The surging demand for business analytics talent is fuelling Silicon Valley’s tech hiring binge at elite business schools.
Since the financial crisis tech outfits including Google, Amazon, and Apple have emerged as some of the top employers of MBAs, usurping in many instances investment banks like Goldman Sachs or consultancies like Bain.
At the same time an insatiable appetite for analytics has emerged across industries and tech has been ahead of the curve in deploying big data to command market leadership.
“Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are using their platforms to generate huge amounts of data that give them customer insight and leverage,” says Jaideep Prabhu, professor of enterprise at University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School.
Combined, these two forces have resulted in a banquet of opportunities for the snowballing number of business school graduates in pursuit of a tech fix.
Miriam Park, Amazon’s director of university recruiting, says the e-commerce monster values MBAs because of their analytical skills, among other qualities. “We see MBAs thriving at Amazon because they love taking ownership of big projects and solving hard problems for our customers.”
Miriam adds that MBA hires have been growing every year for the past five years and “we hope to continue that trend”: “We see MBAs as an important leadership pipeline — many senior leaders at Amazon are MBAs,” she says.
Amazon snapped up twice as many MBAs last year from top-ranked schools as its closest tech competitors, Microsoft, Google and Apple.
“Online retailing is growing fast and those companies are looking for operations managers with the strategic and management skills that come with an MBA,” says Sue Thorn, director for careers at Warwick Business School.
Among the six big US business schools that release detailed employment data, Amazon pounced upon 110 MBAs in total, including dozens from Duke Fuqua, Chicago Booth and Columbia Business School.
Richard Bland, at London Business School’s Career Center, says that in technology and even for MBAs, “Familiarity with data analytics and coding is important”.
Jake Cohen, senior associate dean at MIT Sloan, is even more fervent on the topic: “Recruiters have said they’re looking for training in advanced business analytics. Amazon, Google, Facebook are looking for people who can take insight to action.”
For a sector that has traditionally been wary of the rigidity often associated with MBAs — Guy Kawasaki, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, once said: “For every full-time MBA, subtract $250,000 [in revenue]” — it is a marked change in attitude.
“The source of resistance is most readily found in early-tech ventures in the ICT and digital space, where the currency is your ability to code. [But] the generation of MBAs coming up now have grown up digital and this objection is quickly dissipating,” says professor Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Why would Silicon Valley look to business schools for analytics talent? Engineers have been the hottest commodity in the Bay Area but, increasingly, tech managers are required to blend business acumen with data analytics; to bridge the gap between executives and technologists.
“Managers will need to learn new tools to analyze and visualize information, and also develop their ability to better communicate with data scientists,” says Theos Evgeniou, professor of decision sciences and technology management at INSEAD.
Ashley Bienvenu joined Google in Mountain View as a development executive responsible for mobile partnerships in 2014, a year after an MBA at HEC Paris.
“There is so much opportunity here,” says Ashley, who is now a manager with Google Express, the search giant’s grocery deliveries business. “Google is a very fast-moving place where employees have ownership over their roles and careers,” she says.
The number of MBAs who have gone on to lead Silicon Valley companies that are reshaping their industries with data is significant. Of the 67 companies in the S&P 500’s tech index, 24 are led by CEOs with MBA or equivalent degrees. These include Google’s Sundar Pichai, who graduated from Wharton’s MBA in 2002, and Apple’s Tim Cook, a 1998 Fuqua graduate.
“There are a number of MBAs in these larger tech companies. MBAs understand the value of an MBA, so they are likely to influence and propose to the company that they hire more,” says Maeve Richard, director of career management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
It should come as no surprise, then, that these same companies are sending their executives into top US business schools to close what is a cavernous skills gap in the business analytics space.
LinkedIn’s head of analytics, for instance, this year began teaching a big data course to MBAs at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management. BusinessBecause has also reported that Cornell was in talks with Salesforce, Amazon, and Twitter over similar program involvement.
McKinsey & Company foresees the shortage of data managers/analysts reaching 1.5 million by 2018.
“There is no HR department at a good company these days that isn’t looking at data science,” says Gregory LaBlanc, a data science lecturer at the Bay Area’s UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business.