The Graduate Advisor. Half-Empty or Half- Full: How to Spin a Corporate Reduction into a Winning B- School Essay

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1 The Graduate Advisor PERICLES ABLE PROJECT (AMERICAN BUSINESS AND LEGAL EDUCATION) SPECIAL: FOCUS ON GEORGETOWN MCDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS DATE: FALL 2009 ISSUE: #21 Half-Empty or Half- Full: How to Spin a Corporate Reduction into a Winning B- School Essay by Andrew Mendelssohn, GMAT & TOEFL Professor, Pericles ABLE Project Georgetown McDonough s new Hariri Building Georgetown University s McDonough School of Business: Hot Pick of the Season By Marian Dent, Dean, Pericles ABLE Project One of our MBA advisors once explained that picking the right business school is like picking the right stock: if you get one when its reputation is on the way up, you ve picked a winner. With this in mind, our focus this Fall is on Georgetown s McDonough School of Business. With a brand new, state-ofthe-art building and its location in Washington, D.C. the center of a brand new political administration Georgetown just might be the hot pick of the season. the new business school. It s the huge glass and grey modern building at the northwest end of the campus, you can t miss it, I was told. So I proceeded with trepidation, expecting a Moscowstyle, late-soviet era monolith, or the often worse American equivalent: a modern structure plopped down like an alien being in the center of Georgetown s peaceful lawns and classic ivy-league architecture. Georgetown, afterall, founded in 1789, is almost as old as the U.S. itself. It is one of the great, classic institutions of American education. So the See GEORGETOWN, page 2. You have decided to apply for an MBA program. Congratulations! Over the last year, as the economic crisis has progressed, you have watched the economy shrink. Your company has suffered as well. Many of your colleagues are now among the newly unemployed, and vaguely frightened. You, on the other hand, are still gainfully employed, albeit at a now leaner, meaner firm, and with less people answering to you. This is good news! You are a survivor. Now you re hoping to ride out the last waves of the recession by improving your education, thereby positioning yourself well for when the economic indicators start to rise once again. Having survived this crisis, you are ready to make that next jump in your career when the smoke finally clears. See HALF-FULL, page 6. The Brand New Building Looks to the Future I was happily amazed by McDonough School s brand new building when I visited Georgetown this summer. I walked through the main gates of the campus and asked someone the way to

2 McDonough School of Business realistically expects to boost its reputation with this new facility. The B-school used to be scattered, with different locations for undergraduate and graduate programs. But this new facility brings together all levels of business education, blending but separating the various faculties, with undergraduate business students on one level, full-time MBAs on another, and executive MBAs on a third. Main campus, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. GEORGETOWN, cont from pg. 1. expectation of seeing something in modern glass and grey at the middle of it just chilled my soul. Instead, as I turned the corner to see the building for the first time, I was confronted with an elegant structure that somehow manages to bring the classic grey brick of the Georgetown campus smoothly into the 21 st century. The building, named after Rafik Hariri, the late Prime Minister of Lebanon, gracefully blends in with its surroundings rather than clashing with them. Classic grey and brown stone end-pieces incorporate an arched glass façade that stretches all the way across the center of the building. It was so new that there was still a little construction material marring the front when I visited; but one could clearly see how good it would look once completed in a few weeks. Of course, you don t pick a B-school for the building; but when Katelyn Rosa Stephenson, Associate Director for Full- Time MBA Admissions, showed me around, I could see why Georgetown s Notably, the $82,500,000 building was fully funded with donations from alumni and other private donors. The main donor was Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, a 1992 graduate of the school and likely future Prime Minister of Lebanon. The point, though, is not that Georgetown spawns famous alumni who give back to the school. This is already well-known. The point is that there will be no problem with servicing debt at Georgetown, as sometimes occurs when other B-schools upgrade Continued... The building was also impressive inside. The curved glass façade encases a central foyer that extends four floors up to a glass ceiling, virtually flooding the interior with light. This effect is further complemented by the many glass-railed catwalks and staircases. And since the structure is also environmentally friendly (using recycled materials and energy efficient technology), it s about as impressive as modern educational architecture can get. 2 Inside the Hariri Building

3 facilities. Therefore, all the revenues generated by the new building can go into benefits to the student body and development of the school. This abundance of resources shows in the well appointed rooms. Everything is state-of-the-art, yet the school manages to maintain a comfortable feel. The 15 classrooms are comfortably sized, with recessed lighting and ample space for plugging in laptops; and they are set in a handy half-circle, theaterstyle format to encourage class participation. There are also complete video conferencing facilities, allowing courses to incorporate participants and guest speakers from far-reaching locations. Team study is a hallmark of Georgetown s MBA, and the building is also custom-designed with that in mind. The school employs a strict team approach. In the first year of a Georgetown MBA, Katelyn Rosa Stephenson explained, students are assigned to a team of five persons with whom they study in every class. Teams prepare cases that they present in class, so the new building provides 34 purposebuilt rooms for this glass-fronted and soundproofed discussion rooms available for each team. Finally, comfortable office space for 120 should help attract and keep good faculty, and a 400 seat auditorium is large enough to allow the school to bring in name speakers for special events. Studying in the Heart of the Capital Summers, Chairman of President Obama s National Economic Council, explain the government s policy in person. Both Nick and Filex also liked the strong emphasis on international business that Georgetown promotes and that D.C. provides. Washington, D.C. is home to the U.S. representations of every nation and every major business in the world. It is the headquarters of the World Bank and the IMF, and also home to most major think-tanks and government contracting firms. Every major consulting firm and industry association has a large office in D.C. I asked all three of my interviewees how well Russian students could become integrated into Georgetown. Filex and Nick both emphasized that the people at Georgetown were open and friendly a fact that was borne out by how helpful everyone was on my visit. Filex also mentioned how large an international population there is at Georgetown and in D.C. generally. It s an easy city for foreigners to live in, because there are lots of intercultural activities going on. It s not an expensive city for socializing because there are many alternatives for entertainment restaurants, clubs, concert halls, theaters, sporting events, parks and Enough about the building, there are other features to attract students to Georgetown too. I cornered Nick Walsh and Filex Silva de Balboa, two 2 nd year fulltime MBA students, on their way out of the school and asked them what attracted them to Georgetown. For them it was the intersection of politics and business that Georgetown and the D.C. area provide. Nick is originally from New York, but came to Georgetown because he felt that Georgetown students have the kind of access to government decision makers that would be rare in any other city. For example, while practically all B-schools have brought in various experts to discuss the financial crisis, at Georgetown these students were able to hear Larry A class in progress at Georgetown s McDonough School of Business Unlike Moscow, D.C. is not also known as a center of industry. This can be a detriment to those seeking jobs in industry, and it may have slowed down Georgetown s growth when compared to B-schools in locations like Michigan, New York or Chicago. But D.C. is still a place where the major industries must have a presence. Given the emphasis on government contracting in the Obama administration s recovery efforts, the D.C. location is becoming more attractive. It can create a gateway to executive-level job opportunities that might not be available anywhere else. museums are abundant. Plus, with the good public transport system, you don t need to drive or buy a car the way you would in many other U.S. cities. One drawback to McDonough is that no housing for MBA students is provided on campus; but Georgetown is located in a residential district of the capital, and many students find accommodation within walking distance. Katelyn Rosa Stephenson also emphasized that the B-school tries hard to ensure that new students, and especially new foreign students, fit in Continued.... 3

4 well and feel comfortable. Georgetown Connect is a kind of mentorship program that new foreign students are encouraged to use, where entering students are matched with second-year students who come from the same region or have the same career goals or industry sector interests. Or students can self-select people to meet through Georgetown Connect. 4 McDonough s Unique Aspects McDonough School of Business features both a full-time and an evening MBA program, as well as an Executive MBA program granted by Georgetown itself and a second Global EMBA option in conjunction with ESADE in Spain. Joint programs are also offered with the law school (MBA/JD) and the School of Foreign Service (MBA/MSFS), among others. At the core of McDonough s full-time MBA program is a very popular residency program that ends with a residency abroad. Katelyn Rosa Stephenson explained that students are treated to four hands-on residencies, beginning with an opening residency the first week of the first semester called Georgetown Means Business. The second semester includes a Career Track Immersion residency. Then in the second year students encounter a residency in leadership. Finally, the program culminates with a residency in Global Business midway through the last semester of the MBA program, through which students spend a week doing hands-on work with a foreign organization or Fortune 500 Company abroad. The Global Business residency is truly global, with about a dozen interesting projects and places to choose from. Students pick their location based on the business, the supervisor, and the area of the world that interests them. Nick and Filex, for instance, were going to Brazil and South Africa, respectively. These international residencies are also a feature of the evening and executive MBA programs. Georgetown also works on a module system that many students find attractive. Unlike the standard long semesters at many universities and business schools, Georgetown starts each semester with the one-week residency mentioned above, then holds three, 7-week modules, followed by a second residency, and finishing with a 4 th module before the summer break. Students change courses each module. The shorter courses give students a chance to focus more intensively on their subjects. It just doesn t give anyone the chance to get bored. Jobs are hard to find all round this year, and so I had to ask Nick and Filex about career opportunities for McDonough grads. While neither of them felt great about graduating into this economy, they both said that the McDonough Career Management office was stepping up its efforts and doing as good a job as possible. The PR surrounding the new building has also raised the visibility of Georgetown MBAs among employers, so students feel cautiously optimistic about their job searches. Nick also felt fairly comfortable about the money he had to spend for Georgetown. He has less debt load to worry about than many students, which frees him up to be more flexible in his job search. While no B-school is cheap, Georgetown is more reasonable than most, and Nick mentioned that realistically a student visiting from Russia would spend about $68,000 a

5 year in total. While certainly not cheap, this is well under the $100,000 plus yearly estimate at some top B-schools. McDonough does seem to take the job-hunting skills of its graduates especially seriously. All first-year students take a 14-week Professional & Career Development program designed to help ensure their success in both that all-important summer internship and their full-time job search. Students are invited to take part in alumni practice interviews and to join treks to various U.S. and foreign cities in search of opportunities. Plus, with a successful alumni list that includes CEOs and former CEOs of such companies as MBNA Bank of America, Citigroup, Xerox, General Electric and Walt Disney, students are graduating into a long line of high-level executives who can be tapped for help. The Georgetown Wall Street Alliance, for example, is a networking organization of Georgetown alumni who are Wall Street executives, and who hold social events designed to raise Georgetown s profile in the financial industry and help graduates get started in the industry. Similar alliances exist for graduates interested in the entertainment and media industry, and for those graduates located in various countries around the world. Finally, I can t leave a review of Georgetown s unique features without mentioning religion. Georgetown is a Catholic university, run by the Jesuits. This doesn t translate into a heavy emphasis on religion, and one need not be Catholic to attend. There is no religious education mandated in the B- school classrooms. The atmosphere is, shall we say, religious but relaxed: on the summer day that I came to campus, pretty undergrads in bikinis were sunbathing on the grass commons two meters from a pristine statue of the Virgin Mary. The religious orientation, however, does translate into an emphasis on ethical business and community service not always found at other B-schools. For example, McDonough is home to Professor Alan R. Andreasen, one of the world s leading experts in Social Marketing. Indeed, Spirit of Georgetown posters sprinkled around the campus in anticipation of the start of classes made it clear that Georgetown is serious about educating the whole person. In this age of discredited mortgage banks and jailed Wall Street executives, this emphasis on ethical business may be another sign that Georgetown is ahead of the curve. The Statistics Georgetown McDonough School of Business is small as B-schools go, with an entering class of approximately 256 students in the full-time MBA program. For many, that s a good, manageable number, where you can get to know everyone before graduation. It s also manageable in terms of entrance statistics. The average GMAT is 678, and they suggest that you aim for at least 640 before applying. You need a TOEFL ibt of 100 or more, or academic IELTS of 7.5 or more. The average post-graduation work experience is five years, although the minimum is as low as two years. So for most Russian students who are serious about B-school abroad, Georgetown is reasonably doable. Of course, with those entrance stats, we indeed aren t looking at a top 10 school here. But unless you are really a top candidate set on Harvard or Wharton, Georgetown s relatively steady growth in MBA rankings makes it a good bet for your current-year application list. As mentioned, with the new facilities and D.C. location, we expect its stock price to go up, meaning the school will become more prestigious and difficult to get into as time goes by. Since 2007, the school has climbed from 25 th to 19 th in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Business Week ranks it in the second tier (i.e., between 31st-45th). Financial Times puts it at 40 th overall, but 4 th in international business. The only aberration is Forbes, which raised it from 37 th in 2005, to 25 th in 2007, but then unfortunately dropped it back to 31st in I wish I knew Forbes reasoning for the drop, but nonetheless Georgetown looks like a good bet to me. I want to emphasize that rankings aren t everything; the best pick for a B-school is one where you will enjoy spending two years of your life. You should be comfortable there, you should like your peers, and the people should be interested in the things you like. For that, Georgetown is a good bet allaround a place where the people are helpful, the atmosphere is both inspiring and friendly, and there is a huge interest in all things international. 5

6 HALF-FULL Continued from Page 1. You do have one problem, though. Business schools like to see concrete numbers from their applicants. Your numbers a year or two ago were great. Unfortunately, just as your firm s numbers have shrunk in the last year, indeed just as the economy s numbers have shrunk in the last year, yours have as well. Now you need to portray your victory, your professional survival in a time of economic turmoil, as a victory when on paper it simply looks as if your job, responsibilities and results were reduced. The main problem here is the generally accepted notion of what B-Schools look for in the applications they receive. While the absolute procedure that B- Schools use to choose their applicants can sometimes be a mystery, admissions advisors will tell anybody who cares to listen that the schools are interested in seeing concrete numbers from their applicants. What this means is that applicants should quantify their professional results in a manner that reflects their true results. For example, everybody has heard that business schools ideally look for people with real management experience. To correctly reflect this, an applicant should detail the real number of people who directly report to him or her. If the applicant oversees a department with fifteen people, and these people in turn oversee an additional hundred people, these numbers need to be expressed concretely in the applicant s CV and/or application. Further, schools expect professional results to be expressed in just the same way. If the applicant saw 6 a fifteen percent growth in the volume, profit, or some other statistic relevant to his or her position and responsibilities, then these results too should be expressed numerically on his or her CV and application. However, as everybody knows, we are living through unsettled economic times, and good economic news is rare these days. Rarer still is a firm that can express real, positive numbers for their performance in the last year: as the world s economies have contracted, most firms have as well. Many potential MBA students are now perplexed as to exactly how they can express their professional achievements for the last year, when in their minds their real achievements have all involved simple professional survival. Their firms have shrunk as the economy has contracted, and this has been reflected in a corresponding reduction of personal performance numbers. Too many applicants are in the position of trying to explain how being the one professional survivor from a five person department, with performance figures showing a fifty percent contraction, means that they are an over-achiever who really deserves to be admitted to Wharton or INSEAD. So, what do you do now? Give up? Wait? Lay yourself at the mercy of the B-School admissions directors and blame the economy? Well, the intelligent applicant will see an opportunity where others simply see bad news. You do have good news, actually. You re still employed. Perhaps your pay check is smaller, but you re still, hopefully, collecting it every month. However, MBA s aren t for people who are simply satisfied with collecting a salary and counting themselves lucky. MBA s are for those who are motivated, and are willing to make the best out of a bad situation and still succeed. In fact, out of all the bad news, if you are still employed then you probably have more success to quantify than mere professional survival would indicate. The solution lies in changing your perspective, and, to some extent, in branding yourself: putting your face on your application. People often say that all statistics are subject to debate; in the case of B- School applications, perhaps it is better to say that all statistics are subject to the perspective from which they are viewed. You, an MBA applicant, can control this perspective. When completing your application, you are in fact in complete control of the information you provide the business school and how you portray it. This gives you a unique opportunity to spin what others would see as mere professional survival into a professional triumph. Let s begin with the question of management experience. For example, let s say that a year ago you oversaw our hypothetical department with fifteen people directly reporting to you, and an additional one hundred people directly reporting to those fifteen. In other words, you were responsible for managing fifteen people directly and another one hundred indirectly. Great! However, the economy has crashed. Those figures were from a year ago. Of the original fifteen people who were directly under your responsibility, ten are gone. Of the original one hundred you originally indirectly oversaw, only fifteen are left. Your big worry now, as you fill in your application, is that your numbers will portray your career as contracting. Maybe, but you can control how you portray these numbers. Did your career really contract? You re still in the same position, and in fact you now bear a larger burden. You have less people to do the same job, so your responsibility has actually grown. Maybe you can even portray this in terms of a percentage, and not a raw number. In our case, maybe you had peers in exactly the same position as you were in, and they are gone. If so, then in fact you are handling a larger percentage of your firm s work, and you should portray your position thus. Another consideration is to look vertically: if there were reductions below you, then there were probably reductions above you as well. In other words, you are closer to the CEO, or whoever actually runs the company. Express your position as one of degrees of separation, because in this case you can numerically show how you Continues...

7 are closer to the real head of the company. Further, your sales (or whatever your firm uses as a measure of success) may have shrunk, but you need to look at how this contraction compares to the number of people doing the job. Again, hypothetically, let s say that you ve seen a twenty five percent reduction in sales volume for the last year, but the firm laid off fifty percent of its employees. In this case, your sales figures per capita have actually increased. You have done more with less. Your half-reduced squad of people reporting to you has increased their personal productivity substantially, and you can take credit for this increased productivity, and reflect it on your CV or application with real numbers. Most important for your application is to be honest, but being honest does not mean portraying yourself as a failure for the last year even if the economy has made your job more difficult. Indeed, you are both a survivor and a success. Your survival is not just personal: you helped your firm survive as well, and this can be reflected in real numbers that will please a B-School application committee. All you need to do is to change your perspective slightly, and portray your situation in its best light. You will have an opportunity to explain the situation in full, and you are being honest. Everybody applying to business school should at some time visit their choice of schools before their application procedure. This is necessary for a number of reasons: you are making an expensive choice, and you should see the school before to make sure you will be happy with your choice before spending years and thousands of dollars or euros. Further, a visit will give you a chance to put a human face on your application. With some luck, you may make personal contact with the people who will eventually decide whether to admit your or not, and you can politely explain your professional situation (using the advice above) before ever committing it to paper. You will have another chance during your interview. The point is, a reduction in the most obvious performance numbers does not necessarily indicate failure when the economy itself is contracting drastically. In fact, your personal statistics might in fact be used to show your real success. Change your perspective a little, and try to see how you can portray your situation in the best light, and how to reflect this with real numbers. Be honest about these figures, but do not forget that they really do reflect success. Connect 1-2-1: Taking more time saves you time By Ross Geraghty, editor of QS TopMBA.com The Rolling Stones sang, back in the 1960s, about time being on their side. As luck would have it they were right - even Keith Richards, surprisingly. But for real people, without that Peter Pan existence or the bank accounts of Mick and Ronnie and the others, this recession means that time is very much not on our side. There are a lot of anxious faces both within and without the world s financial districts thinking very seriously about their immediate futures. For many of those, MBA programs at top business schools have become a very viable option. Despite news varying, depending on which page of which paper you read, applications to the world s top business schools have spiked over the last twelve months. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the recession has proved a great boon for business schools. Nunzio Quacquarelli, editor of QS TopMBA.com, says: There are talented managers globally who are using their redundancy payments to get the education now, to hit the ground running when the upswing happens. Take a year out now to do an MBA and ride out the storm is the mantra. Then come back to the workplace in line for a better job, better salary, and better promotion prospects. QS has been running international MBA fairs worldwide for over 16 years now, and the fairs taking place in the final quarter of 2009 visit 55 cities in over 30 countries, with an expected 65,000 candidates attending. On October 8 The QS World MBA Tour will also be visiting Moscow, where MBA candidates will be brought face to face with MBA admissions officers from the world s top business schools, including Chicago Booth, Duke, INSEAD, IE, IMD, RSM and others. At this event, hundreds of candidates attend, seeking information about MBA courses worldwide, often to apply in two or three years time. Time is assuredly not on your side then, as admissions officers have to divide up their time between, perhaps, 30 hopeful candidates in a small amount of time. While the QS World MBA Tour is still the best way of meeting face to face with leading admissions officers, there are a percentage of MBA candidates who are at a more advanced stage in their preparations for business school application. For them, a few minutes is not enough to get a feel for the school they are considering and to answer all of the questions they might have. To answer this, QS has created Connect Using a system of preselection, where all applications are screened by a QS expert panel, advanced candidates are invited to attend a handful of half-hour mock interviews by certain business schools. Though these are not formal interviews, it gives the candidate an excellent chance to get to know the school they are considering in a lot more depth, to ask many more of the questions they need answering, and to give the admissions person a far better opportunity to see that candidate s strengths. Russian Evgeniya Naprienko is now a full-time MBA at St. Gallen in Switzerland and found both Connect and the World MBA Tour essential tools in her selection. In October 2008 I attended both the TopMBA Fair and Connect in Moscow. Both events were very nicely planned next to each other. The Top MBA Fair presented a big variety of schools from different countries and I could talk to their representatives, learn more about their Continues... 7

8 concentrations, leave my CV and establish some valuable contact. Connect gives a unique opportunity to have a personal 30 minute interview with the school representatives. Alla Kolesnikova, who will join the full-time MBA program at RSM Erasmus in Holland, agrees that the 30 minute slots on Connect in Moscow were extremely helpful, especially to candidates who are, like her, more advanced in their research: If you have decided to get an MBA and made a shortlist of schools you would like to apply to, TopMBA Connect is probably more useful than other MBA and PostGrad education Fairs. TopMBA Connect gives you a great chance to know more details about the schools, ask more questions than at usual MBA Fairs and not wait in a queue to speak with school representatives due to scheduled interviews. The main advantage of this event is direct connection to admissions officers, who can look through your CV and point out your strengths and weaknesses, advising what you should improve before applying or what you should demonstrate in your essays. Moreover, you can discuss career perspectives and ask for examples of career paths chosen by schools alumni with backgrounds similar to yours. Rachel Killian, Marketing and Recruitment Manager of Warwick Business School, says: We look to the Connect events to provide us with well-prepared candidates. We expect that they will have narrowed down their school search to around 4 or 5 schools, have a clear idea of what they are looking for from an MBA programme and have done at least some basic research into the Warwick MBA. It s great meeting these candidates at this stage because we feel that we are really adding value to their decision making process through the conversation. Unlike choosing an undergraduate degree, where perhaps a candidate might apply to several universities, or know which course is the best in their specific field, and then require the right grades to get there, MBA programs are in a sense a lot more flexible. Michael Aldous, of IE (who will be attending The QS World MBA Tour and Connect in Moscow on the 7 th and 8 th October), says We want to attract the right fit for our courses, not simply to expand the size of our classes, and most schools are the same. Therefore, for us, projects like Connect give us a great chance to meet and learn more about the candidate in front of us. While the fairs are great for meeting a lot of candidates and getting a feel for what their interests are, Connect is the next stage. We find that we meet a lot of the people we meet at Connect later on in the admissions process, and it s great to meet those candidates again. Getting face to face with admissions officers is one of the most valuable things that any serious MBA candidate can do. You never know, the Stones may have been right. At events like Connect, time might be on your side after all.

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