A trip to San Francisco Bay on a spring weekend last year set the scene of a charged up tech summit for Cass, one of London’s finest business schools.
Among the 14 innovators lined up for office outings and networking swarays were Google, Cisco, Facebook and Silicon Valley Bank. Oversubscribed, the trek had MBAs out in force.
As technology becomes the most valuable class of company and new challengers uproot established frameworks, MBAs are taking dynamic roles at disruptive firms.
“Technology companies are seen to be the place of innovation and creativity and this is really attractive to MBA candidates,” says Paula Quinton-Jones, director of career services for Hult International Business School London, whose degrees are increasingly focused on innovating in all stages of the value chain.
Business schools were once virtual factories for banks and consultancy firms. Nowadays you’ll just as likely see a MBA graduate toiling an internship at Apple, Amazon or Airbnb.
“Company culture always needs to be taken into consideration,” says Paul Schoonenberg, head of MBA careers at Aston Business School. Certain tech firms have gone through exponential growth and older businesses can be seen as long in the tooth.
“The relentless commercialization of technology products and services has seen opportunities [open] for MBAs,” he says.
Tech companies are investing heavily in HR solutions and many are competing with the likes of Goldman Sachs and Bain, the management consultancy firm, for talent. Amazon has been the most aggressive. In the past two years the e-commerce group has snapped up the most MBAs among its peers at London Business School, Michigan Ross and Berkeley Haas.
Amazon is pioneering a new phase in the recruiting cycle in which business graduates are desperate for spot in a newer, tech player.
Even this year, freshly public companies like Chinese online retailer Alibaba are pushing out MBA development programs. Annie Xu, general manager of Alibaba US, says: “[The] launch marks a big step to start developing a pipeline of leadership talent.”
They see academic institutions as an opportunity to use intellectual capital for their own clients’ needs. “The combination of understanding the technology and developing a strong business skill-set is a powerful asset for an organization,” says Sue Kline, senior director of the Career Development Office at MIT Sloan.
Working with tech groups is a departure from the corporate culture MBAs may be used to. But students recognize the chance to have an impact.
Ashley Bienvenu, a partnership development executive at Google in Silicon Valley and a recent HEC Paris graduate, says the internet search giant cuts out micro-managers and cookie-cutter approaches. “Google allows you to use your assets and knowledge to make a tangible impact on your team in an autonomous fashion,” she says.
Software and solutions providers like Oracle and Salesforce have been among the most active recruiters. They place MBAs into business development and sales roles among others.
Fledgling firms are hiring too. They prefer a “try before you buy” approach to recruitment through internships. “There is more impact with SMEs and start-ups; MBAs have the opportunity to shape approach and strategy,” says Paula at Hult International.
Aside from technical talents, people skills and adaptability are key. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach. “Companies who hire our students appreciate their multidisciplinary perspectives,” says Michael Goul, chair of the Information Systems Department at W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State.
The likes of Uber, Twitter and HP have invested significant resources in the war for talent but some experts warn of a tech bubble. “Most MBA students go to business school to go into [the] financial services or consulting industries,” says Eric Young, assistant dean for the MBA Career Center at Georgetown McDonough School of Business.
They have well established recruitment paths which do not exist on the same scale in the tech industry.
Yet most companies use technology to be competitive. “MBA students are excited about, and attracted to, innovation and speed...Technology is driving this but not just in tech companies,” Eric says.
Tech salaries are equal to banks and many companies offer new hires equity, with the shares vesting over a number of years.
But for most managers it’s the level of impact they can have on the tech sector which is most attractive.
Pradeep Bhat, a graduate of leading Italian business school MIP Politecnico di Milano, is like many of his peers betting on tech. He works on business analytics and, even at a decades-old company like IBM, a culture of innovation is what gets him out of bed in the morning.
“It is exciting for me to be a part of this field and [to] start from the very beginning of a new era in computing systems,” he says.