E: When you say you are looking for the best, what defines ‘the best’?
RM: A quality that I especially like to see it is the passion to make an impact on the world that goes beyond making individual gains. It begins with developing the professional side and the personal side and then reaching out to the community, in terms of giving back to society.
E: How do you spot these special qualities in applicants?
RM: They have that drive, that energy, that special electricity. When you see it, you know it.
E: Was it in any way a political or economic decision for the school to intensify your presence here?
RM: Not necessarily. We started in the Middle East about five years ago. Then all the disruptions occurred and we just pulled back. I feel the disruptions in the region will continue for quite some time, but I decided that it is time to come back, regardless, and be part of an answer to some of the problems instead of leaving things stay as they are.
E: Wharton does not have a shortage of student applications. What is the average academic level for students who gain admission?
RM: We use the GMAT score, and the average score is 714. But I think the range is much more important. It is from 640 to 780. You don’t have to have the highest score. It is everything else that really makes the candidate stand out.
E: Can people easily recoup their investment if they attend Wharton, which is an expensive program?
RM: The MBA is a long-term investment. In light of that, Wharton has created a number of programs for financing your MBA that help student to gain access immediately, through loans given to students based on their needs. We hope that students come with a contribution of some small percentage, 10% or 20 %. But if a student can’t do that, it really is the responsibility of the school to provide grants. Students might face short-term pain in terms of servicing loans. But longer term, they will be fine. The gains to society, themselves, and their company will greatly outweigh the short-term pain of those first initial years of loan repayment.
E: But in order to be able to pay back those loans, they almost automatically will have to take a job with an American or multinational corporation?
RM: There is an advantage in working in a different nation for a year or two in order to broaden the experience of the MBA. If a Lebanese student would opt for working in London or Paris to gain diverse experience in the first years, and then come back, usually the salaries and bonuses from those first years do a lot towards paying back the loan.
E: Do you have the impression that anti-American bias has grown in the target group that you approach?
RM: There is no anti-American sentiment when it comes to education.
E: How about visa?
RM: This last year, I had no problems getting visa for my students from the Middle East. They went through an additional screening process but they had no problems because they did things correctly.
E: It is then safe to assume that people coming to Wharton from the Arab world will not experience an anti-Arab bias stateside?
RM: Not at Wharton. After 9-11 and the whole student body was very protective of our Arab students.
E: How many Arab students does Wharton have at present?
RM: Probably 1 to 1.5 %; that is something I’d like to increase.
E: How high is the percentage of non-acceptance of applications?
RM: If we have about 7,000 to 8,000 applications and a class of 800, there is a lot of it. We use a structure where we view the application first and then evaluate these twice, dividing them into two groups, one of about 40 % whom we want to interview and another group whom we don’t want to interview and will deny at that point. We then weed the first group down. It works out fairly well.
E: But you would advocate Wharton as offering a better opportunity than a local school?
RM: Students, who really have aspirations to create value and provide leadership, need to get abroad. The MBA is much more than a functional skill at learning. It is an experience of other cultures, worlds. It is the intensity of the experience. But some people just want to be functional experts that don’t want to leave. There are those who want to make money and therefore are interested in taking the credentials. To them I would say, stay, don’t take that risk; don’t spend the money. It really depends on the needs.