Universities critical of business rankings; Bottega Veneta store opens at The Braven in Bellevue; Amazon puts a screen on its latest Alexa-enabled Echo device.

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Officials at 21 universities, including the University of Washington, have co-authored a polite yet pointed critique of the business-school rankings widely used by students, donors and employers to assess those institutions that produce the nation’s MBAs.

Being business academics, they don’t recommend revolution.

But after complaining that such rankings have “a remarkable impact” despite “focusing almost exclusively on the short-term economic returns” for graduates, the authors do urge colleagues “to take a collective stand against existing rankings.”

The business schools represented, such as UW’s Michael G. Foster School of Business, are not among the handful of perennially top-ranked programs.

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It’s not sour grapes that’s fueling their critique, though — it’s the sense that data is being misapplied and reduced to a single number that can’t represent their institutions.

“Rankings tend to be a one-size-fits-all, and students are not all one size,” says Vikki Haag Day, assistant dean for undergraduate programs at Foster.

She is among the authors of the paper, published in the May edition of the journal Decision Sciences.

Day says even her daughter, who just finished high school and looked at undergraduate business programs, “looked at rankings more than I wish she would” — and so did relatives who weighed in on the process.

“That’s the reality of what happens once you put out a ranking. Students just see that number,” she says.

The rankings published by the likes of U.S. News & World Report or the website Poets & Quants often focus on the average starting salary coming out of business school, adding in factors such as what percentage of students have jobs on the day they graduate.

That’s a one-dimensional picture, the paper argues, that doesn’t even factor in basics like the cost of living in Manhattan versus Atlanta or wherever.

What’s more, “these rankings implicitly imply that the best outcome for all students, across society, should be employment in the financial sector, specifically in careers on Wall Street.”

And to lift their rankings by increasing their share of graduates with those top-dollar jobs, MBA schools may bolster their finance programs while “starving” other parts of the business curriculum, says the study.

The critiquing authors reside all over the academic map (OK, you know you want to know how U.S. News ranks them, despite all the flaws) — from UCLA’s Anderson School of Business (15th) and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (18) to the Walton College of Business at University of Arkansas (73). Foster is 27th in that ranking.

Day, who stressed she only speaks for Foster’s undergraduate program, says one improvement over such ratings is found in the sort of calculator that Foster has created for MBA candidates.

It takes 10 data sets collected by six organizations and cranks out school rankings based on priorities indicated by a prospective student.

Considerations include average student debt and employers’ opinions of the school as well as the standard earnings metrics.

Rather than boycotting data collected by outside organizations, she says, “I just hope we can work to make that snapshot more unique to the person who’s looking at it.”

If campus visits and other ways of connecting with faculty and alums are also brought into the mix, a ranking “ceases to be the only thing they consider,” she says.

— Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

Where to get that $3,500 handbag

Bottega Veneta, the Italian luxury fashion house best known for its woven leather handbags, opened on Saturday its first store in the Pacific Northwest at Bellevue’s The Shops at The Bravern.

The 1,328-square-foot store carries items for both women and men, including handbags (such as a $3,550 one featuring the company’s well-known “intrecciato” basket-weave pattern), shoes, jewelry and accessories.

The company, founded in Italy in 1966, caters to a wealthy clientele, with women’s handbags typically retailing in the thousands, men’s small bi-fold wallets going for around $500, and dresses costing up to $15,000, according to its website. It is owned by French luxury-goods company Kering.

Bottega Veneta had said it would open in The Bravern once before, in 2008. But a year later, it decided against that plan, saying it wanted to test the Northwest waters by putting a few of its products in the Neiman Marcus location at The Bravern.

The company declined to talk about why it chose to open now at The Bravern.

But presumably, the Bellevue store, Bottega Veneta’s 28th in the U.S., would cater to both the area’s wealthy residents and affluent tourists from abroad — a group The Bravern is wooing.

The shopping center, which also includes luxury retailers such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Prada, is a member of the USA Luxury Consortium, which recently partnered with Virtuoso Travel, a network of luxury travel agencies.

Through the partnership, The Bravern’s concierge services are extended to wealthy visitors who book their travels through Virtuoso Travel.

Such tourists can be driven to The Bravern in a limo or town car, receive special offers from stores, shopping guides translated into the tourist’s native language, as well as a personal shopper should they desire it. The Bravern, in turn, will be marketed to Virtuoso Travel’s advisers and clients. The partnership is one way The Bravern is attempting to align with what a spokeswoman said was a boom in tourism in Bellevue.

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com

New Alexa-enabled Echo adds screen

The latest Alexa-enabled Echo device will have a screen for voice-activated shopping.  (Amazon)
The latest Alexa-enabled Echo device will have a screen for voice-activated shopping. (Amazon)

To those used to the charm of engaging with Alexa, Amazon.com’s digital assistant, through the sole means of their voice, the e-commerce giant’s decision to slap a screen on its latest Alexa-enabled Echo device might seem a surprising choice.

But analysts with Morgan Stanley say the reasoning behind the so-called Echo Show is simple: It will make voice-activated shopping a lot easier.

In a report published Wednesday, the investment bank’s analysts wrote that a screen on the home device could allow shoppers to “tangibly see and compare items” without bringing out their smartphone or desktop computer.

It could also lead to easing food-delivery options by displaying menus from restaurants, and since most Echos sit on the kitchen countertop, entice cooks to buy groceries from Amazon Fresh, the company’s ambitious foray into the grocery universe.

The whole point of the strategy: to reduce friction between merchants and shoppers’ money, in the same way one-click shopping helped Amazon dominate e-commerce.

And that’s not all: the Echo Show’s screen is also a platform for Amazon’s burgeoning media power. That means more video consumption — and perhaps, the possibility of Amazon selling ads.

Amazon unveiled the $230 Echo Show on Tuesday, amid stiffening competition among tech giants to encourage adoption of their respective artificial intelligence platforms.

Thanks to the Echo line of devices — introduced in 2014 — Amazon’s champion, Alexa, has become wildly popular. A study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, a market-research firm, estimated that there are 10.7 million Amazon customers in the U.S. with an Echo device.

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com