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Exclusive: MBA Jobs In Europe, With ManpowerGroup Executive

Exclusive interview: ManpowerGroup's president of northern Europe, Hans Leentjes, says MBA hiring in Europe is on the mend. But a business school diploma will not be enough.

Wed Mar 26 2014

Hans Leentjes shuffles his stack of notes and cuts to the conclusion. “I want to underline one more time,” he asserts, “having an MBA is something that will really give you an advantage. [But] it must be combined with the right skill-set.”

ManpowerGroup's executive vice president, president of northern Europe is in a corner of the company’s Netherlands offices, talking up the MBA jobs market and cautioning that you need more than a degree to excel.

In northern Europe, he says, hiring is a “mixed bag”. Hans is careful not to raise expectations. Much of the region is still feeling the effects of the financial crisis and applications to its top business schools have taken a hit too.

He speaks with a coolness that befits a member of the company’s executive management team. But the calm is deceptive.

Hans is at the heart of ManpowerGroup, the global leader in human resource consulting that operates in 80 countries world-wide, which has grown into a billion dollar business.

The company reported 2013 global revenues of more than $20 billion and floated on the NYSE nearly 50 years ago at a value of $78 million. Demand for recruitment solutions has pushed ManpowerGroup’s net earnings in the fourth quarter of 2013 to more than $100 million, double the same period in 2012.

It is a strong market position that Jonas Prising, the incoming CEO, will hope to maintain. Hans, who studied business and sociology at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, has spent his life in employment services.

“I have worked in the industry for over 25 years – it has been my whole working career,” says Hans, who took up his executive post with ManpowerGroup in 2011. He worked as a consultant after graduating from college and in 2005 joined the company as the country manager of the Netherlands.

He led the region through the financial crisis and Hans and the Dutch team steered the 2008 acquisition of Vitae, an engineering and finance firm which had revenues in excess of $100 million.

“In general, if you look at business graduates [they are] absolutely in demand. Having that bit extra will give you a better position,” he says when we speak. Yet he doesn’t see an MBA as a success guarantor. “The labor market is more complicated than it was before. Employers have become more specific about the skill-sets they want to see,” he says of MBA job prospects in Europe.

Hans, 48, is similarly dismissive of the notion that business school will automatically guarantee you a senior job with ManpowerGroup’s four brands: ManpowerGroup Solutions, Experis, Manpower and Right Management. “It starts with being successful, not whether you’re a graduate or not,” he says of promotion within the companies.

“If you look at the first steps [you must take], because a lot of business is done at a country level, you need to develop local expertise, typically at senior manager positions, before taking on more international responsibilities.”

Analysts have suggested that demand for MBAs is slipping in Europe. The region’s economies are far from the rapid levels of growth seen in Asia, although the UK was given a timely boost in last weeks’ Budget.

Hans will only say that “the climate is improving quickly”, but it makes a difference which market you enter. ”There is not one story for Europe,” he cautions. “And I can tell you that right now your chances are higher in Norway than in Spain.”

Eyebrows were also raised when data suggested that fewer workers were perusing business education in Europe.

But ManpowerGroup’s second-quarter 2014 Manpower Employment Outlook Survey reported that staffing levels are expected to increase in 38 of 42 countries and territories.

Employers in 20 of 24 EMEA countries also forecast workforce growth during the next three months, showing some stabilization in Europe.

Jeffrey A. Joerres, ManpowerGroup Chairman and CEO, thinks that employment is “not as robust” as has been seen in the past, but there are reasons to be optimistic. “Employers who have been experiencing significant headwinds for a considerable time are now starting to feel a soft breeze at their backs," he said.

Hans thinks that hiring will pick up for those with the right skill-sets. And skills in communications, IT and the latest technology are particularly important for MBAs. “The climate is much more positive than six or nine months ago. But still, companies are careful because of the [financial] crisis. And the time when they were in re-structuring mode is not that far behind,” he says. “So it’s picking up, but slowly.”

Employers value an up-to-date skill-set, he says. “If the recovery continues, broader demand will come up,” Hans says, and adds: “People in the finance sector will come in demand quite quickly.”

The potential boom seems to have the telecoms and media sectors excited. ManpowerGroup predicts increased hiring for companies in those sectors in the UK.

Deloitte, the leading consultancy, predicts that global sales of smartphones, tablets, PCs, TV sets and video games consoles will exceed $750 billion this year, up $50 billion from 2013.

Meanwhile, demand for MBAs in the technology sectors has undergone an era of unprecedented growth. QS, the business school research company, reported a 14 per cent demand growth in tech and telecoms last year in some regions of Europe.

The topic of new tech has Hans on a more positive tune. “In general you see that the development of technology goes faster and asks new skills all the time. So in that sector they are continuously in hiring mode,” he says. “But especially in Europe, 4G offering is creating more demand.”

Hans joined ManpowerGroup about nine years ago but also served as a board member of the ABU, the Dutch association of temporary work agencies.

ManpowerGroup was founded on the premise that that there was a market for a temporary help agency to cope with staffing emergencies. They work with more than 400,000 clients globally – there are opportunities for MBAs to grow within the company.

For careers within ManpowerGroup’s brands, a business school diploma will not be enough, however. “It needs to be more than just having graduated and having a diploma. That is absolutely not enough,” says Hans.

“Having some experience is important. Our development is based on three elements: exposure, experience and education. Education is an important part of the development process but it needs to be supplemented by the right experience and professional exposure.”

The company was founded in Wisconsin and expanded in the U.S before the UK, other parts of Europe, Canada, Asia, and Central America, and eventually became the global giant it is today, with thousands of offices around the world.

ManpowerGroup’s growth strategy this year will focus on all four of their brands. After a “difficult period” in the European labor market, Hans expects all of the company’s brands to grow this year.

“It’s still early stages, [but] our recruitment process outsourcing is also set for growth, because big companies are getting slowly but certainly more in hiring mode again,” he explains.

“We see growth for ManpowerGroup and our focus is to accelerate growth and strengthen all of our brands.”

He points to some sectors in Europe having a talent shortage, in particular IT and engineering. Yet, because the region is broad, there are no golden sectors for MBA employment.

“Overall I dare to say that the climate is improving quickly,” Hans says. “We have a lot of work to do in Europe to get enough employment for everyone and that will take years. But having said so, it’s getting better.”