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Tech’s Appetite For MBA Graduates Explodes

In business education these days, it’s not enough to be “high-tech.” You must also, says Naomi Sanchez, be “high-touch.”

Sanchez, assistant dean for MBA career management and corporate recruiting at the the University of Washington Foster School of Business, has spent the past 16 years guiding professional development in Washington’s law and business schools following a corporate career with American Express. “Basically,” she says, “I have a doctorate in higher ed.” And with it she’s gotten a front-row seat to one of the biggest ongoing stories in business education: the rise of tech and its impact on MBA recruitment.

“A very important part of moving in this era of high-tech is high-touch,” Sanchez tells Poets&Quants. “The high-tech is very focused on trends and on developments and on innovation; on the other hand, in our work we still have to maintain incredibly close relationships with the recruiting teams of these companies, so it’s important to be high-touch — we know these people by name, we are emailing in the morning, at night, and on the weekends.

“We have to track the practices that we see outside of career services — the way that these companies operate — and I would say that we have to be adept with video interviewing and understand the coaching that goes with that. There’s a lot more than that. And it’s really high-touch with students as well as employers — you can’t leave the students out of the high-touch either.”

NO ‘SECRET SAUCE’ AT FOSTER, BUT LOTS OF FRIENDS IN TECH PLACES

Washington Foster’s Naomi Sanchez

If any business school can be considered a model for moving adroitly in the digital, high-tech space, it’s Washington Foster, which sends by far the highest percentage of MBAs into the industry of all the top B-schools, in the U.S. and globally. Fifty-eight percent of the Foster graduating class of 2017 took jobs in the technology industry (mostly at Seattle-based Microsoft and Amazon), more than double most of its peer schools. And while Naomi Sanchez is quick to point out that “tech” can mean anything from product management to cross-functional roles, Foster’s 58% still represents a greater proportion by far than anything even imagined at the other top U.S. and international schools. No other school in the Poets&Quants Top 25 even reaches the 50% threshold.

Obviously, a big part of Foster’s advantage in tech comes from its location in Seattle, home to the aforementioned giants Microsoft and Amazon, and more generally on the West Coast, where tech is king. But Foster also does things differently in a number of ways, Sanchez says. They run regular weekend workshops that serve as trainings for specialty focuses. They have a six-day, “heavy orientation” pre-MBA professional development program. And they’ve built up an active alumni base of tech industry directors, VPs, and CFOs — even CEOs — who donate time and expertise to the enrichment of every new crop of MBA candidates. They speak, they host events, they attend — and run — workshops, they teach. In this way, Sanchez says, the system is vibrantly feeding itself.

“I won’t say we have a ‘secret sauce,’ but the school has kept up with technology changes,” she says. “A lot of the alumni that speak at the professional development week are coming from the tech companies where the school has now built up an alumni base that is out there actually at director and VP and CFO and CEO levels — so we have a rich external base, as well as a rich faculty that is comfortable and focused on e-commerce and digital and machine learning and AI. We have built that in, both on the academic side and the practical side.”

19 OF P&Q TOP 25 SEE INCREASE IN TECH GRADS OVER 5 YEARS

Washington Foster’s 2017 MBA graduating class was 129 strong, and 58% is only about 75 people (24 of whom, Sanchez says, went to one employer: Amazon). Many schools, despite creating a lower proportion of tech-bound MBAs, send more actual employees into the space. Wharton, for example, had a graduating MBA class of 819 last year and sent 16% into tech, translating to 131 MBAs. That’s more than Foster’s entire class. Harvard likewise sent 16% of its 2017 graduating class into tech, but with a class that was 937 strong that works out to be about 150 MBAs. UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business sent 36.9% of its 241 grads into tech, which is about 89 employees.

A Poets&Quants analysis of the employment reports of the top 25 schools in our latest ranking finds that an average of 22% of the Class of 2017 went into the technology industry, however each school may define it, representing a huge leap in the last five years: Looking at 2013 figures for the same group of 25 schools, the average was 16.5%. In fact, all but five schools in the top 25 saw an increase, at an average of 6.5%, the highest being a jump of 15.2% at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, which is also the school with second-largest percentage of tech MBAs in 2017: 43.2%. (An astonishing proportion of that group, 58%, is women, a number that has risen dramatically in recent years.) Seven schools in all saw double-digit percentage increases.

Meanwhile, two schools — Virginia Darden (14%) and Cornell Johnson (12%) — were at the same number of tech grads in 2017 as they were in 2013; the three schools that saw a drop were Harvard (18% to 16%), Stanford Graduate School of Business (32% to 25%), and Yale SOM (16.8% to 14.1%). (A previous version of this story indicated that Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business had fallen from 11% to 2% between 2013 and 2017, a nine-point decline. That was based on inaccurate numbers posted at the McDonough School’s website; the school actually increased from 11% to 13% in that span.)

European schools, in general, are waking up to tech but still lag behind their U.S. counterparts, according to the available data. London Business School’s percentage of MBAs who move into the tech space stayed flat at 20% between 2013, when they were listed as taking jobs in Internet/e-commerce and “hi-tech,” and 2017, when the tech jobs they took were categorized as Internet/e-commerce, fintech, or “other.” INSEAD saw growth from 11% to 19%, and Spain’s IE more than doubled between 2013 and 2016, from 12% to 25%. Oxford, too, grew apace, to 22.3% in 2016 from just 8% in 2013; but IESE and HEC Paris were at less than one-fifth of grads, at 16% and 17%, respectively, and Cambridge had just reached 20% last year.

(See Page 3 for a chart of all the top 25 schools’ percentages of tech grads in 2017 and 2013, as well as salary data for both years.)