Ted Snyder: The quiet American's new capital investment

As the Chicago Business School comes to London, Peter Brown meets the dean

Wednesday 17 July 2013 05:52

The European arm of Chicago's Emba (executive MBA) operation has always competed for students with the big London business schools, Snyder says. But until this September it was based in Barcelona. Now it is in the heart of the City, and it's big: 91 students this year. That compares with 67 on London Business School's global Emba, which is run in partnership with Columbia in New York.

Snyder has no time for partnerships. "We call our course pure Chicago," he says. "It's the same faculty, curriculum and quality that you'd get in Chicago. We don't hire local faculty."

His school is in the Woolgate Exchange, close to Guildhall and a stone's throw from Bank station, but the plasma screens and digital technology are the same as at the school's new headquarters in Chicago. And not a single UK national teaches in London.

The move has left a few bloodstains on Snyder's carpet. "In Barcelona, there was a sizeable group of faculty who held the view that we shouldn't move here. Barcelona was doing well; it was contributing to our bottom line. In contrast, London was seen as risky, expensive - over £1m more annually.

"But my view, in my fifth year as dean, was that this MBA is about the quality of programme and relationships. What better place to be than London when it comes to the relationships? There are global companies here. It's so productive. In the end, three staff members from Barcelona joined us here. About 10 did not. They have been replaced."

Tough stuff, especially from a dean initially hired as a peacemaker when Chicago Business School was going through a difficult period. Snyder clearly feels secure. Since his appointment, both the school's full-time and executive MBAs have regained their places at the top of most rankings. He gives the impression that he has the students and staff in Chicago behind him.

"I will support the heck out of our students," Snyder says. "But I've rejected unequivocally the model, now dominant in the US, that students are customers and therefore should be catered to."

In other words, if Chicago's students want their school's reputation to continue to ride high, they had better back his decisions - and the endowment fund. He is very aware Chicago's endowments lag behind its US rivals. "If we do what's right for the school, support will follow," he says.

The course's 16-week tuition costs £53,800 and is organised in week-long modules, designed to fit the lifestyles of the students - average age 35, and from 37 countries - who have signed up. A quarter of their time will be spent mixing with students from the other two campuses.

Chicago's presence in London will provide renewed competition for London Business School's two-year global executive MBA (£64,000) and the London School of Economics's Trium Emba (£58,000). Both are run in partnership with foreign colleges. Snyder doesn't hide his dislike of partnerships.

It's easy, he says, for two deans having a chat to say, "Why don't we do something together?" But there can be problems with co-ordination, marketing, programming and most of all, getting the co-operation of the faculties who must deliver the programs. And when colleges fall out they accuse each other of not pulling their weight.

With the Chicago model, "it's our mission standards, our curriculum, our staffing, our integrity. If we have a problem there's no issue of accountability."

(In response, Lyn Hoffman, LBS's associate dean, is quick to point out that her school's partnership has thrown up no problems: "Revenue, costs and marketing are shared absolutely equally. We put a lot of work into it and we're jointly accountable.")

Married, with three children, Dean Snyder first came to London when he was 25. "I love London. I love the energy, the diversity. I was here when the attempted second round of bombings was discovered. I was so impressed by the way that people dealt with the problem."

He is certainly not deterred by the increased risk of terrorism. "We're really happy to be here. We think London is a huge market. We think our presence here will be like a great restaurant coming to an area that has a lot of other great restaurants."

He accepts the course itself is challenging. He has no immediate plans to register it with the Association of MBAs or Equis (the European accrediting body). He thinks many MBA courses are over-orchestrated: "They're pre-programmed takeaways. Students have the illusion of progress. In fact, they're being marched along a conveyor belt.

"Chicago is not orchestrated. You will walk out of class confused, and that's good." Behind him is the reputation of a university economics department that has spawned batches of Nobel-prize winners, including Milton Friedman.

What of the future of the MBA, particularly in America, where applications have plummeted? Snyder takes an economist's view.

"There's been a phenomenal increase in scale. MBA tuition costs have gone up by more than inflation 23 years in a row. At Chicago itself full-time MBA applications were down, but it's the strongest class we've ever had. The key is selection. Our strategy is clear. You may not like our approach but we're doing better than ever."

But will this town be big enough for Snyder and his rivals? Watch this space.

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