th. Faculty with doctorate degrees accounts for 5% of the weight, with LBS (99%) and INSEAD (98%) leading the pack; 8% of the ranking is evenly divided between international faculty and international students, both areas where INSEAD dominated at 91% and 94% respectively with Chicago Booth significantly trailing at 32% and 40% respectively).

Starting to see where this is going?

Seven measures each make up 3% of the weight. Among the top three, INSEAD scored the highest in four: Value for the money, alumni recommendation (1st overall), corporate social responsibility, and international course experience. LBS edged out its peers in aims achieved and career progress, while Chicago Booth ranked 3rd overall in career services. Another four measures account for 8% — with each earning a 2% share. Here, Chicago Booth tops the trio in three-month placement and female students (barely), with LBS and INSEAD leading the way in female faculty and international board members respectively. The remaining 2%, Women Board Members and Extra Languages, were led by LBS and INSEAD respectively.

Again, why INSEAD and not Chicago Booth? The answer is simple: INSEAD kept it close in every measure. In contrast, Booth ranked among the bottom of the FT 100 in several categories. In value For money, the gap in rank between INSEAD and Booth was a whopping 76 places, 7th vs. 83rd. The difference in international board members was 86% vs. 19%. And INSEAD placed 5th for international course experience against 46th for Booth. You’ll find a similar difference in the FT’s attempt to measure a program’s commitment to corporate social responsibility (10th vs. 52nd).

This is a global ranking and there is no doubt that the FT methodology clearly favors programs that draw more culturally and geographically diverse students, faculty and board members, with “international” metrics accounting for a fifth of the methodology. Coincidently, they are the areas where Chicago Booth suffered and INSEAD and LBS excelled. After all, INSEAD was in fact the first school to recognize the importance of a truly international perspective for business leaders, and this internationalism has been a fundamental part of the school’s DNA since its inception.

On top of that, the most informative measure of all for would-be MBA applicants – overall alumni satisfaction from the FT‘s surveys of alumni – wasn’t even included in the methodology. Here, Chicago Booth scored a 9.53, good for 7th overall. Compare that to LBS and INSEAD, whose averages came in at 9.32 to 9.30 – or 28th and 31st.

These observations beg a certain question: Is Chicago Booth actually the uncrowned #1 in this year’s FT ranking? Not if globalization counts as much as the FT thinks it does.

Yale School of Management’s MBA program cracks the top five in the world

2) All Hail Yale

No Harvard. No Wharton. No Columbia.

No problem.

Call it Revenge of the Ivy League. Last year, Harvard Business School and the Wharton School ranked #1 and #2 in The Financial Times ranking. And Columbia Business School had cracked the Top 10, too.  This year, the trio decided to boycott the FT ranking. Maybe it was a principled decision to remove themselves from a dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all competition rife with imperfections. Or, perhaps they plugged in the numbers and realized, post-pandemic, the methodology would expose them as overindulged and underperforming.

Either way, out of sight is out of mind. And one Ivy capitalized on their peers’ absence: Yale School of Management.

This year, Yale SOM made its move, going from 14th to 4th, tying itself with Spain’s IESE Business School in the process. Of course, you’ll hear critics discount this achievement with the usual ‘whataboutisms’ – What about Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, and MIT? Well, Yale SOM did beat out Northwestern Kellogg – and nearly caught Chicago Booth, too. It also performed better than its Ivy counterparts that also summoned the courage to participate: Dartmouth Tuck (16th to 10th) and Cornell Johnson (23rd to 15th).

Yes, Yale SOM keeps circling the M7, waiting for an opening to impress with its Ivy League credentials and Millennial-drawing mission. The quality of its incoming students has long been just as good or better than its M7 peers. The same is true of the school’s career outcomes for its graduates, especially when you subtract the larger group of Yale MBAs who prefer to work in NGOs, nonprofits and government agencies. It is an MBA program renowned as the “most globally-minded in the United States,” one with top teachers and researchers and robust connections to the rest of the Yale community.

Far more than its M7 counterparts, it is a program that caters to making an impact on the larger society, the dreamers looking to follow non-traditional paths to produce unprecedented results. “After speaking with some alumni and even faculty at the school, I realized that the school’s mission, ‘to educate leaders for business and society,’ was a core tenet in everything that happened at the school,” explains 2020 grad Tony Senanyake.

“Having the chance to consider not just the business implications of today’s challenges but extend that to a deeper conversation about societal consequences is relevant to all students. However, I have found it particularly empowering as I pursue my passion in the development of economics space. Throughout my time at Yale, I have had the opportunity to pursue this passion through a number of unique research and travel projects which has placed me well in making my career change.”

Certainly, Yale SOM is a place where professionals can engineer a career transition and be handsomely rewarded for it. One reason why the school ranked fourth by the Financial Times is pay. It ranked 4th overall for weighted salaries, with MBA graduates increasing their take by 133% since admission.  In the alumni survey, Yale SOM grabbed the seventh-highest scores.

What does Yale SOM have to do to hold onto its spot when (or if) last year’s high performers return? Well, there is plenty of work to be done. Yes, the program ranked 14th for alumni satisfaction, but several programs above and below it (Chicago Booth, Dartmouth Tuck, Duke Fuqua) produced higher scores, though we know the differences among these scores lacks statistical meaning. It also ranked 30th for career services, 36th for career progress, and 80th for value for the money – all numbers that need to improve over the next year. That said, Yale SOM improved from between five and 14 spots in each of these categories over the past year. Question is, can Yale SOM sustain this pace? If so, the pecking order may change for good once the pandemic passes.

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