CentreCourt London: Leading Adcoms Spill The Beans

Yale SOM’s Laurel Grodman (left), IESE Business School’s Pascal Michels, Carnegie Mellon Tepper’s Gina Cecchetti and London Business School’s David Simpson

Symonds: The master in business analytics has emerged in the last five years as a hot program. How would a person know if he or she is better off with a master’s in that topic or simply the MBA?

Cecchetti: I think it would depend upon what the career goals are, what your interests are. Business analytics’ programs are obviously very heavy in quant, whereas if you’re exploring the MBA, maybe you have quite a few different interests. It all depends on your career goals.

Matt Symonds

Symonds: Pascal, of course, before being the director for MBA admissions at the IESE Business School, you also were heavily involved in career services. What sort of shift do you see in this generation in their expectations of business school and the career paths they want to pursue?

Michels: Consulting is always in, and that’s because most people who don’t know what they want to do after the MBA say they want consulting. That’s fine. I think consulting firms do a fantastic job of maintaining their symbiosis with MBA programs. It is just that. It is symbiosis. The irony of the MBA is that, as opposed to the more analytical master’s degrees, it teaches you the general management skills. It allows you to develop the self-awareness and the maturity that you’re going to need, say, ten years after graduation when you’re going to be promoted into a role where you have to manage people.

That creates this tension where the end game for us is to make sure that ten years after graduation you’re going to be a great leader and you’re going to be able to deal with people. Dealing with people means dealing with their emotions. In the meanwhile, you need to fill those ten years with some technical work, too. A lot of the conversation gets hijacked by these short-term goals because you have a loan most likely that you’re going to have to take on and then you’ll have to find a job that allows you to earn out of that loan. You need to understand the recruiter portfolio of the schools that you target.

I think the big shift, and this is news to no one, is essentially from finance to tech. I think all schools here in this room are very grateful to Amazon because they’re gobbling up MBA graduates around the world. Tech has come to mean pretty much everything. You can literally take any combination of letters and add tech to it and you will find a honeycomb with 50 to 150 start-ups in any of the main business hubs in the world. Right now, I would say that consulting and tech are the main sectors that drive the whole conversation.

Symonds: Laurel, this afternoon you’ll be talking to a very international audience with 65 nationalities. European business schools have always had international perspectives. That’s something that your dean has put into the mix at Yale. Can you explain how that matters to the school today and then what you’re looking for in that experience?

Grodman: I think it’s very core to our mission to educate leaders for business and society. What that means today is educating global business leaders. Business is inherently global, even if you plan on spending your entire career in your home country or your country of citizenship, you’re still going to be competing against global players, investing in global markets, working on global teams. There’s really no such thing as a truly domestic career. That’s where we need to focus.

I think SOM has always been a global school, but I think Dean (Ted) Snyder has really put a point on that and made some pretty big innovations in the space. The first being the establishment of the global network for advanced management. About six years ago, Yale took the lead in establishing a network of about 30 business schools across the globe. There’s a lot of innovation that has come out of that. At SOM, we have what we call the global studies requirement, and I believe we were the first U.S. business school to actually require our students as part of the core to have some kind of deep global engagement during the time they’re there. That can look like a lot of different things. It’s important to have these experiences during the time you’re in school so that you can put them into practice after you graduate.

SOM is truly a more global place. It’s also the student body, as well. I think our most recent class had nearly 50 different nationalities represented. Having that perspective in the classroom goes a long way as well, but having that additional exposure through the global network I think has really amplified it.

Symonds: If I haven’t lived, worked, or studied in another country is there a way to demonstrate to the admissions office at LBS that I have a global mindset, David?

Simpson: Yes, and also the fact that you can have a very global environment full of people who don’t have global experience. You create one by gathering them together. A Japanese student who’s never worked outside of Japan is extremely valuable to learn from and learn with for somebody who spent all their time in the U.S. Individually, to some extent, we wouldn’t want a class full of people who are all global citizens. We want you to do a bit of forming while you’re there and learning because that’s where the passion will come from.

MBAs are about people. You’re not sitting in front of a screen learning from a distance and nothing but. You’re with people, so you have to be interested in other people. Not just the profs, but the students alongside you. I think that innate quality of individuals is more important than exactly what you’ve done and where you’ve done it.

You could be somebody who’s had a global career but actually hasn’t necessarily engaged during it. There are certain jobs that seem very international, but actually, you could be living in a pocket of people from your country, within your bank, or military service or whatever it is. It has to be about the individual level of engagement and passion.

A resume, a CV, doesn’t do all the talking, does it? That was an interesting question about what do you look at first. I’m quite mechanical at looking at the progress and looking at how it flows. I’m not actually one who looks at the bottom first. Again, it’s a good conversation starter, but people know to put down the super interesting stuff. If you’ve been working 14-hour days in a really busy job, you probably haven’t had the time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but you could be really interesting and interested in people and give far more than somebody who climbed a big mountain. Of course, I’m speaking as someone who’s got no chance of climbing any mountains whatsoever.

Matt Symonds: You already live at a very high altitude. You’re taller than any other member of the panel. Just to draw to a close, Gina, starting with you, what are three valuable skills in an MBA that will always serve them in their careers?

Cecchetti: I’ll go back to one of my previous answers. I think it’ll be the analytical, leadership, and teamwork skills.

Matt Symonds: Pascal, what would you add or reinforce on that list?

Michels: I think the crucial one is self-awareness. I don’t know that that is a skill, but everybody goes through a bit of a curve like this. They’re super excited in the beginning and then there’s the ah-ha moment when you realize you’re not the smartest person or the best leader. When you climb out of that trough, you develop self-awareness. That, for me, is fundamental. Which comes with humility. I think it’s a humbling experience just because of the caliber of people that you’re going to be working with. Because there needs to be three, I’d agree with the leadership. The outcome of all of this is your ability to lead others, starting with yourself.

Matt Symonds: Laurel?

Grodman: Humility got stolen, but I would emphasize that as well. Along with that, I’d see curiosity and open-mindedness, a willingness to learn. That’s going to be important in an MBA program, but certainly beyond as well. And the ability to deal with ambiguity.

Matt Symonds: Great answers. David, you’ve had more time to think about this question than anybody else on the panel.

Simpson: Adaptability, that skill to be able to take a different route as opportunities come along. Courage, as well, I think, to challenge yourself. Don’t go into this looking for the easiest route. Be brave. Be braver than you are during your normal life because it will be challenging, but you need to keep pushing. This one or two years is only going to be there once and then it’s gone, and you do not want to think about the things you wish you’d done. For me, the global awareness, the global passion, that again comes back to interested in people.

Symonds: Thank you for sharing those insights. Thanks very much, everyone.