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Changing of the Guard: Derrick Bolton to Leave Stanford GSB Admissions

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Just as Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) welcomes a new dean of school, it will be losing its beloved, longstanding dean and director of MBA admissions. On September 1st, as newly appointed Dean Jonathan Levin takes office, it will be without Derrick Bolton at his side leading MBA admissions for the world’s most selective business school. Bolton has accepted a new role as dean of admissions at the recently launched Knight-Hennessy Program.

Derrick Bolton
Derrick Bolton, who has led MBA admissions at Stanford GSB for the past 15 years

For the past 15 years, Bolton has helped decide the fate of more than 90,000 hopeful Stanford MBA applicants, ultimately giving a nod to about 6,000 of them. Indeed, he is credited with increasing applications to the Palo Alto school by 55 percent during his tenure, making it the hardest business school to get into not just in this country but in the world.

“He has also paid close attention to diversity, resulting in record numbers of women and international students that have gone through the GSB,” notes Kristin Harlan, director of global media relations for Stanford GSB. “GMAT scores and average GPAs have also risen, he took the whole application process entirely online and he introduced a system where every applicant who was eventually admitted was interviewed,” she adds. “Not only that—the students loved him. He played a really big role in all the student activities as well.”

The school will immediately seek to identify Bolton’s replacement, and MBA Program Director Margaret Long Hayes will lead the Office of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid in the interim, according to Harlan, although Bolton will remain involved to help with the transition.

“Business as Usual at the GSB”
In the GSB admissions office, there was surprise and sadness at the news, but also immediate reassurances that applicants in the upcoming application season have nothing to worry about. “It’s business as usual here at the GSB,” says Kathrine Hayes (no relation to Margaret), MBA admissions coordinator. “We are hiring quickly, and the admissions criteria, systems and processes used under Derrick all remain unchanged.” Margaret Hayes began her career as an admissions officer, she adds. “So we believe she is well versed in that work and perfectly capable to step in until a replacement is hired.”

September 1st, Dean Levin’s first day, is also Bolton’s first day as dean of admissions for the Knight-Hennessy Program. The timing was nothing more than mere coincidence though, say multiple sources. “It’s just an awesome opportunity for Derrick,” Harlan stresses. “I think John Hennessy has recognized how great Derrick has been—the success he has had in heading the MBA process for the past 15 years.”

Hennessy Taps Bolton for Prestigious New Program
Which brings us to just what it is that lured Bolton away from a job he’s loved and excelled at for so long. The Knight-Hennessy Program, announced in February, was established with a $400 million gift from Nike Inc. Co-Founder Philip Knight and co-named for outgoing Stanford President John Hennessy, who becomes its inaugural director when he steps down as president this summer.

The prestigious scholarship program will fully fund 100 high-achieving students each year in their pursuit of master’s or doctorate level degrees at any of Stanford’s seven top-ranked graduate and professional schools, including the schools of law; business; medicine; engineering; humanities and sciences; education; and Earth, energy and environmental sciences. In announcing its launch, Stanford portrayed the new program as a rival to other distinguished scholarship programs such as the Rhodes Scholarship program, incorporating their best aspects but going beyond them “to offer a diverse, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary education that is a hallmark of Stanford.”

The program will seek to recruit undergraduate students from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities who demonstrate leadership and civic commitment. Though complete admission and curriculum criteria are not yet available, Stanford has shared that prospective applicants must be nominated by their undergraduate universities and have completed at least three years of their undergraduate education, although they can apply up to four years after they have graduated. The first applications will be accepted in summer 2017, and the first Knight-Hennessy Scholars will be admitted for fall 2018. And Bolton will be in charge of determining just which 100 amazing students make up that first cohort of scholars.

Poached Away from the GSB?
So is there any bitterness in the GSB camp that their beloved admissions director has been poached? “No! Everyone is bummed because they love Derrick, but it is a great opportunity for him,” Harlan enthuses. “He has the full support of the new dean. Dean Levin has been very supportive of this move for him.”

“He has meant so much to our office, and he’s done so much for us in general,” echoes Kathrine Hayes. “We are sad to see him go, but this is an awesome opportunity for him.”

Bolton himself could not be reached for comment on the momentous change.