Stanford’s MSx programme attracts high-profile industry leaders: Here’s how to get in |

Stanford’s MSx programme attracts high-profile industry leaders: Here’s how to get in

By Laura L

Updated October 11, 2022 Updated October 11, 2022

The MSx programme for mid-career professionals at Stanford Graduate School of Business attracts a uniquely seasoned cohort of accomplished and diverse industry leaders.  

The Class of 2023 features 84 students from 37 different nationalities and includes two dozen experienced entrepreneurs, 18 current and previous CEOs, nine members in military, government or diplomacy roles, 15 professional investors, and five law firm partners – all poised to make a positive impact.  

With a price tag of US$193,685 (£172,638 GBP) for the intensive one-year programme, it’s one of the biggest investments you can make in business education. Why does the MSx programme attract such a high-profile cohort of industry leaders, and how do you get in?  

We spoke to Mike Hochleutner, Director of MSx Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, to find out.  

How is the Stanford MSx different from an MBA?  

According to Mike, who has been in charge of MSx admissions at Stanford GSB for 10 years, the MSx is a more accelerated, streamlined programme that gives people the opportunity to get 80-90 percent of the MBA curriculum in a one-year format.  

He said: “The curriculum covers what we consider to be crucial for someone in a senior or c-suite position within an organisation or enterprise. From there, students have maximum flexibility to focus on themselves as a leader and the development that will be most useful to them.”  

When it comes to mid-career leaders ready to make the investment to go even further with their accomplishments, Mike says there are limited options.  

“Many of the top tier business programmes focus on people early in their careers,” he said. “We’re looking for the small subset of people who have already accomplished a lot in the first 30 to 40 years of their lives, but who want to immerse themselves in this incredible ecosystem of human capital.”  

The ecosystem of human capital that Mike refers to is the unique student cohort that the programme attracts. This year, it features an entrepreneur from India who launched the country’s largest retail organic food chain, an infectious disease physician and political leader from Slovenia who coordinated the national COVID-19 response, and a US Air Force colonel who led intelligence for US cyber command. 

Part of Mike’s strategy as director of admissions is to guarantee ‘maximised collective potential’ in the MSx classroom. “In one classroom, I can assure there will be one or two people running very large enterprises, impacting thousands or millions of lives. You might have a classmate who was a senior military leader in Singapore and another who led billion-dollar investment deals in London.    

“They all deal with common leadership and organisational challenges but come at them with very different perspectives and with different areas of expertise.” 

All students on the MSx programme have at least eight years’ experience as a manager or leader before they start the course. “It’s about providing them with the right resources to tailor their learning and help create momentum in their careers,” Mike said.  


Ariel Cai is one of this year’s MSx students in the class of 2023 and an expert in global strategy and expansion within technology. Ariel said: “With accelerated core business modules and flexible elective classes, the programme was a more time-friendly option for me as a mid-career leader wanting to resume work in my field as soon as possible. 

“My goal is to start an entrepreneurial venture focusing on consumer technology that provides genuine value to users. To realise my aspiration the MSx was the right step for me.”  


What does Stanford look for in its MSx candidates? 

The admissions committee at Stanford GSB have four criteria for reviewing candidates: intellectual vitality, leadership accomplishments, personal qualities and clarity of purpose. These criteria are similar for MBA candidates, but with different weighting due to the larger accomplishments.  

“Because we’re looking at mid-career professionals, clarity of purpose is really important for the MSx,” said Mike. “Candidates must have a clear sense of direction for their careers and be strategic. We need to know that students can prioritise and schedule their time to create momentum for themselves and get the maximum value out of their experience with us.”  

Stanford GSB has one of the highest employability rates in the QS Global MBA Rankings 2023 due to its relationship with graduate employers and the rate of student employment three months after graduation. It's clear that the school actively listens to what the world needs from its graduates.  

We asked Mike what the biggest and most innovative companies are looking for from MSx graduates. 

He said: “I spoke to the head of a private equity firm who told me he looks for graduates from the MSx programme because he recognises the tolerance of risk that our students have. To make the investment in going back to school later in life on a full-time basis demonstrates a certain confidence and capability. That’s the mindset needed to really build and grow a business over time. 

“Our students have the maturity and the wisdom to make it work for them. They’ve already been out in the world. They know how things work. They go through a real change process while studying at Stanford to become very familiar with our culture of comfort within complexity, uncertainty and the ability to innovate and lead others through that process.  

“I think they are necessary ingredients for anybody in significant leadership roles within corporations today.”  

What should candidates consider when applying?  

The business school is part of a wider community of changemakers within Stanford University. While the institution is known for its historical standing in the US, Mike is taken by its focus on the future, what’s new and what can be done differently. “It’s a place where you really sense a desire to make a significant contribution in the world, across the institution.”  

To fit in with Stanford culture, candidates are encouraged to be thoughtful and deliberate about their contributions to the future. Mike said: “When you’ve already got 10 or more years of work experience, you’ve created your identity and a direction for your career.  

“We can see the difference between those who are deliberate with the change they want to make and the candidates who are uncertain about their future and think that attending a prestigious business school will solve that for them.” 

The MSx application process assesses candidates holistically, looking at personal and educational history, professional experience and references, and graduate tests (GMAT or GRE and language tests like IELTS or TOEFL). 

Candidates are expected to submit personal essays as part of the application process, which are designed to inspire thoughtful reflection. ‘What matters most to you, and why?’ and ‘Why Stanford MSx and why now?’ are the two essay titles for the next intake, to help understand whether your thinking fits within the school’s vision.   

This article was originally published in October 2022 .

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