B-schools as businesses: GMAC slides and some notes

Oct. 27, 2008 | by Antony Mayfield

I’d never thought much about the business of running business schools until very recently. But it’s a deeply interesting business to be in, to say the least…

I spoke on Friday at a conference for people in the business of business schools. It was run by GMAC (the Graduate Management Admission Council) and had a focus on communications and technology.

Below are  some general notes and thoughts I made while I was there and some specific links and notes to complement my presentation.

Particularly interesting for me was the importance in terms of both revenue and influence of alumni of business schools. A graduate of an MBA programme or other high level qualification you is incredibly important to the school even when the initial purchased service has ended:

  • Stakeholders: Schools get direct feedback from their alumni about their strategy and operations. This isn’t entirely altruistic: when you’ve invested a siginificant period of your life (and probably some cash too) in getting an MBA, you care about the continuing strength of your school’s reputation. A school that is perceived to be getting softer, have slipping standards or that is dropping down the league tables is devaluing the investment its alumni have made.
  • Potential revenue stream: Successful alumni often donate a great deal of money to their schools. Some schools are incredibly well funded in this way.
  • Advocate: In terms of word of mouth, alumni are massively valuable to the school, indirectly (by wearing their association with the school ion their sleeve or at least their biography, as they progress in their business career, and also directly by recommending the school to colleagues and contacts. How much their word of mouth advocacy impacts on the school’s bottom line is hard to measure, but the people I spoke to at the GMAC event had a healthy respect for it.


Jonathan Laventhol, director of Imagination opened things up. Given my prediliction for looking at lessons from history about the web revolution, I was enthralled by his (off-stage) discussion of the Penny Black and the exponential growth of postal communications in the UK. He also talked about a recent Today programme piece on the difference between Twitter and blogging and was damning of that programme’s attitude to social media, pointing out that it was appearing crassly ignorant on the subject and guilty of pretending that that ignorance os somehow acceptable.

I also enjoyed a short talk from Daniel Erasmus of think tank Digital Thinking Network. Beginning by acknowledging that use social media had recently become the most popular activity of the web, he said that it was “the opposite of the vast edifices to narcissism that are corporate websites”, a phrase which I have to say tickled me.

Naturally it was a pleasure as always to hear the thoughts of Euan Semple on social computing and communications. His blog The Obvious has been a beacon for me over the past three years since I first met him and continues to be so. He mentioned The School of Everything, a fascinating social media experiment in sharing knowledge and opportunities to learn that I’d heard of but haven’t looked at closely yet. It was a good nudge to do just that.

One other speaker that was greatly interesting to me was Bud Lake, Associate Director of Marketing at the IE Business School, one of the top business schools in the world. He took us through his experiences of developing social media spaces and content to complement the school’s Media Campus. Intuitively Bud had done everything right, advocating organic growth, a light touch and above all “getting our feet wet” by trying out different social media formats (including, to date, a partner channel on YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, Tuenti (a new one on me, but very big in Spain, where IE is based) blogs and community spaces.

Interestingly, Bud also mentioned that the school had tried out a series of activities in Second Life. These included an event for potential applicants to the school and holding classes in SL. One that stuck in my memory was a negotiation seminar that IE held there, with students stuck in a bunker and having to negotiate their way out of it. I’d be interested in hearing more about how successful these activities have been – it’s been a while since I looked at Second Life, personally or for potential client activity, but it was something that came up a fair bit when I was doing some initial research into business schools and what they were doing online.

Pejay Belland of INSEAD also showed us a closed circuit social space that that business school has built for its community called MBA Connect. It’s obviously not open to public viewing, but it sounded like an interesting project.

Notes from my presentation

If you were thank you for having me, the slides are available below on SlideShare.

References / links:

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