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A Fond Farewell to Stanford’s Long-Time MBA Admissions Czar Derrick Bolton

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Next week marks the end of an era. Derrick Bolton, who has led MBA admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) since 2001, is moving on. Though he’s not going far—he’s headed across campus to become the inaugural dean of admissions at Stanford’s recently launched Knight-Hennessey Scholars Program—he leaves a lasting legacy and a gaping hole at the world’s most selective business school.

Something of a shock to the graduate management admissions community, Bolton’s departure came as no surprise to Madhav Rajan, Stanford GSB senior associate dean for academic affairs, who has been his supervisor for the past six years.

Derrick Bolton
Derrick Bolton, Stanford GSB alumnus and long-serving director and assistant dean of MBA admissions

“I had been encouraging him to think about other things he could do because it is a difficult job and he has been doing it for 15 years,” Rajan says. “The way he does it, the intensity he brings to it, the effort level—I was amazed that he did it for as long as he did it.”

Rajan never once worried that the job would get done, only that Bolton might burn out. “There is literally nobody at the GSB who works harder than Derrick. The amount of time, love and dedication that he puts into admissions is amazing and beyond what anyone could be expected to do,” he says. “That level of commitment I have never seen from anybody, frankly.”

Logging the Miles to Craft the Perfect Class
Colleagues in MBA admissions echo Rajan. “He has a remarkable energy and can crisscross the continent or cross the Atlantic on a red-eye and still manage to stay alert at all times,” says Rod Garcia, senior director of the MIT Sloan School of Management Office of Admissions. “No one traveled more or to more places that Derrick,” adds Eric Chambers, who worked in MBA admissions at Wharton and Ohio State before becoming school research and relations director at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). “I have greatly valued his commitment to recruiting candidates from around the globe who would not only make an extraordinary impact at Stanford and in the world but would also learn the most during their time at Stanford,” Chambers continues. Rajan can’t begin to count how many miles Bolton traveled but has no doubt it’s in the hundreds of thousands. “He is the best ambassador,” he says. “He is the face of the GSB from the student standpoint.” Indeed, he is credited with increasing applications to the Palo Alto school by 55 percent during his tenure, making it by far the hardest business school to get into in the world. A mere 6 percent of applicants to Stanford make the cut, compared to roughly twice that at Harvard Business School (HBS).

Bolton knew every applicant who made it to the interview stage. “He had read their application and would make the decisions about who to bring in personally,” Rajan says. Not only that, once he’d decided that a candidate was right for Stanford, he worked tirelessly to recruit him or her, including strategically choosing alumni to reach out to candidates directly. “People always thought there was some sort of algorithm,” Rajan says, noting that students would often later tell him how amazed they were to have been connected to the perfect alumni based on their backgrounds and future interests. “No—that was Derrick,” laughs Rajan.

Bolton took it as a personal challenge to get accepted students to enroll and kept a board in his office with the names of every student he was worried about, says Rajan, likening the approach to a political campaign’s war room. “Whenever anyone said no in the end—that really bothered him.”

Of course, over time, fewer and fewer accepted candidates said no. “We ended up with a frankly ridiculous yield rate,” his boss says. For every 10 students admitted to Stanford last year, more than eight (83.9 percent) chose to enroll, second only to HBS. “Where we are now is not where we were 10 or 12 years ago,” Rajan says. “Derrick’s greatest legacy will be making the GSB the most desirable business school in the world. That was not true before—he did that.”