Stanford Graduate School of Business is about to lose its chief gatekeeper — the woman who knows the “secret sauce” of what it takes to get into the world’s most selective business school.
The GSB announced today (September 28) that Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid since 2017, will step down at the end of 2022.
Moss did not include in a written statement a reason for her decision and could not be reached for comment. But a spokesperson for the business school explained that “She has been at the GSB for twelve years, including the last five leading the MBA admissions team and she is stepping back and taking time to reflect on how to continue doing the work she is passionate about. She knows she’s leaving at a time when the team is incredibly strong and well positioned to carry her work forward.”
MOSS HELMED ADMISSIONS AT HBS BEFORE MOVING WEST
Presumably, that work for which she is passionate will be in leadership. Moss is a respected expert in leadership, having written her doctoral thesis on the subject of “transformational leadership” while at William James College in Massachusetts. Loosely defined, transformational leadership occurs when managers encourage their employees to innovate and embrace positive change. Moss certainly used the transformational leadership lens in her oversight of Stanford’s incoming MBA classes, which have been among the elite, if not the most elite, across graduate business education for the duration of her tenure.
Moss holds the unusual distinction of having led MBA admissions not only at Stanford but also Harvard Business School. A Harvard MBA, she was managing director of admissions at HBS for two years from 1999 to 2001. Moss initially switched sides, moving to Stanford GSB in 2004 initially as a consultant in admissions before becoming director of admissions in 2009. She left the school a year later to join executive search firm Egon Zehnder as a consultant in their global innovation practice. After a five-year stint at her own consulting firm, she rejoined Stanford as head of MBA admissions in 2017.
“I am incredibly proud of the work that the MBA Admissions and Financial Aid team has done to attract, select, and enroll exceptional leaders,” Moss said in the statement released by the school. “We have been committed to helping individuals from all backgrounds see their capability and believe in their potential to lead.”
A RANKINGS SUCCESS YEAR AFTER YEAR
Stanford announced that it has already begun a global search for Moss’s successor.
During Moss’s five years as Stanford’s chief gatekeeper, the school remained at or near the top in most major rankings, before the pandemic and right on through it. Most recently, Stanford was named No. 1 by Bloomberg Businessweek for the fourth year in a row; the GSB also claimed first for the second straight year in Poets&Quants‘ most recent ranking. A major factor in the school’s rankings success has been its high selectivity — the highest, in fact, year after year, across the globe. Meanwhile, Moss oversaw an increase in the school’s yield to last year’s remarkable 93.6%, by far the best of any leading B-school in the U.S. or elsewhere.
But selectivity is only part of it. Moss oversaw the enrollment of more than 2,000 students to the GSB, recording all-time Stanford highs in percentages of women, international, under-represented minority, and first-generation students. Moss oversaw the launch of several programs and fellowships aimed at opening Stanford’s doors to a wider cross-section of applicants. As Paul Oyer, senior associate dean for academic affairs, said in the school’s announcement, Moss was dedicated to “democratizing the application process to redesigning our financial aid process and leading efforts to advance racial equity in MBA admissions.”
In her departure statement, Moss said she’s proud of how Stanford has distinguished itself in the composition of its MBA classes during her years helming the GSB’s admissions office.
“Over the last few years, the classes that have joined Stanford have had record highs in the percentage of women, under-represented minorities, international, and first-generation students, while also posting record highs GPAs and test scores,” Moss said in her written statement. “I am grateful to have been surrounded by such incredible colleagues as we worked together through significant challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and intensifying racial and political division. Now, more than ever, Stanford GSB’s efforts to develop leaders who can solve these complex challenges, matters. I can’t wait to see the positive change our graduates will create in the world.”
TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP IN ACTION
“During her time at the GSB, Kirsten’s passion for helping individuals discover their potential has inspired prospects and admitted students alike, and her keen insights into leadership development have made her a wonderful team leader and admired contributor across the school,” Oyer said.
At Poets&Quants‘ CentreCourt festival in October of last year, Moss, part of a panel of speakers, defined transformational leadership, saying Stanford looks for “people focused on results” who set “very high standards for themselves.” They achieve those standards “through grit and persistence. We look for evidence in the stories that we are reading of what challenges they have faced or what challenges they have set for themselves and how they have made sure those have happened.
“Great leadership,” Moss continued, “is about getting a group to collaborate together to reach a common goal. So really how do you get people to jump into the boat with you and work together toward this goal. We look at how people have convinced others, how they have gotten resources, how they have sold their vision as a way of engaging. Once folks are with you in the boat, how are you helping them grow individually so everyone in the boat be stronger together.”
PRAISE FOR MOSS
Students and alumni also sing her praises. “I’ve seen Kirsten through the eyes of prospective students at admissions info sessions, with accepted students at admit events, as an employer, and as an alum,” says Brian J. Conway, chairman of TA Associates. “I’ve always been impressed by Kirsten’s intelligence, kindness, and empathy; she is an accomplished active listener. Kirsten doesn’t view herself as a gatekeeper, but as a coach. I’ve seen her inspire candidates and coach them to find their authentic voice to tell their story.
“In our conversations, I was always impressed by her understanding of leadership of all types, and saw how that understanding informed her pattern recognition in the GSB’s search for leaders who will have impact on communities and organizations. While the GSB community will miss her, she has built a great team to carry on the mission.”
Betsy Massar, admissions consultant and founder of Master Admissions, calls Moss “a force of nature,” saying her work will continue to be impactful for a long time.
“Because of the research she has done on transformational leadership, and because of the work she has done on leadership assessment, she had a tremendous impact on interpreting the GSB’s criteria for admission,” Massar says. “She has expanded the way the business school looks at leadership and how it identifies talent, especially emerging talent, which sometimes might be hard to spot. I’ve been impressed with her stewardship of admissions and with her ability to pick out some of the most amazing candidates in admissions-land.
“If I’m ever working with someone who is off-the-charts interesting or creative, or who has answered questions I never thought to ask, I always suggest they apply to Stanford. She’s been open and willing to talk with consultants about what she is looking for and how she views the graduate admissions process. She’ll be missed, and I hope she doesn’t go too far.”