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Inside View: American Express

Global financial services group American Express will scoop up 250 MBAs to drive its digital growth. Brian Ruggiero, a vice president of recruitment, says MBAs need leadership skills to be hired.

Thu Nov 20 2014

American Express is a leading financial services group that employs 63,000 people globally and has a market capitalization of $93.7 billion.

In a bid to shift its focus away from being “just a bank” to a provider of digital services and mobile payments, the NYSE-listed company has adapted its recruiting strategy and is seeking MBA graduates who have a passion for digital commerce and are skilled in the handling of data.

American Express, or Amex, plans to hire approximately 250 MBAs in full-time roles or as interns from now through to 2016. Its traditional recruiting route is through a 10 – 12 week summer internship, which is known to be highly competitive.

The banking giant is focusing its MBA recruitment on the US, the UK and India. It already recruits regularly from a group of core business schools in North America including NYU: Stern, Columbia and Michigan Ross.

Amex’s vice president of global campus recruitment, Brian Ruggiero, speaks exclusively to BusinessBecause about the need for digital skills in financial services, and maps out the company’s current MBA recruiting strategy.

Which areas of business are open for MBA graduates at American Express, and which region is the focus of your current recruitment?

We offer MBA graduates roles across multiple functions such as consulting, marketing, digital product management, finance, client management, operations, and risk and information management.

Geographically, we focus in the US, UK and India.

Do you have any specific development tracks or career progressions?

The majority of MBAs that receive full-time positions go through a 10 – 12 week intensive summer internship program first. Our intern program involves working on business-critical projects with senior leadership.

Through this program, MBAs get a chance to develop their skills and make a real, lasting impact on our business strategy.

Students get a holistic look at our company during the summer, and in the end we convert a high percentage of interns into full-time hires. From there, the career track will depend on the position and business unit they are a part of.

What is the ideal background that you look for in a candidate?

American Express looks for passionate individuals who strive for challenging work with a greater purpose. We look beyond a candidate’s business acumen to her or his character to see if they possess the leadership values on which our company was built.

Candidates should be able to clearly articulate how their skills and experiences will help American Express move the business forward in the digital era. They should also demonstrate a track record for driving innovation and new ways of working that would help increase value to our shareholders and customers.

Do you give on-campus presentations, and if so at which business schools? And are there any specific business schools you typically recruit students from?

We actively recruit first-year MBAs at schools across the country by partnering with student clubs and career services [departments], and creating internal school teams to attend events and network with students.

We host a variety of events during the recruiting season on campus, virtually via webinars and on-site at our offices, and see this as an effective way to communicate the exciting career opportunities at American Express and build relationships with students. This includes our core schools such as NYU [Stern], Columbia, and [the] University of Michigan [Ross School of Business].

Additionally, we sponsor and hire from key conferences such as National Black MBA and Reaching Out LGBT MBA to broaden our program[‘s] reach beyond individual schools, and [to] diversify our talent.

Why do you value MBAs?

MBA hires bring new ideas, new skills and an entrepreneurial spirit that help take our business to the next level.

Starting from the summer project and continuing with full-time roles, we expect new hires to be curious, ask great questions and challenge the status quo.

While relevant work experience will always be a differentiator, we look for students who can highlight their analytics, leadership, and academic [and] personal interests. 

Amex announced in January 2013 that it would cut 5,400 jobs. Have you had to scale back more senior recruitment?

We’ve actually needed to hire more people who can help us transform our business to lead in the mobile payment [and] digital and technology space, and expand our digital service offerings.

Positioning American Express as a leader in digital commerce has required us to change not only the structure of businesses, but our recruitment strategy as well.

How many MBAs do you expect to hire from now through to 2016?

Thanks to the success of the program, our recruiting numbers have remained consistently strong each year, with approximately 250 MBAs joining American Express globally as interns and full-time hires.

Financial services groups say they have faced reputational challenges in light of the financial crisis. Is it now more difficult to attract business school graduates to Amex?

We count ourselves lucky to be one of the few financial services companies that came out of the financial crisis with minimal impact to our brand reputation.

What impact is mobile payments technology having on the business, and how does this affect your current recruitment?

There is a misconception that we are just a “bank”. In reality, American Express is in the midst of an exciting digital transformation that is changing the way we all do business.

Our success over the years has been driven by a culture that thrives on change – and today a lot of that is driven by our innovation with mobile payment technology. This presents endless opportunities for MBA grads – from working on Apple Pay to designing small business solutions, our employees have the opportunity to develop and deploy ground breaking technology that impacts a global audience.

Customers are increasingly migrating to online and digital services. Do you value digital skills in new hires?

Given American Express’ digital transformation and the incredible amount of exciting innovation taking place at all levels, a passion for digital commerce is critical to our success, and [is] certainly something we look for in candidates.

What affect is "big data" or data analytics having on your business areas, and should new hires have had some training in this area?

In this digital age, having the right people is just as important as having the right products, partners and technology.

We [are] looking for talent[ed] individuals who are fluent in code, understand parallel processing, data clustering and statistical analysis. These skill sets are very different from the tones you would expect from American Express, but being successful in the digital payments industry means we are hiring and training differently in order to innovate and grow.

How important are the issues of data privacy and cyber security to Amex, and is it necessary for new hires to be educated in these areas?

Today, data privacy and security are of the upmost importance to our customers and we will continue to invest in the talent to help us maintain that promise.