3 Questions with ex-Wharton Dean J.J. Cutler

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For two plus years, the name J.J. Cutler was synonymous with admission to the third leg of the elite “H/S/W” triumvirate that every MBA applicant dreams of. First as Director of Admissions & Financial Aid, beginning in early 2009, and then as Deputy Vice Dean, until August 2011, Cutler presided over both Wharton’s admissions and career services functions, an unusual dual role, where he evaluated over 7,000 applications and innovated the elite MBA admissions process. Before admissions Cutler was himself a Wharton MBA, leading an impactful strategic marketing career with Johnson & Johnson and Aramark, which he returned to after Wharton as Executive Vice President. Today, Cutler is Sector Leader of executive search firm Korn Ferry’s Futurestep recruitment process outsourcing arm. Cutler graciously agreed to answer three quick questions for this blog:

1. What are you proudest of about your tenure as Wharton’s admissions director?

“Two things come to mind: (1) we were the first top tier business school to achieve 40% women in the full time program. Many similar schools had gotten the percentage into the 30s and now many schools are pushing to get to 50%. But at the time, we were the first to put a stake in the ground and work hard to achieve that number. It’s an important issue and Business Schools need to take a leadership role. (2) we redesigned our evaluation process, particularly around the interview. Our research proved that 1:1 interviews conducted by many different interviewers around the world weren’t an effective evaluation tool. They help 2 individuals determine if they have a good interpersonal connection, but they aren’t an effective way to make admissions decisions. And they provided a very uneven, inconsistent experience for the applicant. So we did a lot of research to build a new method using team-based discussions. It is better for the applicant and better for the school.”

2. What surprised you most during your directorship?

“The sheer diversity and complexity and strength of the applicant pool was completely overwhelming to me. Such incredible talent in our work doing such interesting things and with so much potential. It is very humbling and requires incredible agility, intellectual curiosity, empathy, and an open mind at all times.”

3. What advice would you give to someone weighing an offer to become an elite business school’s admissions director?

“Take time to recharge. Take time to reflect. Build a great team. Over-communicate. Find people you trust and who think differently from you and go to them before you make any big decision and get their perspective.”

Thank you, J.J.

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