U.S. Schools Crush World In Cuisine?

INSEAD placed second in having the best Executive MBA programs in Europe and Asia.

INSEAD classroom

There are two rather dramatically different ways to look at The Financial Times latest ranking of the world’s best business schools for educating executives:

You could conclude that the world has caught up and surpassed the best American business schools, or you could conclude that the methodology used by this British newspaper is so severely flawed that its ranking has as much credibility as Justin Bieber. Either way, whether you take these lists seriously or as something of a joke, there’s entertaining value in them–just as there is in the latest gossip reports involving Bieber hijinks.

For nearly a century, American business schools taught the world the power and value of executive education programs. Judging by the FT’s latest list, however, they’re lost their leadership position. Four of the top ten schools in executive education, according to The Financial Times 2014 ranking published earlier this week, are outside the U.S. Just as shockingly, the highest ranked U.S. provider is not Harvard, Kellogg, Wharton or Duke–the biggest players in executive education–but rather the Center for Creative Leadership.


This year, HEC Paris topped the list overall, with IMD Switzerland leading the pack in open enrollment courses for the third straight year and Duke Corporate Energy, an arm of Duke University, ranking #1 in customized programs for the 12th consecutive year. The Center for Creative Leadership was the top-ranked American program overall, followed by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business , and the Harvard Business School. The Rotman School of Management at Toronto University was the top Canadian program, with the Ivey School of Business finishing a close second.

The ranking is a result of a methodology that attempts to measure the quality of open enrollment programs on 16 different dimensions, from participant views of each other as well as a business school’s food and accommodations to the percentage of international participants and international locations of the programs. The open enrollment ranking employs data from providers and individuals who completed a handful of school-dominated programs in 2013. The greatest weight is given to the participant surveys: 80% in open enrollment and 72% in custom programs. Schools submit one or two general courses of at least three days in length, and one or two advanced courses of at least five days for evaluation.

The most basic problem with the approach is that differences in the scores from participants often are so small as to be statistically insignificant, more likely the result of sample error than any real indication of a program’s quality. The FT does not disclose the actual scores in any of the given categories, only a school’s numerical rank. And many of the school-provided metrics have little if anything to do with quality. Why should it matter, for example, that a school does a program outside its home country or partners with another school to deliver a program? Yet, those are two criteria The Financial Times uses to rank exec ed programs.

There was at least one area where U.S. schools crushed the worldwide competition: in food and accommodations. Stanford repeated as number one in food, followed by No. 2 Virginia’s Darden School, No. 3 Chicago Booth, No. 4 Washington University Olin, and No. 5 IMD. Eight of the top ten in food were all U.S. schools. The American schools also trumped the world in teaching quality, winning seven of the top ten positions. Virginia’s Darden School, long known as the business school with the best teaching faculty, came out on top, followed by IMD, Harvard, Chicago, and INSEAD.


Despite ranking third in open enrollment and second in customized programs, HEC Paris replaced IMD atop the overall rankings. The program, which recently revamped its curriculum with help from Bain & Company, surprisingly didn’t dominate in any one survey category in open enrollment, with its highest results coming in skill development (#3) and follow up (#5). To add insult to injury, the French school earned a #24 rank in food! However, HEC Paris was the king of custom, ranking #1 in four categories (program design, skill development, aims achieved, and value) and #2 in three categories (preparation, teaching, and follow up).

The IESE Business School was the runner up, ranking sixth in open enrollment and third in custom programs. Like HEC Paris, IESE posted modest results in the open enrollment, with its highest ranking coming in follow up (#2). However, it ranked #5 or better in seven of ten survey categories for customized programs, not surprising for a school that leans heavily on international students and a global view.

Switzerland’s IMD (The International Institute of Management Development) rounds out the top 3, ranking #1 in open enrollment and #5 in custom programs. IMD dominated the open enrollment survey, ranking in the top 5 in all but one category (#7 in follow up). It held the top spots in the skills developed, expectations met, and facilities categories (and ranked #2 in the quality of teaching and participants). However, it did not rank in the top 5 in any customized program category with its best results coming from ranking #6 in teaching and facilities. What’s more, IMD’s custom program rank was torpedoed by placing #22 in follow up and #30 in future use (i.e. clients’ likelihood to use the program again). But don’t worry too much about IMD. It still ranks as the #1 international program by Forbes (and #3 by (and #3 by Poets and Quants).

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