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MBA Recruiters Seek Entrepreneurship Experience For Innovation Push

As companies come under pressure to innovate, recruiters are placing a value on entrepreneurial backgrounds. But firms face challenges in attracting the right talent.

As companies recognize the need for innovation they are increasingly warming to entrepreneurial talent. MBA recruiters are now on the lookout for start-up experience.

From Silicon Valley up-starts to decades-old public corporations, new talent is increasingly needed to lead teams and drive new initiatives.

MBA recruiters at Amazon, Deloitte, financial services company American Express and WPP, the world’s largest advertising group, have all said they value entrepreneurial experience.

And disruptive car-hailing app Uber has indicated that it is looking to attract “entrepreneurial individuals”, according to Robyn Gleeson, director of the Career Development Centre at UNSW Business School, who has had discussions with Uber about its recruitment strategies.

Christelle Cuenin, assistant director of corporate partnerships at INSEAD, says that even financial services firms are looking for “an entrepreneurial spirit”, along with a basket of other qualities.

Jeroen de Jong, academic director of the MSc Strategic Entrepreneurship program at Rotterdam School of Management, says that about 25% of RSM’s students go on to work in “entrepreneurial corporates” like Google.

He says there are an increasing number of businesses trying to be simultaneously good at exploitative activities such as developing current products, and explorative activities like honing future services and operations.

Innovation labs and “lean start-up” approaches are now typical corporate initiatives.

Globalization and technological advancements have broken down traditional barriers to recruitment.

“MBAs [want to] get out there and get a job with an innovative company,” says Jeff Skinner, executive director of the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. He adds that the best entrepreneurial ideas are often developed by people working in corporate environments.

Paula Quinton-Jones, director for career services at Hult International Business School London, says: “There is now a trend away from targeting a sector but rather specific companies for reasons such as reputation for innovation, [and] reputation for encouraging entrepreneurship.”

Paul Schoonenberg, head of MBA careers at Aston Business School, says MBAs bring a more entrepreneurial outlook to technology companies seeking to globalize or expand. “A commercial and entrepreneurial outlook can be an attractive combination,” he says.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of social networking platform LinkedIn, writes in the Financial Times this week that for companies to innovate successfully requires entrepreneurial talent.

But he adds that it's incredibly difficult to hire these people. “No entrepreneur worth his or her salt is looking for a traditional job.”

The global financial crisis has changed perceptions. “This is a generation that has grown up watching its parents without stable employment. When there is a recession, millions of executives and blue collar workers are laid off,” says Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Michigan Ross School of Business.

More students are considering entrepreneurship and a result, big corporations must adapt, according to Diane Morgan, associate dean of programs at Imperial College Business School. “The start-up community is getting its act together to promote itself as a source of job opportunities for students,” she says.

“This is a wakeup call for traditional blue chip employers, who can no longer assume their training schemes, promises of future leadership positions and higher salaries will necessarily attract the best talent,” she adds. “They also need to compete to persuade students that they can offer opportunities to make an instant impact and run with their ideas — which they might get from a start-up environment.”

Traditionally popular companies among MBAs such as professional services firms must now “sell” to MBA students the benefits of joining their organizations, according to Naeema Pasha, head of careers at Henley Business School.

But she adds: “It’s companies such as Deloitte, which offer a route to give MBAs [the opportunity] to utilize their previous experience and skills, and enter as senior consultants, that have an advantage here.”

Dr Shailendra Vyakarnam, Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship director at Cranfield School of Management, says: “Entrepreneurship has become a visible career track because we have more role models, students are thinking more about what they want to do in the longer term, there is more money about and there are way more ideas in the environment to inspire people to make entrepreneurship a career.” 

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