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Getting to Know the New Head of Admissions at Stanford GSB

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As we reported here last week, the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) has concluded a seven-month search for its new assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid. Stepping into the big shoes left by Derrick Bolton—who led Stanford’s admission team for the past 15 years and is credited with helping the business school establish itself as one of the very best in the world—will be a woman many believe ideally suited to the challenge.

In accepting the role, Kirsten Moss becomes the only person to ever lead admissions at both Stanford and its chief rival, Harvard Business School (HBS). Not only that, she already knows Stanford’s admissions office intimately, having worked there from 2004 to 2010, first as a consultant, then as associate director of evaluation and finally as director of MBA admissions. She left Stanford in 2010 to work for global executive search firm Egon Zehnder before launching her own consulting firm in 2012, which she has run for the past five years. Over the same span of time she also obtained her doctorate in psychology—with a focus in organizational behavior—further honing her expertise in assessing and developing leadership talent.

“If you were going to paint the resume for someone you would want in this role, it would be someone with experience as head of admissions at Harvard who has also worked at the GSB for years,” says GSB alumna Sandra Horbach, a managing director and co-head of the U.S. buyout arm of private equity giant The Carlyle Group. Horbach also currently chairs the school’s Business Advisory Council and played a role in interviewing candidates for the position. “Kirsten brings tremendous perspective and balance and truly understands the benefits and differences between HBS and the GSB, which positions her really well to assess the types of students we are looking for and to articulate what makes the GSB so special.”

Moss’s Appointment Draws Standing Ovation
Horbach isn’t the only one excited about Moss’s return to Stanford. “When it was announced in the admissions office there was a standing round of applause because people love her and were really excited to see her in the role,” she says. Though she only met Moss as part of the interview process, Horbach has known of her for years. “She is incredibly bright—I think she went off to college when she was just 16—and she has had a tremendous track record of success in everything she has done,” she shares. “And yet she is very humble about all of her success and is more focused on talking about other people than herself.”

Indeed, some of that humility shone through when we spoke with Moss just after her appointment had been announced. “Derrick is iconic in the world of graduate management admissions, and I had the privilege of learning from and working with him on the GSB admissions team,” she says of her predecessor. She credits him with infusing the Stanford admissions culture with three core values: treating each applicant with care and consideration, maintaining integrity at all costs in the process and placing a premium on diversity. “I hope I can uphold those values as I step into his very big shoes,” she says.

Dan Rudolph, an operating partner at Altamont Capital Partners who served as COO of Stanford GSB from 2000 to 2011, believes that Moss’s experience in admissions, knowledge of Stanford and expertise in assessing leadership potential make her just right for the job. “One of the challenges we all face at business schools is trying to really zero in on leadership and leadership potential,” he says. “She took the time and effort to go back and focus on leadership development—first in the private sector [at Egon Zehnder] and then by pursuing her doctorate.” Make no mistake, she was terrific even before she left in 2010, he continues. “The point is, she has proven she can run the admissions department at HBS—which is a much bigger school—she knows Stanford well, and she has developed this really deep knowledge about assessment and how to find the great leaders of tomorrow,” he says. “She is uniquely positioned to excel in this role.”

MBA + PhD = Leadership Talent Assessment Expert
Like Bolton before her and many other admissions directors at leading business schools, Moss has an MBA—hers is from HBS. Fewer in her role have gone on to also obtain a PhD in psychology. Asked about what propelled her to pursue that additional specialization, Moss credits Stanford’s approach to its own MBA students. “It’s funny—one of the things Stanford does exceptionally well in the MBA program is give students the chance to think about, ‘Where is there a problem in the world and how do I develop knowledge to help solve that problem?’” Applying the same approach herself, she concluded that an MBA is really helpful to understanding the knowledge it takes to run an organization, but to truly assess leadership she needed an in-depth understanding of human behavior and psychology. “That’s why I went and got my PhD.”

Rudolph stresses that he saw no deficiencies at all in Moss’s prior performance at Stanford, noting that she was developing new interviewing techniques that he and his team all found really helpful and innovative. “I don’t want to imply that she wasn’t doing a terrific job here before—because she was,” he says. “But you take somebody great and then make them better—it’s hard not to be thrilled about that.”

“That she did take the time and make that investment in her own skillset and experience set—I just applaud that,” Rudolph adds. “I can’t wait to see how she uses that additional insight and experience she has gained to continue to do a better and better job.”

Stephen Kelner—who currently leads assessment for executive search firm Spencer Stuart, sang her praises as well. The two worked together at Egon Zehnder. “Based on my experience with Kirsten at a top executive search firm and based on my perspective of the changing nature of assessing leaders and their potential, she is a great candidate to select the business leaders of the future,” he says.