Focusing On Fundamentals After A Rankings Tumble

Hasan Pirkul, dean of UT-Dallas Jindal School of Management

Hasan Pirkul, dean of UT-Dallas Jindal School of Management

What’s it like to be the dean of a business school when your Executive MBA program has just done a nose dive in a widely watched ranking? One thing’s for sure: it isn’t much fun.

Just ask Hasan Pirkul, dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management. Only one week ago, he was as shocked as anyone when Jindal’s EMBA program tumbled 21 places to a rank of 87 in The Financial Times annual ranking of the world’s best Executive MBA programs. It was the deepest fall of any program on the Top 100 list, not counting schools that completely disappeared off the list.

“I wasn’t happy about it,” he concedes. “I will sit down and try to see what happened but you can’t let the rankings drive your processes. If you have a long-term perspective, it really doesn’t matter.”

A BAD RANKING CAN BE LIKE A DISEASE: ‘IT TAKES AWHILE TO GET OUT’

Still, Pirkul acknowledges that a bad ranking can cause at least some temporary damage to a program’s reputation. That’s particularly true when it changes the competitive dynamic in a market. Unlike full-time MBA programs, executive MBAs are more often than not attended by local executives and managers who choose from among nearby programs.

Last year, No. 66 Jindal was ranked 13 places ahead of the EMBA program by Dallas rival Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business which was ranked 79th. This year, with Jindal’s fall, Cox is 10 places ahead after slightly improving its FT ranking by two places to 77th (see table). Among the 100 ranked EMBA programs on the FT’s global list, Texas is home to seven ranked programs. Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business had the highest ranked EMBA program in Texas. The school advanced seven places to finish 39th from 46th last year, with both the highest current salaries among alumni in the state at $197,672 and the largest percentage increase over pre-EMBA pay at 56%.

It’s clear that rankings do count: Jindal devotes a full page of its marketing materials to its place on various lists published by everyone from Bloomberg BusinessWeek to U.S. News & World Report. Says Pirkul in assessing the potential damage to his school’s EMBA program, “It’s like a disease. It will take awhile to get out.”

‘IF I DEVOTE 100 HOURS TO THINKING A YEAR, ONE HOUR PROBABLY GOES TO RANKINGS’

And yet alumni surveyed by The Financial Times gave the Jindal program very high levels of satisfaction. For organizational behavior and corporate strategy, the program achieved near perfect scores of 10 (with 10 being excellent and 1 being poor). The EMBA program also scored very high in finance, general management, and entrepreneurship.

But few if any people look underneath the hood of a ranking. Instead, they size up a school by its overall number on a chart. This all had to be particularly galling to Pirkul, who nine years ago devised a ranking of business schools based on academic research. Though his ranking started out as a benchmarking exercise, Pirkul’s updated annual list is something of an offset to business school rankings that regularly slice and dice schools on often highly flawed metrics.that either give short shrift to scholarly research or simply ignore it altogether. On Pirkul’s research rankings Jindal is impressively ranked 15th (not far from the Financial Times’ intellectual capital ranking of 20th in the world).

Pirkul, who has been dean of the school for 18 years, says he hasn’t yet had the time to analyze why his school stumbled so badly. “If I devote 100 hours to thinking a year, one hour probably goes to rankings and 99 hours go to trying to improve the school,” he says. Besides, there’s a long list of items that are top of mind. The school, now in a 204,000 square-foot building opened a decade ago–is in the process of gaining 110,000 square feet of space that is set to open next year. There’s a $50 million fundraising campaign that has $12.5 million to go. New sales courses began last fall. A growing concentration of commercial real estate courses debuted tin February. An student investment corporation is up and running, and the school is about to launch a new master’s degree program that will monetarily back entrepreneurs with viable business plans.

Nonetheless, he says, “it seems like salary is doing it to a large extent and there are huge salaries showing up at international schools.” He also suspects that a leadership change of the school’s EMBA program that occurred before the FT ranking may have had some impact.

  • Alex

    Unfortunately your information is incorrect! Rice University’s Jones School has always had higher EMBA ranking than any school in the southwest (no.1 in Texas). Currently 39th in the FT ranking (2013), the program is one of the best in the country. Please correct your news! Thanks!

    • JohnAByrne

      Alex,
      Sorry about that. My mistake entirely. The article has been corrected to reflect that the Jones School has the EMBA with the highest FT rank in the state.