Year’s Highest Paid MBA: $675K To Start

An MBA in this year’s graduating class at Stanford Graduate School of Business landed a hedge fund job in the Northeast that paid the freshly minted MBA a guaranteed bonus of half a million dollars, bringing the person’s total starting compensation package to at least $675,000.

The guaranteed bonus alone–which is four times the median starting salary of $125,000 for Stanford’s Class of 2011–will likely make this unidentified graduate the highest paid MBA of the year. Last year, the highest paid MBA was a graduate of the Wharton School who pulled down a base salary of $350,000 with a private equity firm in New York. (see “When The Sky Is Nearly the Limit: Highest Paid MBAs of 2010“).

In common with most other business schools, Stanford reports the range of high and low salaries, signing bonuses, and other guarantee bonuses separately. So it’s not possible to determine the total compensation of this one graduate. “Federal privacy laws prevent me from disclosing any information on this specific student,” said Pulin Sanghvi, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Still, the half dozen Stanford MBAs who took jobs with hedge funds reported median starting salaries of $150,000, with a high of $200,000 and a low of $110,000, and median signing bonuses of $25,000, with a high of $150,000 and a low of $20,000. If the MBA simply hit the medians, the graduate’s total package would come to a whopping $675,000. And none of these figures include such perks as tuition reimbursement, relocation expenses, the value of stock or stock options, auto allowances, profit sharing or 401K plan matches.

Interestingly enough, the $500,000 guaranteed bonus matches the record set by a graduate in Stanford’s Class of 2005 who went into manufacturing and reported a guaranteed year-end bonus of half a million dollars.

The very highest paid MBAs tend to be special cases. To these first MBA jobs, they bring extraordinary work experience and track records that convince firms who want to hire the absolute best and brightest that they are worth the money. In private equity that means hiring grads who already have been in the business–often as high-performing analysts for the same companies that hire them back.


As shockingly high as the $675,000 sum is, it’s not the highest ever. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business reported that one of its MBAs landed a private equity job with a $680,000 total compensation package back in 2004. And another Stanford student in the Class of 2011 gained a higher starting salary of $300,000 in, of all fields, general management. The $300,000 windfall was the highest reported base salary at Stanford this year.

Most of the top business schools have yet to release their full 2011 employment reports, but are expected to do so over the next few weeks. So it’s possible that yet another school’s graduate could top the estimated $675,000 comp package at Stanford, but it’s highly unlikely given what other schools have already reported as well as historical trend lines. This data is reported to the schools by its graduates.


A University of Chicago Booth School of Business grad also reported a $300,000 base salary this year, the highest at the school. That person, according to the school’s just released employment report, found a job in private equity. At Columbia Business School, an MBA who took a job at a hedge fund doing buy-side/sell-side research started at a $300,000 base salary. The highest guaranteed bonus also went to a student, possibly the same graduate, and was $275,000. At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the MBA reporting the highest base salary–$250,000–took a job in investment banking in the Northeast. That sum was 150% above Duke’s $100,000 median for i-banking jobs.