GERM OF AN IDEA
In the late 1980s, a BusinessWeek reporter named John Byrne wanted the magazine to survey graduate business-school students and their employers about the quality of U.S. MBA programs. Byrne thought business schools emphasized research over teaching, to the detriment of their students, and he wanted to see if the students and employers felt the same way.

Often, it was a hand-to-mouth project. It wasn't unusual for Byrne to stuff envelopes at home in front of the television set. It was, Byrne has said, a labor of love with no guarantee the results would ever appear in print.

"That was John's great vision," says Jennifer Merritt, the BusinessWeek reporter who oversees the magazine's rankings today. "He felt strongly that schools must be held accountable, and he wanted to go straight to their customers to see if the schools were doing what they proclaimed they were doing."

That first survey, which finally made it into print in 1988, placed Northwestern University's comparatively unknown Kellogg School of Management in the top slot - ahead of such heavyweights as Stanford and Harvard, and it marked the beginning of a new era. Since then, dozens, if not hundreds, of surveys have come and gone. They've ranked business schools and MBA programs on their treatment of minorities and women, on return of investment (tuition vs. post-graduation salary), and on their commitment to the environment and other social issues. Trade Journals, meanwhile, have ranked industry-specific programs within schools, like accounting and finance.

Today, these are the most important surveys, say academics, students, and recruiters.

BusinessWeek It appears every two years, ranking 30 U.S. and 10 international MBA programs based on student and recruiter input, as well as the quality of the faculty. In 2002, Kellogg was the top-ranked U.S. program for the fourth time in eight surveys.