On Top Again
Michigan regained its No. 1 spot in the National ranking, as recruiters praised its graduates' work ethic and professional experience
September 20, 2006
That was the question Mark Bailey, a second-year M.B.A. student at the University of Michigan, and his team members tackled last spring. For the group's multidisciplinary action project, Mr. Bailey spent about a month in Rwanda investigating the supply of milk, soy, vitamins and other raw materials and found that at this point the African nation would have to import most of them. But he and his classmates concluded that an infant-formula plant is still possible and that it could both improve the infant-mortality rate and promote new business development. Sponsored by the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative, the assignment addressed Mr. Bailey's interest in both nonprofit and international management. "With the Rwanda project during the school year and my summer internship working on strategies for Moroccan textile firms to enter the U.S. market," Mr. Bailey says, "I gained double the experience that many M.B.A.s get at other schools."
The Rwanda project represents a continuation of Michigan's commitment to practical experience in its M.B.A. program, as well as a recognition that it needs to provide students with more international opportunities. Indeed, in The Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey, recruiters gave Michigan its lowest ratings for students' international knowledge and experience. Its highest scores were for students' teamwork and analytical and problem-solving skills. "We have succeeded in making about half of our action projects international, and we intend to continue to inject more international content into the curriculum," says Gene Anderson, associate dean for degree programs at Michigan's Ross School of Business. There will be more "in-country experiences" beyond the action projects, he adds, noting that students in a course on emerging markets recently traveled to Cuba.
Michigan ranked second, behind Harvard Business School, when recruiters were asked to name M.B.A. programs that successfully incorporate practical learning. But based on his experiences at both schools, Robert Dolan, dean of the Ross School, would no doubt put Michigan first. A former marketing professor at Harvard, he says, "You see the limitations of its case-method approach when you move out of that culture." With Michigan's action projects, "we teach not just problem solving, but also opportunity, innovation and creativity by giving students projects that aren't clearly defined," Dr. Dolan says. "Some students get frustrated and say their project isn't well-defined, and we say, 'Yeah, that's sort of the point.' "
Although Michigan tries to avoid being pigeonholed as an automotive school, its connections to the state's auto industry clearly account for some of its appeal to recruiters. Andrew Chien, a survey respondent and president of Ricardo Strategic Consulting, North America, is pleased to find M.B.A.s at Michigan with prior experience in the auto business because they bring more credibility as consultants. "Talking the talk is especially important," he says, "as automotive clients move away from the generalist consulting model and seek specialists to assist them during this transformational period for the industry."
Although Michigan is a public university, its tuition rivals what the most elite private business schools charge. That keeps it competitive in the pursuit of top-flight, top-paid professors. In this year's recruiter survey, Michigan ranked among the top 10 business schools for excellence in teaching marketing, operations management, general management, corporate social responsibility, strategy, accounting and finance. John Shea, a survey respondent and marketing manager in PepsiCo Inc.'s sports group, finds that Michigan graduates fit well in the company's "cross-functional and networked" workplace because of their balance of marketing and general management skills. "Students are experienced, well-rounded and personable," he says. "The quality and depth of candidates at Michigan is amazing."
1 THE WINNERS
See snapshots of top schools2 and highlights from the rankings3. Plus see profiles on the top schools:
• See the complete Wall Street Journal Guide to the Top Business Schools