The big challenge for Carlson is to overcome a perception that the school is merely a regional player in the business school sweepstakes. As new Dean Sri Zaheer puts it, “The challenge for us is really to raise our national and international profile. We want to make sure we get recognized for what we are. Our location is a blessing and a curse. We have these amazing relationships with 20 of the Fortune 500 companies that are in our backyard, but our location is a challenge because we have to change the perception that we are a local or regional school. We have alumni in 78 countries around the world and in all 50 states.”
If anyone can put this school on a world stage with other public university business schools such as the University of Michigan, UC-Berkeley, and the University of Virginia, it’s Zaheer. She was a professor at the school for 20 years before being named dean in March of 2012. A feisty advocate for the school and its students, she is passionate and tireless. And she has a good story to tell. Carlson has an intimate MBA program with an annual intake of just over 100 students divided into two cohorts that go through the core in lockstep fashion. This is a program where every MBA student knows each other as well as the faculty and staff.
The most distinctive part of the program is based on an 15-month experiential learning experience that every student must undertake. The “enterprise” experience–in one of four areas such as brand, consulting, ventures and funds–accounts for one-sixth of an MBA’s entire workload. Students are placed on small teams managed by both a professional and academic director and put to work on real problems with local companies. Carlson MBA candidates interested in finance or investment management, for example, can help to manage a student-run mutual fund with $40 million in assets from actual clients. “We can really take someone who has been in the military and wants to become a finance person and at the end of two years they will interview just as well as someone who has been an analyst or investment banker before,” says Zaheer.
The consulting program, headed by an ex-McKinsey manager, has worked with such companies as Best Buy, Medtronic and Northwest Airlines on projects.
Students aren’t only getting real world experience here. They are connecting with companies that are likely to hire them once they graduate. “Firms get to know our students very well from the enterprise projects,” reasons Zaheer. “It’s phenomenal for career changers but it’s also good for career enhancers because they have the ultimate responsibility for the project work.”
A “global discovery program” is part of a second-year course that culminates in a two-week international trip every January. Each section of the class travels to a different locale around the globe. Once they return, students reconvene in the course to engage in a comparative analysis of different regions.
In 2011, the Carlson School lost its dean who left for the University of Michigan’s Ross School. The result: Carlson suffered a fairly significant fall in the PoetsandQuants ranking of the country’s best MBA programs. The school fell 10 places to 34th from 25th in 2010. Dean transitions can often be tough on schools because the programs tend to momentarily lose focus on some metrics measured by the organizations that rank business schools. At least, that seems to be the story at Carlson.
The school lost ground in three major MBA ranking in 2011. Carlson, which had been ranked 75th globally by The Financial Times in 2010, fell off the FT’s list of the best MBA programs in 2011 when the British newspaper failed to get the minimum number of respondents to its survey of Carlson alums. It also fell behind in the latest rankings by Forbes and The Economist, in both cases dropping two places to a rank of 28 and a rank of 65, respectively. U.S. News managed to be a bit kinder to the school, giving it a three-place boost to rank 21st in 2011, up from 24th in 2010.
With new Dean Sri Zaheer firmly in place, Carlson is in a good position to turnaround its rankings status this year. Already, for example, the school won back it’s Financial Times ranking in 2012, coming in at 72 globally and 35 among U.S. schools on the FT list. U.S. News, however, ranked the school 30th in 2012, a drop of nine places from 2011.
The school will face an interesting test in 2012 when BusinessWeek surveys its latest crop of graduates along with the companies that recruit at Carlson. When BW last did this in 2010, the school earned a respectable ranking of 28th, up from a blanket second-tier listing in 2008. In its graduate opinion survey, BW picked up some critical noise, largely from international students who were less than satisfied with the career services office. As one graduate explained: “From the perspective of an international student expecting to have career opportunities with important companies in the Twin Cities Area, it becomes frustrating that most of the companies have strict sponsorship policies. This is the case for Target, 3M, General Mills, now even Medtronic. It wouldn’t be a problem for students like me, willing to eventually return to our countries. However these companies don’t hire F-1 Visa holders even for internships or short-term assignments which is part of the Practical Training block of the MBA.”
MBA Program Consideration Set:
Notes: MBA Program Consideration Set: If you believe you’re a close match to this school–based on your GMAT and GPA scores, your age and work experience, you should look at these other competitive full-time MBA programs as well. We list them by stretch, match and safety. These options are presented on the basis of brand image and ranking status.