Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”
And those who can do both? Watch out!
Business schools are hardly Ivory Towers. They can act as accelerators of ideas, consulates to employers, and first-aid stations for do-it-yourselfers. And they follow the rhythms and rules of business too. That means being results-driven, constantly tinkering, always looking to set the pace and stand out. Business schools don’t float above the fray or wait for permission. They make the first move: reinvent before they become routine and disrupt before they grow satisfied.
For them, the future is now and the status quo is the enemy. And the biggest risk is standing idle as a peer makes something happen.
Every year, some MBA programs make leaps forward. They leverage technology or revamp their programming in novel ways. They double-down on their strengths or create new opportunities for their students. Even more, they take decisive actions that fortify their identities and realize their visions. This year’s class of ‘Business Schools To Watch’ is no different. For the seventh consecutive year, Poets&Quants is honoring those MBA programs that are re-imagining the possibilities for graduate business education. That includes the savants who are anticipating where education is going and the workhorses who are plowing through the details. Through their example, they are preparing business students to learn constantly, act purposely, and compete relentlessly.
Among this year’s schools, you’ll find programs that are upping the ante on sustainability and social justice. Some have placed big bets on online learning, while others are opening lavish new campuses designed specifically for the in-person experience. At the same time, they are carving out new paths for students to accumulate needed professional experience or make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable populations.
And they are the schools that only leave stakeholders with one question: What are they going to do next?
Which business schools took the initiative to lead the way and set the standard? From Berkeley Haas to NYU Stern, here are the 10 MBA programs poised to make the biggest impact in the coming year.
“Game-changer” is such an overused term in business. In essence, it is a leap forward that alters the status quo, ultimately transforming industries or models. Well, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Columbia Business School’s new campus a “game-changer.” After all, the Henry R. Kravis Hall and the David Geffen Hall addresses the Ivy League program’s biggest weakness.
Spanning 492,000 square feet, the new campus, which opens this month, is a far cry from legendary Uris Hall. Christened in 1961, Uris has always been viewed as an eye-sore. On the exterior, it is eight floor gray cement hulk that could double as a joyless home for communist bureaucrats. The inside is little better, cramped and crowded, tired and tattered — slow elevators and few lounges — the kind of place you avoid showing on a student tour. Even more, the Uris setting begs the question: Is this really an M7, Ivy League business school?
With the move to Manhattanville, the answer is now a definitive “Yes”! Built at the cost of $600 million dollars, the new complex cost nearly twice as much to build as Northwestern Kellogg’s Global Hub and Yale SOM’s Edward P. Evans Hall combined. Now nine blocks north of its previous Morningside Heights digs, the business school is tucked alongside the Lenfest Center for the Arts and Jerome L. Greene Science Center in West Harlem. Here, students enjoy quick access to the West Side Highway and the 130th Street Subway Station, with views of the Hudson River and George Washington Bridge behind four-pane Venetian windows. The new location, says Dean Costis Maglaras, take the business school away from a gated “cocoon” and into the break-neck, bare-knuckle world of New York business.
“We have more space so we can bring more people back to the school,” Maglaras told P&Q in a December 2021 interview. “We will convene business leaders and alumni in a way that was not possible in our previous buildings. It expands the intellectual energy of the school, and we want it to be a nexus for the university to bring our engineering and medical school colleagues here. It creates a place to congregate intellectual energy throughout the university.”
By more space, Maglaras means 293,000 more square feet. Call it a project two decades in the making, with the school first announcing its intention to build the complex in 2003. 13 years later, after purchasing the land and selecting an architect, Columbia Business School began excavating the site. Along the way, CBS conducted a capital campaign, which netted a $75 million dollar gift from entertainment magnate David Geffen in September. That gift supplements a $100 million dollar donation from Ronald Perelman in 2013, the remainder of which has now been ticketed to student tuition assistance. That doesn’t count CBS alums whose support was generous enough for them to have parts of the new buildings named after them. Such alumni engagement can be credited to the school’s former dean, Glenn Hubbard, who raised over a billion dollars and shepherded the construction project over his 16 year tenure. And the care the Columbia community put into the buildings shows, with spacious classrooms, lounges, dining facilities, and study rooms — not to mention 25 interview rooms for recruiters. The building, which is expected to evolve into a high tech and interdisciplinary hub, was also designed to facilitate greater interactions between faculty and students, where classrooms, faculty offices, and student areas are all intermixed.
“Years ago, university buildings were designed so that the classrooms were separate from the faculty,” Dean Maglaras told P&Q. “In our new buildings, the faculty are not separated from the students. Business education is social. So we are mixing the groups to motivate movement and interaction. This is a dramatic change for how the population will be organized in the new buildings…It is to stimulate interaction and more interdisciplinary research. In the new buildings, nobody has a corner office.”
The new buildings have been a major selling point to prospective applicants. Last year, Columbia Business School enjoyed a 18.6% jump in applications. In real numbers, they went from 5,876 to 6,971 applications, setting a school record in the process. By the same token, CBS grew its full-time MBA student population from 754 to 782, all while decreasing its acceptance rate by three points to 16.2%. Along with being more selective, the Class of 2023 reversed a GMAT slide, boosted the average from 726 to 729. Even more, CBS recorded its highest percentage of international students with last year’s class, with 48% of students hailing from outside the United States.
Another attraction is CBS’ increasing attention on climate change — an area where the school seeks to be business education’s undisputed leader. That’s hardly surprising: ‘climate change’ was coined at Columbia a half century ago. Better still, the Manhattanville campus will be within walking distance of the Columbia Climate School when it is built in the coming years. In the meantime, CBS faculty are busy developing new courses in areas like cleantech to go along with coursework in areas like climate finance, new energy market development, and sustainability finance. Such programming, Dean Maglaras notes, is rooted in social necessity as much as student demand.
“It will be necessary to understand some of these tensions that are introducing so much change and disruption into the economy,” he tells P&Q. “Ten years ago, we grappled with digital transformation and how we can add courses and technology and data and analytics for our students. Now, the focus will be on courses that bring important insights into the role business can play in solving the climate change challenge. “Our priorities moving forward are how to support students and tp invest and expand our coursework in climate and entrepreneurship.”
While the new campus and climate change programming is attractive to current and prospective students, CBS is also doubling down on its commitment to alumni. In recent years, the school has launched CBS Alumni Edge, a life-long learning platform that provides students with training in areas like Python programming, analytics, and even investing. Still, Columbia Business School’s biggest advantage may be its location. In the past year alone, students have enjoyed visits from business royalty like Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and Revlon CEO Debra Perelman (both CBS alumni). More than that, MBAs are just a subway ride away from nearly every industry, company, and function imaginable according to Edward Patterson, a first-year MBA who previously served as the press secretary to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy.
“I’d say New York City is the greatest place to get an MBA. Access and accessibility matter! This may seem like a no-brainer to those of us who chose CBS as our first choice, but it’s hard to underestimate just how important location is to your MBA experience. In NYC, I can meet with industry leaders in class or at a coffee shop instead of setting up a virtual call or travel. I’m able to take advantage of in-semester internships, giving me that on-the-job training that I probably wouldn’t normally get everywhere else. It’s also just an all-around great place to live.”