Ashley Bienvenu is a woman with a rich career spanning Europe’s marketing business, including a cameo at New York-based BBDO, one of the world’s top advertising agencies. Now she is a Googler, working out of Mountain View for an employer dipping its toes in everything from biotechnology to driverless cars.
“The Bay Area is a very dynamic place to work. It really is at the heart of technological innovation,” says Ashley, who manages strategic partnerships for Google Express, the search giant’s same-day delivery service.
“Google is a very fast-moving place where employees have ownership over their roles and careers — you won’t find micro-managers and cookie-cutter responsibilities,” she says.
Ashley is a graduate of HEC Paris, a top business school nestled southwest of the French capital. But, like a swelling number of freshly-minted MBAs, she dropped Jouy-en-Josas for the dizzying innovation found in Silicon Valley. “I personally don’t think the location of your MBA is what prepares you for a career,” she says.
The technology sector is booming and nowhere is there a bigger collection of top tech firms than San Francisco’s Bay Area, where the ten largest companies have close to $600 billion of annual sales, according to data from SV150.
With the regional headquarters of top MBA employers — including Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook — dotted along the 1,854 sq mile stretch of land, the cluster is luring talent from all over.
Susan Kline, co-director of the Career Development Center at MIT Sloan School, says: “There is significant interest on the part of the first year MBAs in technology.”
And tech groups are tapping elite business schools in greater numbers. “MBAs are very strong problem solvers and analytical thinkers, which makes them a really great leadership pipeline,” says Miriam Park, director of university recruiting for Amazon.
The e-commerce giant is based in Seattle but has offices in Palo Alto for units such as Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing business.
“MBAs are able to move across our businesses during a career at Amazon,” says Miriam, who adds that the company will recruit “hundreds” of MBAs for roles in product management, operations, retail and finance among other areas.
Business schools with close connections to the Bay Area are becoming factories for the technology titans. Maeve Richard, director of the Career Management Center at California’s Stanford GSB, says: “It’s an attractive time to be in the Bay Area and one of the most attractive industries is tech.”
She says the larger firms like Amazon, Google, and Facebook joined the recruitment party about five years ago to compete with management consultancy firms and banks. The percentage of Stanford’s MBAs flocking to tech has risen by more than 10% over three years.
Julia Min Hwang, assistant dean of career management at UC Berkeley’s Haas School, which has a campus in Silicon Valley, says the attraction comes from the school’s proximity to and ever-growing pool of alumni working in the Bay Area. More than 40% of last year’s MBAs were employed by tech companies such as Samsung.
“It's a cycle: with more Haas students going into tech that makes it more desirable for future applicants,” she says.
It is not just the Valley's neighbours that attract these companies. Tech's cyber web is being cast far and wide. Doreen Amorosa, managing director of the MBA Career Center at Georgetown McDonough School in Washington, says Amazon and Facebook began recruiting on campus for the first time last year.
At the UK’s Cambridge Judge Business School, Google and Infosys are among the top five employers. For INSEAD, both Google and Amazon are top recruiters. Christian Dummett, at London Business School, says: “A small number of high-profile tech companies have been growing their MBA level hiring rapidly.”
Angel Herrera, a former equities trader and asset manager with seven years’ experience, works at Google, managing Spanish strategic partnerships.
He says that a business education was crucial for him to make the transition from financial services to tech. Angel graduated from the MBA program at Hult International Business School, whose campus locations include London, last year.
Part of the attraction are the competitive salaries and other financial perks. Chris Weber, associate director for careers at UCLA Anderson School, says: “Technology companies are often providing similar pay, little to no travel requirements as part of the job, great perks, and increasingly better exit opportunities.”
At Stanford, tech compensation is higher than even investment banking. Insiders say stock options are common, which are even more tasty given the sky-high valuations of companies on both the public and private markets.
But most of all, it’s the culture of open innovation in Silicon Valley that is attractive to MBA talent.
“It’s the idea of things being new, fresh, and disruptive,” says Stanford’s Maeve. “You’re at the [cutting] edge of innovation.”
Yet from an outsider’s perspective, the allure of the Valley is not always so bright.
The pressure can be immense. The culture at Amazon was criticized in a recent New York Times article, which said the online retailer has a “bruising workplace”, although Amazon execs later denounced the story.
Competition too can be fierce. “There are so many companies trying to build great things that competition for people, real estate and services is high,” says Gleb Budman, chief executive of Backblaze, a Bay Area cloud computing business.
But he is clear as day that San Fran is a magnet for all things tech: “Silicon Valley is the epicentre of start-ups and technology.”