It was a sweltering day in Palo Alto as the sun beat down on the sprawling white canopies shielding the crowd gathered at Frost Amphitheater to witness Saturday’s (June 13) commencement of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business’s Class of 2015.
Different languages fused together to form a gentle hum of anticipation – an eagerness driven by the pride of the innumerable families, many of whom had come from distant lands to witness sons and daughters and brothers and sisters at a landmark moment. After an enduring wait, the procession of graduates began to file down the center of the amphitheater to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” as family members frantically competed with one another to get the perfect picture.
As the 396 students receiving MBA degrees finally took their seats, the buzz quieted down as Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner stood to face the crowd. “What you have accomplished at the GSB, you have not accomplished alone.” Saloner said in an obligatory commencement message. “You have learned and received help, guidance and mentorship support from many quarters, all of which are represented here today.”
‘IT IS A GOOD BUBBLE, BUT A BUBBLE NONETHELESS’
Saloner then gave a rather an apt description of Stanford’s place as the MBA program of the Silicon Valley community. “These days it is difficult to venture into the world of social media without encountering an article or discussion about whether or not Silicon Valley is in the midst of another bubble,” he said. “Whatever your opinion on that matter, it is hard to dispute that the GSB itself is a bit of a bubble. It’s a different kind of bubble, of course.”
It is with a certain irony that the business school, created in 1925, was launched to halt the trend of bright students going east for a business degree and never returning. Today, the GSB is the most highly selective MBA program in the nation and nearly a quarter of Harvard Business School’s graduating MBAs accept jobs on the West Coast. Among the members of GSB’s Class of 2014, more than six in ten stayed here as entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, or newbie employees in existing startups or in the high tech elite of Google, Apple, Facebook, et al. And even when they landed jobs in consulting or banking, those positions often fed on the Silicon Valley ecosystem.
If the GSB is a bubble within the larger bubble of the valley, Saloner put a positive spin on the school’s place in it. “It’s a bubble where you have the space to learn and explore, to discover incredible classmates from distant countries, to dream about the future and imagine your place in it, and not only explore from without, but also from within, on your journey of self-discovery. So it is a good bubble, but a bubble nonetheless,” the dean concluded.
HEADED TO APPLE’s iTUNES AS A PRODUCT MANAGER
Indeed. Many in the class are leveraging their internships in San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose and Mountain View at such places as Nest, Square, eBay, LinkedIn, and Google into new and exciting opportunities. One of the many GSB beneficiaries of the valley’s current dynamism is Aditi Banga, who landed a plum job at Apple as a product manager at iTunes. Bang, a Harvard University undergrad, had done a consulting stint with Monitor Group before jumping into the entrepreneurial world with Pocket Gems, a mobile game developer backed by Sequoia Capital, one of the better known VCs. During her MBA experience at Stanford, she had two internships at Hulu and gilt.com and a wealth of startup classes.
“I’ve taken more than a few classes on entrepreneurship at the GSB.” Banga said, “They were especially effective because they exposed me to the challenges start-ups have to face in their early beginnings, which is something I had never been exposed to before.”
For many in the Class of 2015, having been in the midst of an unprecedented period of economic growth, the lure of being part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem was incredibly enticing. “It was very hard to resist, especially as there are so many GSB alumni in the area,” said Michal Russ, who decided to return to McKinsey & Co. after her graduation. “But the faculty handles it very well–they bring many success stories but also failure stories. They make sure we are aware of the difficulties and low success rate of startups.”