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Stanford Graduate School of Business tops the 2012 FT Global MBA ranking this year for the first time. Its breakthrough sees the California school become only the fourth institution to top the ranking, after 13 consecutive years in the global top 10.

The top three is completed by two previous winners, Harvard Business School at number two, and the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, ranked third.

The ranking, in its 14th edition, is a combination of data gathered from participating schools and alumni from the class that graduates three years before the survey. According to the 2008 alumni data, three years after completing their MBA, Stanford graduates enjoyed the highest sector-weighted average salary, at $192,179 per annum (based on purchasing power parity equiv­alents). Pay has proved a strong suit for Stanford throughout the history of the ranking: the school has topped the list of earnings eight times.

High levels of pay correlate closely with professional success. According to the career progress measurement, which assesses differences in the seniority of job titles before and after an MBA, Stanford graduates saw the third-highest jump in the 2012 ranking. Perhaps not surprisingly, alumni rated the programme highly in terms of achievement of aspirations – the school is ranked fourth on the “aims achieved” measure.

According to David Hwangbo, a Stanford graduate from the class of 2008, his MBA has had a dramatic impact on his career. “Stanford was a truly transformational experience, and it exceeded all of my expectations. As a person transitioning from the military, the amazing opportunities and experiences I have had since graduation would have been impossible to imagine, let alone achieve, without it.” Employed by Boston Consulting Group after graduation, Hwangbo now works in corporate strategy at NBC Universal, the media group, in Los Angeles.

Stanford also enjoys a strong reputation among alumni of other business schools. When asked to indicate which schools they would recruit from, graduates of other schools indicated a strong preference for Stanford, second only to Harvard.

The rise of Stanford to the top of the league, at the expense of London Business School, down from joint first to number four this year, mirrors a more general trend in this year’s table. Overall, US schools, which account for 53 of the 100 schools listed, have fared marginally better than their European counterparts (a quarter of the schools in the 2012 ranking are primarily based in Europe). Of the 47 US-based schools that feature in both the 2011 and 2012 ranking, 20 moved up the list this year. In contrast, 18 of the 23 European schools listed in both years either did not move or dropped down the table in 2012.

Differences between salaries of graduates show a sharper contrast, and point to the impact of the recent economic turmoil in Europe. ­Average alumni salaries three years after graduation were lower in 2012 when compared with the previous year for 16 out of the 23 European schools listed. This compares with increases for 26 out of the 48 alumni groups from US-based schools.

Schools based in Asia, which account for nine of the 100 top global MBA providers, had a mixed year. Three schools made a debut entry in 2012. The highest is the University of Hong Kong, ranked 37th. Guanghua School of Management at Peking University enters the ranking at 54, and the Seoul-based Sungkyunkwan University SKK Graduate School of Business, placed at 66.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School retains its top-10 status, despite falling four places from sixth last year. However, the drop is partly explained by a reclassification of students, faculty members and board members from China, previously counted as international by the FT for schools based in Hong Kong.

Among the remaining programmes in the top 100 are five Canadian institutions, three from Latin America and two from Australia.

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