Who Employs the Most Harvard MBAs?

For years, the joke about the Harvard Business School was that it funneled so many MBAs into consulting and investment banking that it should be renamed the Harvard Consulting and Investment Banking School. This year, for instance, 52% of the Class of 2010 took jobs in either management consulting or financial services, including venture capital and private equity.

So if you look at the largest single employers of Harvard MBAs, it should be no surprise that the list is dominated by the international consulting outfits and the big name i-banks. Unlike other business schools, Harvard declines to identify the top employers of its MBAs each year. But an enterprising 2010 graduate and Baker Scholar with access to the school’s alumni database did some number crunching recently and was able to name the top ten companies that employ the most Harvard MBAs.

At the very top of the list is McKinsey & Co., the prestige international player in consulting, which currently employs roughly twice as many MBAs from Harvard than Goldman Sachs. Bain and Boston Consulting Group are respectively the number two and number three employers of Harvard grads. (See table below from the person who crunched this data for his blog Inside HBS). Interestingly enough, one of the top ten employers is Harvard Business School itself–which is listed in the ninth spot just ahead of IBM.

Why do so many Harvard grads end up in consulting? It’s not because they have a burning passion to enter the profession. “Relatively few people come to HBS because they genuinely want to be a consultant or an investment banker, yet the overwhelming forces here places most people either in those positions or on the edge of them,” says a current Harvard student who graduates with his MBA next year. The former military officer opined on the topic recently on his blog MilitarytoBusiness. “It is a very difficult force to fight. About the only thing HBS students are less passionate about than consulting is doing investment banking, so it is very ironic those are the top two most common jobs coming out of HBS. These truths may be rarely discussed outside of business school, but they are readily recognized from within.”

To a great extent, of course, the constant flow of Harvard MBAs into consulting is driven by compensation. McKinsey, Bain and BCG typically pay among the highest starting salaries and bonuses of any MBA employers. The median base salary in consulting for Harvard MBAs this year was $120,000, with a median signing bonus of $20,000, according to HBS placement records. Only three other industries paid more for Harvard talent in 2010: hedge funds, private equity shops, and venture capital firms. MBAs who landed jobs with hedge funds bagged median starting salaries of $137,500 with a median signing bonus of $27,500. Those who took jobs with private equity or leveraged buyout shops received median salaries of $135,000 and median bonuses of $30,000, while MBAs who accepted jobs with venture capital firms received starting salaries of $125,000.

The anonymous Inside HBS blogger, who says he currently resides in Cambridge, MA, and works at an early stage biotechnology firm, also took a look (see chart below) at the “vintage” of Harvard MBAs entering the three top consulting hirers: McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group. His conclusion: “McKinsey’s hiring this year (2010) is far below the normal rate.  Given typical attrition rates, they’re 3-4x below where they should be to continue the high mark set in 2006. The numbers also show that McKinsey’s trend is “unusually volatile.  You’d expect a consistent downward march (as new hires learn the “McKinsey Way” then depart for better opportunities + work/life balance elsewhere).”

McKinsey vs. Bain vs. BCG on Harvard MBAs

“A possible explanation for some of the volatility,” he adds,” is that there are major retention issues at McKinsey after hires hit the key promotion dates (called out by dotted lines).  The first dip corresponds to the time of an Associate -> Engagement Manager promotion.  The second is around EM -> Principal.  The third is around Principal -> Partner. While Bain tends to generally follow McKinsey’s trend, BCG runs a bit counter-cyclical.  Probably due to BCG competing more directly with McKinsey?”

And finally, Inside HBS produced one additional chart (see below) that suggests that Goldman Sachs offers a more stable career path than McKinsey with its up-or-out promotion policy.

Goldman Sachs vs. McKinsey & Co. on Harvard MBAs

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.