10 Business Schools To Watch In 2024

SDA Bocconi’s new campus in Milan

SDA Bocconi

Some critics charge that rankings are too prohibitive. The deck is stacked and the tiers are set. Schools really can’t move up. When they do, they eventually slide right back down. It doesn’t matter what schools do, they add. Their fate is ultimately sealed.

Try telling that to SDA Bocconi School of Management. In 2008, the school ranked 48th in the world according to The Financial Times. Respectable – but hardly compelling. Five years later, it climbed to 39th – and 10 spots higher to 29th in 2018. At that rate, you might expect it to crack the Top 20 this year. Instead, it ranked 6th in 2023 – better than Chicago Booth, Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan. Better still, it finished above London Business School and HEC Paris.

Bottom line: 6th represents a pretty substantive jump from ranking 12th and 13th in the previous two FT rankings.

An aberration? A product of a skewed methodology? You might have thought that…until the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking backed up everything the FT showed – and more. SDA Bocconi finished #1 in Europe – even ahead of INSEAD and IESE, which ranked ahead of it in The Financial Times. Equally impressive, the school moved up four spots over the previous year.

What’s behind SDA Bocconi’s success? Let’s start with The Financial Times. Here, the school notched the second-highest score for its carbon footprint, which is based on a school’s net zero target for carbon emissions using the school’s audit reports over the previous three years. SDA Bocconi’s alumni pay, within three years of graduation, came in at $192,815 – second only INSEAD among European MBA programs. The school also ranked among the best in Value For Money (6th), International Course Experience (9th), Industry Sector Diversity (11th). At the same time, SDA Bocconi made noticeable improvement in The FT’s Academic Research and Career Progress categories.

Add to that, the program boasted the highest alumni satisfaction rate (9.89 out of 10) in 2022, not to mention a Top 10 career services center.

Bloomberg Businessweek offers additional clues to what sets SDA Bocconi apart. Like The Financial Times, Bloomberg Businessweek data confirmed that SDA Bocconi grads pull in the second-highest Compensation among European programs after graduation. The school also produced the highest European score for Networking – which measures how accessible and supportive alumni are towards MBA students. In addition, the school ranked 5th and 10th respectively in the Learning and Entrepreneurship dimensions. Notably, SDA Bocconi moved up seven spots in Learning, while holding steady at 2nd in Compensation.

MBA students at SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy. Courtesy photo

Together, these rankings serve as a testament to SDA Bocconi’s increasing influence. Another is the re-opening of its new Milan campus, which was shut down by COVID-19 after being open only few months. Spanning 50,000 square meters – and five buildings – the campus features the usual: breathtaking views, roomy classes, video cameras and microphones, laboratories and study areas, colorful artwork and green spaces. Even a gym and restaurant.

What’s different? How about an Olympic-size pool!

“This was a huge investment,” says Giuseppe Soda, the school’s former dean and current professor of organizational design. “But we’re happy with our students’ reactions.”

Clearly, SDA Bocconi’s students are happy with their experience. What has propelled SDA Bocconi to rank among the business school elites? In January, P&Q reached out to Stefano Pogutz, the full-time MBA academic director at the SDA Bocconi School of Management. Here are his thoughts on what has made the program stand out.

P&Q: What have been the two most important developments in your MBA program over the past year? What type of impact will they have on current and future MBAs?

Pogutz: “The fast-changing business landscape, transformations in the job market, and the demands from the new generations of MBA participants, call for continuous improvements and adaptations to the curriculum of MBA programs. At SDA Bocconi, we believe that future leaders must integrate foundational competencies in business management and finance with a coherent worldview that reflects the complexity and uncertainty we are experiencing, as well as sustainability challenges facing us (e.g., the climate crisis, inequality, DE&I, AI).

Over the past year, we have incorporated new courses, workshops, and boot camps centered around these topics to provide a solid system-thinking framework that integrates traditional vertical skills. For instance, all students embark on the MBA journey with a full week of interactive and engaging sessions on future scenarios (new technologies and AI, energy and climate, geopolitics, demography). This course, jointly taught by a team of professors from economics and strategy, exposes participants to keynotes from top-notch guests and orchestrated class discussions. The aim is to create a lasting impact on our students, introducing critical issues that will benefit them in their future careers.

Another significant change has been a stronger focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. We anticipate that, in the coming years, more MBAs will be interested in launching startups or joining new ventures. To address major sustainability problems and build a more equitable society, innovation, technologies, and new business ideas are essential. We envision that all students need to acquire these competencies to become agents of change and make a real positive impact.

A final change in the program has been a reorganization of the concentrations to increase the level of modularity and flexibility in the curriculum. This involves adding new elective courses and incorporating new learning experiences such as study tours, business projects, and a pathway of collaboration with our accelerator, Bocconi 4 Innovation, which is based on mentoring programs and internships.”

Stefano Pogutz

P&Q: Give us your one-minute pitch for your full-time MBA. What makes you unique?

Pogutz: “Our new motto, ‘Change Together, Lead with Impact’, encapsulates the ethos of our MBA program—its spirit and beliefs. These fundamental concepts set our program apart. Many MBAs claim to offer a transformative experience centered around new technical and behavioral skills, competencies, networking, and access to the job market. At SDA Bocconi, we aspire to change together.

We build on a key feature of our program: the size and diversity of our class. Our full-time MBA prioritizes a small and intimate learning environment. The 2024 class comprises 112 students from 38 different nationalities, providing participants with a genuine experience of cultural diversity and fostering high levels of interaction every day. To enhance inclusivity, we employ various tools such as group assignments and project rotations throughout the MBA journey.

Our services, including the Career Development Center, offer focused approaches to support each student’s unique journey. The smaller class size also facilitates regular interaction with faculties, program officers, the Deans, and the Director. Students can easily have lunch with the Dean or meet with favorite professors to delve deeper into class content over coffee at the cafeteria. ‘Together’ also means maintaining an open channel for constant conversation, one-to-one meetings, and feedback sessions to continually improve the program.

The second component of our motto, “Lead with Impact”, aligns with our overarching goal, which is firmly rooted in the DNA of our School of Management. Since its foundation, our school has been dedicated to stakeholder capitalism and value generation. This dedication carries over to our MBA program, where our aim is to cultivate responsible leaders that care about purpose and making a positive impact on society.”

P&Q: In the 2023-2024 Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, SDA Bocconi ranked #1 in Europe, earning the highest mark for Networking along the way. How does SDA Bocconi help students connect with alumni to enhance their career opportunities and campus experience? What does the career services team do to better position MBA graduates for long-term professional success?

Pogutz: “In the last six years, we have introduced some relevant changes in the way we connect our students with the Alumni network. This has happened, under the coordination of the Associate Dean for our Master Programs, Professor Enzo Baglieri, in order to create higher integration and more chances for all our students.

First, to facilitate the connection between the on-campus students and our network of alumni, we have experimented the so-called “forever” program platforms. We started with the Executive MBAs and now we’ve approached the Full-Time MBA cohorts. These platforms are a mix of events and seminars, offered online and in presence, to both the on-campus students and the alumni. The former have the chance to interact with the network, the latter benefit from the continuous updating of their competences and are motivated to keep on contributing to the school’s networking activities.

Second, we have introduced the Alumni Engagement Manager, a dedicated profile whose goal is to preserve, I would say, one-to-one, the relationship among the alumni and the school, and to create opportunities for networking.

Third, we have created a bridge between the Career Development activities dedicated to students when on campus and the so-called Executive Career Curriculum, which is a sequence of events, seminars, ad hoc coaching sessions, and counselling that we provide to all our MBA alumni, with a special focus on the first 3-5 years after their graduation.

Finally, we would like to underline that a large part of the work we have done so far on networking is based on clearly explaining to students what networking really means. Many people simply expect to either participate in an event or meet an inspirational leader, and – because they are going to graduate from SDA Bocconi School of Management – then they get the job of their life. Networking is both an attitude and a skill; we must all be prepared to give first, without expecting to take. It is based on dedicating time and caring about others. We do spend time on that with our students, through the coaching service and ad hoc sessions and meetings with experts.”

P&Q: What is the most underrated aspect of your MBA program? How does it set you apart from other programs and enrich your MBA students’ experience?

Pogutz: “I’m not sure if it’s undervalued, but one aspect that every student, including exchange students, consistently mentions whenever we inquire about what has been uniquely significant in the entire MBA journey is the “class experience”. As previously noted, our small and intimate learning environment is genuinely distinctive, according to everyone. Our responsibility is to facilitate the formation of friendships among them, assisting them in interacting, embodying their values, and positively and carefully challenging themselves. The outcome is that, after a few weeks, all students get to know each other, forming a cohesive and solid community. This collaborative spirit cannot exist without the establishment of trust, and we believe that this is one of the significant opportunities our MBA provides to our students. Trust, now more than ever, is crucial in preparing leaders capable of listening and managing in a complex, conflict-ridden world.”

P&Q: A decade ago, SDA Bocconi ranked 48th in The Financial Times ranking. This past year, you’ve climbed to 6th. What are two areas that drove this marked improvement and why did they make such a difference in how SDA Bocconi’s full-time MBA program has performed?

Pogutz: “Ten years ago, SDA Bocconi was the leading Italian school of management, with the moderate ambition of becoming an international player. The first change was in our own mindset. Over these ten years, our focus has been on transforming this institution in a real global point of reference for the best management education. The faculty has become more-and-more international and diverse; professionals are hired from other industries and countries, and technologies have advanced. Finally, the new campus in Milan in 2020 and the one in Rome in 2022 are tangible demonstrations of the cultural and strategic change we put in place.

The second factor marking this improvement is the attention we pay to both the need to create the value, to our students and to any stakeholder of ours, and to preserve the values, that is our Dean Stefano Caselli’s mantra. We do feel the responsibility of educating a future generation of business leaders who can manage the business with a strong ethical approach.

I guess that this is what our students feel when they come to Milan and visit our campus. They perceive this cultural specificity of our MBA program, and they let these values to pervade their future decision-making, both professionally and personally. Looking at the FT Ranking, it pays off!”

Next Page: Columbia Business School

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.