One by one — and even, remarkably this week, two on the same day — the heads of MBA admissions at the leading U.S. business schools are headed for the exits.
On Wednesday, September 28, Stanford Graduate School of Business announced that Kirsten Moss, its assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid since 2017, would leave the school at the end of the calendar year. The same day, 3,000 miles away, her counterpart at Harvard Business School, Chad Losee, announced his own departure — likewise at the end of 2022.
Moss and Losee’s seemingly coincidental resignations are striking for more than their timing. They are the latest in a string of high-profile departures of MBA gatekeepers over the last 12 to 15 months that includes Amanda Carlson of Columbia Business School, Diana Economy (Michigan Ross Loses Another Top Admissions Official) and Soojin Kwon of Michigan Ross (Exit Interview: Last Words Of Advice From Michigan Ross Gatekeeper Soojin Kwon), Peter Johnson of UC-Berkeley Haas, Kate Smith of Northwestern Kellogg (Kellogg’s Admissions Chief Leaving The School ), and Kelly Wilson of Carnegie Mellon Tepper — to say nothing of the sudden departures of the deans of Cornell Johnson and UNC Kenan-Flagler, among others.
‘THERE ARE JUST A LOT OF OTHER OPPORTUNITIES OUT THERE NOW’
What’s behind this sudden rush to resign? Is it burnout from the extended stress of the Covid-19 pandemic? Better opportunities in a still-humming economy? Challenges in maintaining standards amid a dramatic downturn in MBA applications? Or something else?
And is it significant that so many of the high-profile departures were out of academia altogether? Besides Losee, who is moving to the provost’s office at Yale, and Carlson, who moved to Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, the others are now in jobs adjacent to, but outside of, higher education. Peter Johnson spent six years at Berkeley Haas as assistant dean for the full-time MBA program, leaving in September to become director of Fortuna Admissions, an international MBA consultancy; Kwon went to work for consulting giant McKinsey after a remarkable 17 and a half years at Michigan Ross; and Wilson, who spent a decade at the Tepper School, is now a Pittsburgh-based consultant. Moss and Stanford have not shared her plans publicly except to say that they will involve leadership, a subject on which she is an acknowledged expert.
Diana Economy left Michigan Ross in August after more than 10 years in MBA admissions, the last five as director. Her path has taken her away from higher education altogether: She is now senior talent acquisition manager for programs and international at Vail Resorts.
As part of a discussion on LinkedIn Thursday (September 29), Economy posits that while the work in MBA admissions at top B-schools continues to be highly rewarding, it is also stressful, and offers fewer growth opportunities for those who have been in their position for several years — both personal growth and growth of the programs they were gatekeepers of.
“These jobs are still incredible with a lot of opportunity and reward,” Economy writes. “There are just a lot of other opportunities out there now and after several years of growth (personal + app growth, class profile strength) the current growth opportunities in the same role are just a little less. When you factor in the additional pay, new challenges in a different industry, and not working for faculty who have limited experience leading, it’s an attractive spot for at least a little while.
“You’d be shocked to see how many parallels there are between MBA admissions and preparing to staff the ski season at Vail Resorts! My role in admissions was my favorite one yet and you can bet that I’m still keeping an eye on the work that you all are doing and the results of the current admissions season.”
‘STRESSFUL & DEMANDING IN THE BEST OF TIMES’
Reached by email, Peter Johnson notes that MBA admissions is not the only field where exhaustion and reevaluation are taking place.
“I think we’re seeing a trend that is playing out in other industries as well,” Johnson tells P&Q. “Post-pandemic, many admissions professionals have re-evaluated their personal and professional goals and have chosen to pursue new directions.
“Leading admissions at a top business school is stressful and demanding in the best of times, and the pandemic accelerated the pressure, as it did in many industries. As the average tenure of business school deans has declined, frequent transitions in school leadership have led to more churn throughout business schools on the administrative side.
“I’m excited to see friends and colleagues like Kirsten and Soojin bring their talents to new roles, and the transitions happening now will create space for some fantastic up-and-coming admissions professionals who are ready to bring fresh ideas to the graduate management education industry.”
‘A COMBINATION OF FACTORS’
Petia Whitmore, founder of My MBA Path, worked in MBA admissions at Babson College for more than seven years, the last two as dean. She doesn’t think burnout is the sole cause of the high-profile departures.
“I think people are rethinking their careers altogether and examining the ways they spend their time,” Whitmore tells P&Q. “And some of them might not want to be ‘pigeonholed’ into higher education entirely. That was certainly the case when I left graduate admissions several years ago — I made a deliberate choice to go back to industry as I knew that would open more and more interesting options down the road. And it did!”
Whitmore adds that some may be interested in more accessibility to remote work. “Now that campuses have fully reopened and recruiting events are back in person, the demands on those working in MBA admissions kind of back to where they were pre-pandemic — while the rest of the world has moved on to more remote work and other forms of flexibility such as four-day workweeks,” she says.
“So I think it’s a combination of factors that relate to this new normal in work-life integration, with some admissions fatigue mixed in.”
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