On a late autumn day while their fellow classmates watched the leaves fall and prepped for polar vortexes and snowstorms, a group of 23 MBAs from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management oohed and aahed at Facebook’s palm tree-lined, ever-sunny Silicon Valley campus. “Our students absolutely loved that,” beamed Maggie Tomas, the director of Minnesota Carlson’s Graduate Business Career Center, as she walked out of a conference room at Facebook headquarters.
Indeed, Facebook’s grandeur does command awe. The complex is larger than many college campuses and certainly boasts more perks. From its $4,000 in “baby cash” to employees with a newborn to abundant free grub to a weekly digital Q&A with founder Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook represents everything MBAs find attractive in the tech industry: opportunities to innovate, access to the C-suite, and perks galore. It’s also the reason business schools are increasingly putting their MBA students in front of tech recruiters by taking treks similar to Minnesota Carlson’s, and why they are increasing alumni relations with alums in tech companies. But while some schools are blessed with geographical strengths or top brand names, others have to get a little more creative to fulfill the growing interest among MBA millennials in jumping into tech positions.
“We’re in the middle of the country and these companies are on the West Coast, and placement is highly competitive,” Tomas says. So, four years ago, she and her office began organizing trips for students interested in the tech-rich San Francisco Bay Area. “If you think about it, there are so many wonderful schools already in the San Francisco area,” Tomas says. “And then all of the top East Coast schools are going out there.”
MAKING A WEST COAST CONNECTION
In addition to taking treks, Tomas has worked to build strong relationships with Carlson alumni already in tech, which she describes as the school’s “best asset.”
“Before, if a student was interested in tech, we didn’t always have the mechanisms to support that, and I think we’re getting better at that,” Tomas says. One approach she has taken is to increase her office’s presence on the West Coast by sending a representative to the Bay Area to meet with alumni about four times a year.
“Alumni are your best bet,” Tomas continues, noting that the San Francisco Carlson alumni organization is the second-largest in the country, behind only Minneapolis. “If students are going to look outside of the Midwest region and are from a Midwestern school, they need to connect with alumni that are on the West Coast.” Tomas says the board of the San Francisco alumni group has launched an initiative to get more Carlson students to the Bay Area. “They are committed to helping us find companies that might want to host us or introducing us to other alumni that we haven’t met,” she explains.
MORE CARLSON STUDENTS GOING WEST THAN EAST
The commitment from both ends certainly shows. On the recent trek, Carlson MBAs were bussed around the Bay Area from Silicon Valley to San Francisco, meeting with alumni at Facebook, Intuit, and Adobe, among other locations. The dedication is also manifesting in employment reports. Carlson placed 11% of its graduating class of 2016 into tech roles — a slight uptick from 8% in the class of 2015. “It’s become not only an interest in the Bay Area, but it’s definitely an interest in tech,” says Tomas, noting a growing tech scene in the school’s home city of Minneapolis. “These are students that want to be in tech and because of that, the West Coast becomes an interest.”
While the 11% is an increase from 2015, the rates are still lower than Carlson’s 2013 and 2014 numbers, when 15% and 13% entered tech, respectfully. However, the number of students ending up on the West Coast surged to 13% for the class of 2016 — by far the largest percentage in recent years for the school and more than double any other region besides the Upper Midwest.
Tomas says those numbers reflect what her office sees on the career treks as far as interest. “More will go to the West than the East from Carlson,” she says, pointing out that the school treks to Seattle, too. Still, Tomas doesn’t want to overlook what’s happening in Carlson’s backyard. “We want to expose them to everything,” she says, “but there are some great opportunities in the Twin Cities, too.”
CURRENT MBAs ‘BELIEVE THERE ARE MORE OPPORTUNITIES IN HIGH TECHNOLOGY THAN OTHER FIELDS’
Of course, Carlson isn’t the only school from the country’s midsection staking claim to West Coast tech land. In 2016, for the first time ever, the University of Texas-Austin’s McCombs School of Business placed more MBAs in tech than any other industry at 33% — an incredible jump from 17% in 2015. McCombs graduates of the Class of 2016 going into tech surged past those going into consulting, which was the next highest industry at 21%. Career reports are still being released from schools, but that percentage puts McCombs at the fourth-highest percentage among top schools in last year’s data — behind the University of Washington Foster School of Business (43%), Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper Business School (38.2%), and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (37.8%). What’s more, 17% of the class took positions on the West Coast — nearly three times the next highest region, and the second highest region overall outside of the Southwest.
“Technology is a very attractive field,” says Stacey Rudnick, the director of MBA career management at McCombs. “This is the generation of students that grew up with a lot of high technology, so I think they find it interesting. They believe there are more opportunities in high technology than other fields.”
Outside of Texas, Rudnick says, the majority of MBAs have gone to California and Seattle over the past six or seven years — a trend her office doesn’t see slowing. About nine years ago, McCombs’ career management office began making a “concerted effort” to place students on the West Coast by organizing treks to Seattle and the Bay Area. While the treks have been popular from the get-go, this year Rudnick says they are seeing “record-high interest.”
“Treks were typically 25 to 30 students. I think 35 was the most we’ve ever taken, and we had short waiting lists,” says Rudnick, noting that the school takes the trip within the first two weeks of January each year. “This year, the waiting lists were so long, we expanded both trips. We are now taking 50 students to Seattle with a 25-student waiting list, and we are taking 40 students to the Bay Area with a 40-student waiting list.”
McCombs enrolled 265 first-year MBAs this fall, Director of MBA Programs Tina Mabley points out. “So basically,” she says, “a third of the class” will take one of the two trips.
WHY TECH IS SURGING AT McCOMBS
Rudnick says the expanded trips are a response to a call of McCombs MBAs wanting to enter the tech industry — no matter the specific role. “It is the tech companies that are particularly of interest,” Rudnick explains. “Even for students that are, for example, really excited about marketing, but they’d rather be doing it for a tech company.”
According to Mabley, the school doesn’t wait to start prepping students for tech recruiting and potential careers. McCombs brings alumni from across industries to campus and hosts panels during the first fall semester so “students can get that exposure very early and hear what those roles are like and make some early connections, Mabley says. Later in the semester, students can home in on function-specific panels. All McCombs students are also required to take a one credit-hour career course during their first semester on campus to get them in the “career perspective.”
Mabley also believes being in the high-tech and entrepreneurial “hotbed” of Austin is an advantage for MBAs. “I don’t think there is another top 20 school that has a relationship with the city it is in like the University of Texas is connected with the city of Austin,” she boasts. According to Mabley, classes are often connected to Austin-based companies and students have access to the startup community in Austin. “There are a lot of opportunities to connect with tech companies in Austin,” she continues. “And we are the major player in Austin, so when those companies are looking for employees, they come to us.”