What Amazon, Google & McKinsey Really Want From MBAs

Amazon. Google. McKinsey.

They are three of the most desirable MBA employers on the planet, companies that routinely rank at the very of the list of firms that business graduates would most want to work for. And all three firms are among the largest employers of MBA talent in the world.

What do they value most about MBA hires? How have the responsibilities and opportunities for MBAs changed over the past five years? What can MBA candidates do now to make themselves as competitive as possible for later?

Those questions and more formed the basis of an extraordinary MBA Summit panel sponsored by Poets&Quants and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Livestreamed on May 1 before a global audience from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, the discussion featured top executives from Amazon, Google, and McKinsey—as well as Ross Dean Scott DeRue. The session, What Recruiters Really Want From MBAs, was one of three making up the MBA Summit (also see The MBA Summit: How To Get Into A Top Business School).

AMAZON, GOOGLE AND MCKINSEY EXECUTIVES ON WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR IN MBA HIRES

Moderated by Poets&Quants founder and editor John A. Byrne, the panel included: Peter Faricy, a 1995 Ross MBA graduate, is vice president of Amazon Marketplace, where he is responsible for millions of third party sellers worldwide across 14 global marketplaces.

Grant D’Arcy, a 2012 MBA from Ross, works for one of the most enviable organizations in all of business today. As the head of strategy at X, Google’s Moonshot Factory, D’Arcy works with a team to develop ‘moonshot’ technologies that address large problems in the world.

Ellis Griffith, who earned her MBA from Ross in 1999, is the gloal head of diversity and inclusion at McKinsey & Co., the highly prestigious management consulting firm. She partners with her global colleagues to attract, develop and retain world-class diverse talent.

Scott DeRue, a highly popular leadership professor at Ross, became dean of the school in July of 2016. Among other things, he is a keen advocate of experiential learning and has recently upped Ross’ commitment to what is the deepest level of action learning currently available at any business school in the world.

WHAT COMPANIES MOST VALUE IN AN MBA GRADUATE

During a one-hour conversation, they offer plenty of valuable advice to both MBA applicants and students who want to work in their companies. Griffith, for example, notes that employers are looking for “inspiration as well as evidence of action” or accomplishment when making a hiring decision. Telling that story well in a recruiting interview matters, whether you come from a mainstream or non-traditional background with your MBA.

D’Arcy says that an MBA program is the ideal time to fill in the gaps that exist between your current day skills and experience and the career you ultimately want. “If you want to be a consultant, ask what is the skill gap between you and a really excellent consultant today,” he says. “Then ask yourself how can you knock that down during the two years you have in an MBA program so you can be able to go in and authoritatively say, ‘I am going to crush it here. I am going to be a phenomenal consultant, I have advised companies, I have built the quant background to be able to do this. Frankly, I’ve been mentored by someone who’s already at this company, and I feel like I would be able to step in on day one and be valuable.’ If you can tell that story, if you can build on it, identify the gaps in your skillset and close them, you will be golden. It’s so easy to tell the people who’ve put in that work versus the people who have not.

Here is an edited transcript of our discussion at the MBA Summit:

John A. Byrne: Let’s start with the basics: What does each of your companies value most about MBAs?

Peter Faricy of Amazon

Peter Faricy of Amazon: At Amazon, I think what we’ve learned over time is that we’re not idea constrained. And we’re not capital resource constrained. We’re really people constrained, and we’re leader constrained. And so in particular, we love to hire really talented MBAs because we want people to come in and take on really big roles within our company. As we look down the road, it’s essential for us to find a pipeline of really talented leaders. And I think we’ve had great success across many schools here in the U.S. Obviously I’ve spent a lot of time here recruiting at Ross. But I’ll tell you we found a lot of very talented MBAs across many schools and it’s a great pipeline to bring in new talent.

Byrne: And Amazon is recruiting quite a few MBAs these days, roughly 1,000 a year, more than any other company ever.

Faricy: Quite a few. Yes. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the schools are helping to build really talented professionals. By the time people leave here I’m amazed at how big the roles MBAs are capable of taking on. If I were to compare it to when I graduated 20 years ago, I think people are much more prepared to jump into an operating role and make a big difference. So we’re very, very pleased with the results of our MBA hiring.

Byrne: And Peter, you’re a perfect segue to Ellis at McKinsey & Co. because you actually started at the firm when you graduated with your MBA from Ross in 1995. So Ellis, McKinsey has been really one of the pioneer recruiters of MBAs from the earliest days of Marvin Bower, the firm’s legendary leader who built McKinsey into a powerhouse What is it about the MBA that makes a person who has the degree so well prepared to jump into a consulting role at McKinsey?

Ellis Griffith of McKinsey & Co.

Ellis Griffith of McKinsey: The real core and the essence of it is around problem solving. It’s the ability to look at a problem from 360 degrees and walk around it and take a lot of different perspectives. Not a single perspective. Not one way into a problem, but to look at it from multiple disciplines and to really have that ability is something super unique about the MBA. And I think it’s really why we have continued and continued for many years to pursue MBAs.

Byrne: And Grant, at Google, what do you expect from an MBA hire that you might not expect from a non-MBA applicant?

Grant D’Arcy of Google: Frankly, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking for all of Google. But for X in particular we’re in the business of launching start-ups. And there is a breadth of skillset that individuals come out with from an MBA program that makes them useful. We try to have small, easily fungible teams so having people with has some background in operations, some in marketing, some in accounting equally facile at looking at a user interview and a P&L and figuring out how to do manufacturing is important. That really makes a person valuable in a place where we might have to kill a project and pivot a person in six months.

Grant D’Arcy of Google

Byrne: Scott, as Dean, I imagine you make a conscious effort in terms of how you’re shaping the people who go through the program for employers like these.

Ross Dean Scott DeRue: Without question. At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to insure that we’re developing talent that creates a pipeline for companies like Amazon, McKinsey, and Google because that’s our partnership. And we have to be able to understand where they’re going in their businesses and then understand what experiences we need to provide students to ready them for those experiences. We have to prepare students for the ability to step into big roles and functions at Amazon within a year or two running really big businesses and operations. With McKinsey, they need to have the skillset to work with clients in unstructured environments and to create structure and solve problems. It’s our responsibility and our opportunity to develop talent that is ready and prepared to take on those roles.

Byrne: To use the inevitable military metaphor, I would say an MBA makes a person combat-ready to immediately jumpstart his or her career. You really not only get the business basics in an MBA program, you’re getting a taste of different opportunities and learning what’s expected of you, so that when you hire an MBA, you know that person’s going to perform from day one, which is very different from when you hire someone else. Ellis, let me ask you how the opportunities or responsibilities of an MBA hire have changed over the years? Do MBA graduates assume greater responsibility today than they may have five, 10, 15 years ago?

Ellis: I really like your combat-ready metaphor because I feel that when you drop in on day one, you need to be ready to jump in and participate completely and fully. So I would say that has not changed since the days of Marvin Bower. What has changed, though, is the context and expectations.  The client expects us to come in with a totally interdisciplinary approach so a team is ready to problem solve on a global scale, to look at issues from all different levels, to have an analytical capability that is really quite excellent.

DON’T MISS: THE MBA SUMMIT: HOW TO GET INTO A TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL