When BusinessWeek first named the "best" MBA programs, no one dreamed that rankings might radically change the way business schools operate - or that answering surveys might be a year-round job.
Richard Kurovsky reaches into a drawer under his desk. "You've never seen these?" he asks as he pulls out slick brochures and other promotional mailings from one business school ... then another ... then another ... and then yet one more.

"We get these all the time, every day," says Kurovsky, executive director of marketing and communications for the University of California's Haas School of Business. "There's a near obsession among business schools with mailing these things out."

Business schools obsessed with promoting themselves - to other business schools? Can this be the same industry that produces suit-and-tie MBAs who have mastered such buttoned-down topics as applied regression analysis and database management?

It sure is, and the reason becomes obvious every fall. That's when newspapers and magazines around the world, from Public Accounting Report to Hispanic Business to The Wall Street Journal, publish their rankings of business schools and MBA programs. Those rankings, which first appeared in the late 1980s in BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report, have become an industry within an industry. Their influence reaches into every business school and program, no matter how prestigious and no matter how well known. Deans and administrators at the University of Chicago, a top-10 school in most surveys, pay as much attention to the rankings as those who cling to the lists' tail end.

"They may be controversial, and they may encourage some schools to do perverse things, but they're here to stay," says Edward Snyder, the dean at Chicago. "For the most part, they play a useful role in helping students make decisions. Business schools don't have a stock price, but we do have the rankings to evaluate how we're doing."