Robert Dolan Advises MBA Hopefuls

Robert J. Dolan is the dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

A professor of marketing, he was a chaired faculty member and administrator at Harvard Business School for 21 years. His major research interests are product policy and pricing. He has published widely on these topics in such journals as the Bell Journal of Economics, European Management Journal, Harvard Business Review, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Business, Journal of Marketing, Marketing Science, and Sales and Marketing Management

Dean Dolan earned a Ph.D. and an M.S. in management at the University of Rochester and a B.A. magna cum laude in mathematics from Boston College.

Dolan is author or co-author of eight books and numerous case studies. His Managing the New Product Development Process (Addison-Wesley), based on research to develop the New Product Development course in the MBA Program at Harvard, has been adopted at a number of leading business schools. A recent book, Power Pricing: How Managing Price Transforms the Bottom Line (Free Press), was developed for practitioners. Drawing on research and consulting experiences with firms worldwide, the book sets out a program for proactive management of prices for superior profitability. His case studies and notes, published by Harvard Business School, address a wide range of companies and issues, including Black and Decker, BMW, Henkel Corporation, L’Oreal, and Eastman Kodak. More than one million copies of these materials have been sold to date.

A frequent lecturer and consultant, he assists a wide variety of clients on issues of product policy and pricing. He has testified on marketing issues in a number of major litigations and has served on the boards of directors of several publicly traded companies including Knoll Inc., a leading office furniture manufacturer and Precise Software Inc.
  • Transcript


Question: What should business school applicants consider when applying? 

Robert Dolan: Well, a couple of things. One is they should really, they should really figure out if this is something that they really want to do at this point in time, you know. I think, obviously, I’m in the business school business and I think it’s great but it’s not great for everybody. There are some people who, you know, don’t, it’s not going to fit them very well for what they what they want to do in life. So I would say that’s the first thing, is to really do your homework to decide, gee, is an MBA degree going to get me where I want to go. 

Second thing I would say is that the difference between schools, even the ones that might be frequently rated the same or mentioned in the same kind of articles, the difference among them is phenomenal. You know, I, myself, I’ve been at the University of Chicago, Harvard Business School, and the Ross School of Business. Those three places, even though we all grant the same thing at the end: an MBA, totally different set of experiences, totally different set of skills that you’re going to have when you come out.

So in terms of assessing which one or which one of the many options that you’re going to have is best for you, really requires you to be very self-aware and understand what your skills are, which one of those you want to further, which ones, where are your deficiencies, can you leave those deficiencies as deficiencies, which, sometimes, can do, or do you have to remedy them. 

And then, really studying the schools in terms of how does each one going to progress you on your individual path and, you know, I know all of us as the deans of the major schools. What we really try to do is be articulate as we can about what we can do so that somebody doesn’t wind up at our place by mistake. And I would much, you know, if you want to be a quant superstar, I’d much rather tell you that, gee, the University of Chicago, based on my experience there, is probably better at that than any school I know. And if you really want to develop general management skills from an action based learning perspective, that’s what we think we do better than anybody else. So rather than looking at any one of the ratings agencies, and thinking that number four is much different from number six, to really look very closely at what one of these very different programs is going to do for you as an individual. 

Question: Can you give us the top five business schools in the US? 

Robert Dolan: No, I couldn’t. I will, other than, obviously, the Ross School of Business but, you know, I, as I said in answer to your earlier question about what advice would I give to somebody going to an MBA program, it’s really, the schools are really so different from one another, you have to do your homework. And I, sometimes, tell students that, you know, I have a 31-year-old daughter who actually got a Master’s degree in educational policy rather than an MBA but that’s another story. But I said, you know, there are, there are lots of great schools in the United States and around the world that I would’ve been delighted to see my daughter go to about 25 different places. And so, it’s really all an individual fit for yourself. And, as I said, I think they are terrific schools and each one is different in their own way. And, I think, if you can really do your homework on them, you’ll find one that really works for you.  

Recorded on: April 13, 2009