MBA admissions officers at the top B-schools are headed for the exits
One by one — and even, remarkably this week, two on the same day — the heads of MBA admissions at the leading U.S. business schools are headed for the exits.
On Wednesday, September 28, Stanford Graduate School of Business announced that Kirsten Moss, its assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid since 2017, would leave the school at the end of the calendar year. The same day, 3,000 miles away, her counterpart at Harvard Business School, Chad Losee, announced his own departure — likewise at the end of 2022.
Moss and Losee’s seemingly coincidental resignations are striking for more than their timing. They are the latest in a string of high-profile departures of MBA gatekeepers over the last 12 to 15 months that includes Amanda Carlson of Columbia Business School, Diana Economy (Michigan Ross Loses Another Top Admissions Official) and Soojin Kwon of Michigan Ross (Exit Interview: Last Words Of Advice From Michigan Ross Gatekeeper Soojin Kwon), Peter Johnson of UC-Berkeley Haas, Kate Smith of Northwestern Kellogg (Kellogg’s Admissions Chief Leaving The School ), and Kelly Wilson of Carnegie Mellon Tepper — to say nothing of the sudden departures of the deans of Cornell Johnson and UNC Kenan-Flagler, among others.
‘THERE ARE JUST A LOT OF OTHER OPPORTUNITIES OUT THERE NOW’
Diana Economy left Michigan Ross in August after more than a decade in the MBA admissions office
What’s behind this sudden rush to resign? Is it burnout from the extended stress of the Covid-19 pandemic? Better opportunities in a still-humming economy? Challenges in maintaining standards amid a dramatic downturn in MBA applications? Or something else?
And is it significant that so many of the high-profile departures were out of academia altogether? Besides Losee, who is moving to the provost’s office at Yale, and Carlson, who moved to Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, the others are now in jobs adjacent to, but outside of, higher education. Peter Johnson spent six years at Berkeley Haas as assistant dean for the full-time MBA program, leaving in September to become director of Fortuna Admissions, an international MBA consultancy; Kwon went to work for consulting giant McKinsey after a remarkable 17 and a half years at Michigan Ross; and Wilson, who spent a decade at the Tepper School, is now a Pittsburgh-based consultant. Moss and Stanford have not shared her plans publicly except to say that they will involve leadership, a subject on which she is an acknowledged expert.
Diana Economy left Michigan Ross in August after more than 10 years in MBA admissions, the last five as director. Her path has taken her away from higher education altogether: She is now senior talent acquisition manager for programs and international at Vail Resorts.
As part of a discussion on LinkedIn Thursday (September 29), Economy posits that while the work in MBA admissions at top B-schools continues to be highly rewarding, it is also stressful, and offers fewer growth opportunities for those who have been in their position for several years — both personal growth and growth of the programs they were gatekeepers of.
“These jobs are still incredible with a lot of opportunity and reward,” Economy writes. “There are just a lot of other opportunities out there now and after several years of growth (personal + app growth, class profile strength) the current growth opportunities in the same role are just a little less. When you factor in the additional pay, new challenges in a different industry, and not working for faculty who have limited experience leading, it’s an attractive spot for at least a little while.
“You’d be shocked to see how many parallels there are between MBA admissions and preparing to staff the ski season at Vail Resorts! My role in admissions was my favorite one yet and you can bet that I’m still keeping an eye on the work that you all are doing and the results of the current admissions season.”
‘STRESSFUL & DEMANDING IN THE BEST OF TIMES’
Petia Whitmore: “I think people are rethinking their careers altogether and examining the ways they spend their time.”
Reached by email, Peter Johnson notes that MBA admissions is not the only field where exhaustion and reevaluation are taking place.
“I think we’re seeing a trend that is playing out in other industries as well,” Johnson tells P&Q. “Post-pandemic, many admissions professionals have re-evaluated their personal and professional goals and have chosen to pursue new directions.
“Leading admissions at a top business school is stressful and demanding in the best of times, and the pandemic accelerated the pressure, as it did in many industries. As the average tenure of business school deans has declined, frequent transitions in school leadership have led to more churn throughout business schools on the administrative side.
“I’m excited to see friends and colleagues like Kirsten and Soojin bring their talents to new roles, and the transitions happening now will create space for some fantastic up-and-coming admissions professionals who are ready to bring fresh ideas to the graduate management education industry.”
‘A COMBINATION OF FACTORS’
Petia Whitmore, founder of My MBA Path, worked in MBA admissions at Babson College for more than seven years, the last two as dean. She doesn’t think burnout is the sole cause of the high-profile departures.
“I think people are rethinking their careers altogether and examining the ways they spend their time,” Whitmore tells P&Q. “And some of them might not want to be ‘pigeonholed’ into higher education entirely. That was certainly the case when I left graduate admissions several years ago — I made a deliberate choice to go back to industry as I knew that would open more and more interesting options down the road. And it did!”
Whitmore adds that some may be interested in more accessibility to remote work. “Now that campuses have fully reopened and recruiting events are back in person, the demands on those working in MBA admissions kind of back to where they were pre-pandemic — while the rest of the world has moved on to more remote work and other forms of flexibility such as four-day workweeks,” she says.
“So I think it’s a combination of factors that relate to this new normal in work-life integration, with some admissions fatigue mixed in.”
LISTEN TO OUR BUSINESS CASUAL PODCAST: THE CHANGING OF THE MBA GUARD AT HARVARD & STANFORD
‘MORE CHURN THAN EVER BEFORE’
“The times have changed,” Petia Whitmore writes in the discussion on LinkedIn. “Earlier this month I read with great interest the interview in Poets&Quants with UNC’s Dean Doug Shackelford. When he announced he would be stepping down he said his last day would be in just three days.
“I think these changes are aligned with the overall trend in society where we are all examining how we should be spending our lives and careers,” Whitmore continues. “Working in admissions can be incredibly rewarding but also extremely taxing. Many of us go into that line of work because of the desire and commitment to serve MBA candidates. But as you grow through the ranks, you end up being more removed from that work and you spend a lot more of your time managing stakeholders, including faculty as Diana mentioned.”
Whitmore echoes Johnson in referring to the high-stress world of higher education as a “churn.”
“I remember hearing at one of the last AACSB Deans Conferences that I attended that the average tenure of a B-school dean is now less than three years,” she writes. “Higher ed is transforming into a place with more churn than ever before.”
‘THESE JOBS ARE PRESSURE-COOKERS’
Peter Johnson, formerly of Berkeley Haas: “As the average tenure of business school deans has declined, frequent transitions in school leadership have led to more churn throughout business schools on the administrative side.”
Barbara Coward, founder of the consultancy MBA 360, says the application downturn has certainly played a role in the admissions offices’ turnover.
“I think it does make a statement about the market and these jobs, even at the most prestigious institutions, are pressure-cookers,” Coward writes. “Furthermore, it’s hard to ignore that domestic applications are down. So, I would make an argument that it is challenging to meet numerous strategic objectives and continue to maintain that the industry is not connecting with a segment of the population that would boost application volume.
“I’m sad to see all these amazing and talented people in the industry move on. So enjoyed seeing their friendly faces at our conferences.”
Nupur Gupta, founder of consultancy Crack the MBA, chimed in: “I think Diana, Barbara and Petia have shared excellent perspectives. I second those. Most of these departures are of folks who have been in their roles for sometime. So it’s time for them to do what they were helping MBA students do — reinvent themselves and grow themselves. Will miss these people so much, especially at our AIGAC conference next year.”
‘HEADS SOMETIMES ROLL IN ADMISSIONS’
Betsy Massar of Master Admissions: “Forget the ‘great resignation’ and quiet quitting, it’s more like: what else is out there?”
Linda Abraham, founder of consultancy Accepted, sparks the LinkedIn discussion about the reasons for so many high-profile departures. She tells P&Q that “I think the reasons are many and varied as indicated by the discussion on LI.”
The biggest one? Admissions directors may believe that “greener pastures” await elsewhere.
“Perhaps the pay is better outside academia than inside academia,” Abraham says. “Given that admissions directors work very hard, they may figure that they might as well make more money if they’re going to work hard or can work less.” The resumption of work travel may also be unwelcome after so much time at home with family, she adds.
“In my many years interviewing and meeting with admissions directors, I’ve been impressed with how very hard they work,” Abraham says. “They work many nights and weekends. Due to travel demands and occasional evening presentations/events, they are also frequently away from family during family time. Some, especially after the pandemic, may not want to return to the lives they led before the pandemic.”
Among other possible contributing factors, she says, is the fact that the decline in MBA applications may have prompted some to resign before being fired — even though the drop-off is largely systemic in nature, a result of the strong economy in 2021 and 2022.
“Heads sometimes roll in admissions when application volume goes down,” Abraham says. “Some directors may feel ‘blamed’ for the decline in volume at their school and have decided it’s time to move on before the ax falls.
“Universities are very bureaucratic institutions with lots of stakeholders and bosses that have to be satisfied. Politics exists. It can become tiresome.”
‘WHAT ELSE IS OUT THERE?’
Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, agrees that post-Covid many are reassessing their career trajectories.
“I do think that in the post-pandemic era, a lot of people are rethinking what they are doing,” she says. “Now that this enormous shock to the system is largely behind us, at least for the moment, people are reevaluating where they want to go and what they want to do. Forget the ‘great resignation’ and quiet quitting, it’s more like: what else is out there?
“Also I think there is a sense that people can be more mobile now that we all figured out how to do remote working. That opens up a whole new range of possibilities for people with partners, families, and other attachments. So why not explore and take advantage?”
LISTEN TO OUR BUSINESS CASUAL PODCAST: THE CHANGING OF THE MBA GUARD AT HARVARD & STANFORD
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