Does Business School Research Matter? |

Does Business School Research Matter?

By Francesca Di

Updated March 10, 2021 Updated March 10, 2021

Thought leadership or business school research is often no more than a mere blip on other established rankings on the market. However, the QS Global MBA Rankings 2018 includes a considerable “thought leadership” weighting, when determining the overall position of an institution.

The QS thought leadership score is based on academic reputation, research impact, and the number of professors with a PhD (or equivalent terminal degree). It accounts for 15% of the total MBA ranking and includes consideration of 172,107 responses from academics across the globe. You can read more about how the rankings were put together in the Global MBA Rankings 2018 methodology.


But why should applicants to business school care?

Business schools that ranked highly for thought leadership say they can explain why quality research at your alma mater is so important. The answer is not simply that the findings inform students’ education and can put them at the cutting edge in their field. It’s also about better connecting with recruiters and preparing for work in the real world.

“There is a big push for evidence-based management,” says Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, deputy dean at Sloan School of Management, which ranks first for thought leadership (seventh overall) in the Global MBA Rankings 2018. “The best answer is companies are beating down our door to become better researchers.”

With big data becoming ever more prevalent, executives are essentially looking to hire leaders, who conduct and understand business research. Anyone who wants to work in the C-suite is going to have to use analysis and research to make more informed decisions and strategic plans. As a result, there is less of a divide between industry and academia than ever before.

Professors who are conducting research are no longer doing so in a vacuum (if that ever was the case). The research often flows directly from the problems managers in the corporate world are facing, says Sivan.


Rigor or relevance?

One other question that pops up is whether business research is only valuable if it is immediately applicable to industry. After the AACSB, an accrediting body for business schools, issued its final report of the Impact of Research Task Force, many debated whether rigor or relevance was most important.

The majority of researchers will argue for a balance between academic pursuits and studies that directly relate to business at the moment of publication. Most of the time, the research needs to simply be translated for businesspeople to understand the application, says Mara Lederman, director of Research Resources and Centres and associate professor of strategic management at University of Toronto Rotman School of Management, which is 24th in the Global MBA Rankings 2018 for thought leadership.

“Research looks for problems and solutions that repeat themselves to understand general principles,” says Lederman.

She adds that sometimes the commercialization or applicability of a particular area of research could take 30 to 40 years, providing the example of behavioral economics. While business is the obvious beneficiary of research, it is not the only one. Consumers and individuals, along with policy makers, can also reap knowledge that can then be used for decision-making. UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, which took fourth place in the world for thought leadership has a slightly different approach.

“Though much of our faculty's research is directly applicable to industry, Berkeley is one of the world's top academic research institutions,” says William Pearce, assistant dean of the Haas school. “This level of academic research serves to advance knowledge for the benefit of all, without constraints of benefitting any particular group.”


Research for the greater good

The idea of solving business problems for the greater good is a theme that consistently appears when discussing research. Sivan says problem solving is a tradition at Sloan that serves, at least in part, to contribute to greater support of research among faculty.

Indeed, business schools generally don’t want research to be an area of competition among institutions. Both Sivan and Lederman point to the collaboration between researchers at different schools, which you often see in top academic journals.

“Sometimes we don’t want as much difference [among business schools] as we think we want,” says Sivan. “We want to help everyone get to the frontier of science because it’s the life blood of universities.”

However, there are distinctions in the quality and quantity of work coming out of programs. Some schools have more specific specializations, while others offer a breadth of research on varied topics. Sloan is unique, says Sivan, because it culls support for research from a mix of sources, including research centers, corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, government grants, etc.

Rotman also provides resources, including relevant centers and access to funding, labs, and data, says Lederman. Haas gives similar support to research faculty, and maximizes its location in the Silicon Valley to “inform its research in energy, economics, culture, diversity and management, data analytics, fintech, and behavioral economics,” says Pearce.


Taking research into the workplace

Without leading thinkers seeking answers to some of business’ most pressing questions, students and alumni would be getting less value out of their education. The findings provide lessons students can take with them as they begin to lead organizations. The physical act of researching – even if it just has them observing their professors – helps them understand how to tackle difficult problems. The experience with research provides talking points for job interviews. Finally, the research can enhance the reputation and prestige of their degree, which only increases their own value in the job market.

Yet, people still question the validity of business professors conducting research. “Would you be content with a medical school teaching you ideas that are from 20 or more years ago? We wouldn’t even ask the question,” says Lederman. “We have to believe progress exists in management just as it does in medicine and science.” 

This article was originally published in December 2017 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website


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