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MBA Recruiters Begin To Value Entrepreneurship

From banks to advertising agencies, recruiters at the world's biggest companies are starting to value entrepreneurship in MBA job candidates.

Mon Nov 24 2014

Some of the largest global companies are beginning to value entrepreneurship in MBA job candidates, even in the most traditional functions at banks, marketing agencies and management consulting firms.

HR leaders have told BusinessBecause that an entrepreneurial flair is becoming increasingly important to them, and it is something they actively look for when scouting for business school talent.

This shift in focus comes at a time when MBAs are increasingly diversifying their careers and becomming start-up founders, and schools are rolling out more entrepreneurial master’s degrees and Moocs. It also suggests that those from non-traditional backgrounds stand a better chance of finding employment than in years past.

Brian Ruggiero, vice president of global campus recruitment at American Express, a large listed financial services group, said that the bank values MBAs because they bring an “entrepreneurial spirit”.

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

He added that while relevant work experience will “always be a differentiator”, the company looks for students who can highlight their leadership skills and personal interests, among other qualities.

American Express, which employs 63,000 people globally and is targeting business schools in the US, the UK and India will hire approximately 250 MBAs through to 2016 in a digital push.

Brian said that the group is demanding different skillsets than would be expected of a financial services company. He added: “They should also demonstrate a track record for driving innovation and new ways of working.”

Frances Illingworth, global recruitment director at WPP, the world’s largest advertising group, said that she “absolutely” values entrepreneurship in an MBA candidate. The group has a specific MBA hiring track as well as independent application processes.

Because WPP is a large acquisitions company – it owns about 350 different businesses – entrepreneurship is important. “The entrepreneurial spirit is of critical importance to us in how they bring their businesses into WPP,” Frances said.

She added that she wants to see MBAs show interests outside of their studies – including having entered teams into "challenges, competitions" and "entrepreneurial courses” – when applying for jobs at the company, which has 180,000 employees and a market cap of £16.4 billion.

“We’re not producing bankers and we’re not McKinsey,” said Frances, adding that “we need a sense of innovation in our business”.

Online marketplace Amazon hires hundreds of MBAs globally each year, and is focused on what job applicants have done in the past rather than which companies they have worked at, according to a recruitment director.

Miriam Park, Amazon's director of university recruiting, said that MBA hiring has increased for the past five years and added that MBAs can stand out by highlighting ownership. She said: “Show us that you’ve invented or owned something that delivered big results for your customer.”

Amazon has been the top recruiter at several business schools in 2013 and 2014, including Michigan Ross in the US and the UK’s London Business School.

Deloitte Digital, a fast-growing arm of the Big Four professional services firm, is aggressively hiring new consultants, and is opening its recruitment up beyond traditional business school graduates.

Paul Thompson, Deloitte Digital partner, said that the firm wanted to combine a group of “creatives” with the company, as well as analysts and engineers, in its charge into the lucrative area of digital services – big data, cyber security and the cloud.

This opening up of traditional boundaries comes as business schools try to recruit more entrepreneurs into their MBA and master’s programs.

Sauder School of Business and Georgetown McDonough in North America, for example, offer scholarships and funding for start-up founders to pursue business education.

Dr Andrea Belz, academic director of the MSc in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at USC Marshall School of Business, said: “Many companies are eagerly looking for innovative approaches outside their parent organizations.”

In Asia-Pac, the Indian School of Business offers to pay the tuition fees of a select group of entrepreneurially minded students, while some Chinese schools such as CEIBS have seen a record level of interest in entrepreneurship in 2014.

Tamara Freidrich, associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Warwick Business School in the UK, said that even in a corporate environment there is room to be creative.

It is a sentiment echoed at business schools across Europe. Jeroen de Jong, academic director of the MSc Strategic Entrepreneurship program at Rotterdam School of Management, said that graduates can be in entrepreneurial roles within a corporate environment.

He added that 25% of RSM’s students go on to work in “entrepreneurial corporates” like Google, the internet search giant.

For careers at these companies a different kind of graduate is required, he said: “One that is proactive, takes charge, [is] flexible, eager to learn and not eager to pursue a pre-defined career path."