Most MBA jobs still rely on traditional business customs. Whether it’s consulting or marketing or finance or consumer goods, a firm handshake, good eye contact game, and a knack for salesmanship will get you far. But technology is different. It still matters — a lot — who you know, whether you’re in fintech or Internet services or E-commerce or software, but you can thrive in tech without the cocktail parties or the tee times. And the nature of the industry dictates that you can do the job from anywhere. Tech is helping to bring the concept of office work closer to anachronism, a process both accelerated and magnified in the era of coronavirus.
At the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle, tech is already king, and has been for years. According to a Poets&Quants analysis of the most recently available employment report data at 36 of the top schools in the United States and Europe, that fact didn’t change in 2019. Washington Foster — neighbors with Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and many other titans of tech — proved last year that it is once more the top business school in the world for MBAs going to work in technology, with 44% of the Class of 2019 headed to the sector, more than 11 percentage points higher than the next school, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Yet even as the “new normal” was thrust upon higher education, tech was slipping in interest at some top schools — and not where you’d expect. Two prominent West Coast schools saw their tech numbers dip last year: Stanford Graduate School of Business and Berkeley Haas, which along with a dozen other schools graduated fewer tech MBAs over a three-year span going back to 2016. Even at Washington’s Foster School, tech MBAs declined from 52% of the total graduating class in 2016 and a high-water mark of 60% in 2018.
Will coronavirus give the sector a boost? What does the future hold in this brave new Covid-19 world?
“The fluctuating tech numbers reflect the population of the student body and their interests,” says Naomi Sanchez, assistant dean of MBA career management at the Foster School. “I like the balance. I think it is part of our culture.” But she adds: “We’re like the rest of the top-tier schools working with this great challenge and trying to do our best. We are challenged, for sure, with this environment.”
BY THE NUMBERS (FOR WHAT THEY’RE WORTH)
There’s truth in the numbers — or at least, there always used to be. But in examining the data on tech-bound MBAs from 36 leading schools and the salaries they draw, as P&Q does every year, an unspoken reality hangs over everything: How much does this matter in the era of Covid-19? What bearing will these numbers, and the years of preceding numbers that form patterns and trends that themselves make the foundation of business schools’ value proposition to prospective talent, have on the coming years — years likely to be severely impacted by the ongoing pandemic that has thrown graduate business education into turmoil?
The answer: The numbers are what we have. They are the “old normal,” perhaps, but they represent something to return to when normalcy is again possible. And so we carry on.
After the Foster School, the top schools for tech MBAs last year were UC-Berkeley Haas (32.9%), MIT Sloan School of Management (30.7%), Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business (30.5%), and UCLA Anderson School of Management (29.5%). In the top 10 U.S. schools, the average is 21.1%. Year-over-year, 21 schools out of 36 saw decreases between 2018 and 2019, while three remained the same. Conversely, when we compared numbers at 28 U.S. and five European schools between 2015 and 2016, 18 showed increases and 12 showed decreases.
The biggest one-year increase in tech MBAs came at Washington University in St. Louis, where only 8% of Olin Business School grads got tech jobs in 2018 but 20% went into the sector the next year. The biggest gain in the three-year window between 2016 and 2019 came at USC’s Marshall School of Business, which grew its tech share from 11% to 21% between 2016 and 2019, a greater-than-90% jump. The biggest three-year decline: INSEAD, in France, which dropped from 19% to 13.5%, a 28.9% decline. Two top-10 schools also saw three-year decreases: Stanford and Haas, at -27.3% and -15.2%, respectively.
Between 2016 and 2019, 21 schools out of 36 saw increases in tech MBA graduates, and 14 saw decreases. One, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, was flat at 14%. Of the 14 schools with a decrease over the last three cycles, the average drop was 15.3%.
In Europe, the top tech school is IESE, with 26% of its 2019 MBAs going into the sector, up from 20% last year and 16% in 2016. According to IESE’s employment report, “This year saw a significant increase in students opting for careers with technology companies; E-commerce and Internet firms were the most popular destinations for this year’s graduating class.”
WHAT CLASS OF 2019 TECH GRADS MADE
P&Q also compiled and analyzed salary data for the Class of 2019 tech MBAs. Unsurprisingly, and once again this year, Stanford GSB grads made the most in starting median salary: $140,000. That number also marks the biggest increase over three years for any of the 35 schools whose employment reports we examined, a $45,000 increase since 2016, which is a 47.4% jump. The next-biggest three-year salary jump came at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, which grew its median base salary to $126,000 from $96,000, a 31.3% increase. In 2016, three schools tied for the highest salary at $125K: Berkeley Haas, Chicago Booth, and Harvard Business School.
Overall, at the 32 schools for which comparisons are possible, tech MBAs’ base salaries grew by 12% over three years. Only one school, INSEAD, had a decline, dropping from $99,500 to $92,800 (though the former number is an average and the latter number a median, which complicates the data.) Eleven schools reported a median base salary of $130K or more. In the top 10 U.S. schools, tech salaries grew by 15.2% from 2016. In Europe, however, the average salary in U.S. dollars is $95,191, down from $101,057 in 2018, a loss of $5,866 or 5.8%.
Estimating the number of actual hires, HBS is the top school with 186, followed by Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management (170), IE Business School in Spain (169), INSEAD (135), and MIT Sloan (124). But these are only estimates. A few schools report the number of tech hires from each graduating MBA class by specific firms, among them NYU Stern School of Business, which sent nine MBAs to Amazon in 2019, as well as six to Google, four to Microsoft, and three to Facebook. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business sent an astonishing 38 MBAs to Amazon, nearly 10% of the entire graduating class, as well as 23 to Microsoft, 18 to Dell Technologies, and 18 more to Google. Amazon was the new home of 23 Chicago Booth MBAs, and Google the home of 14. Ten London Business School grads went to Amazon and another five to Uber.
Signing bonus data is harder to get, as most schools prefer to list only the median or mean figure from the entire graduating class. See all 2019 salary and bonus data on the following pages. Plugging gaps? See last year’s story for 2018 numbers and click here and here for past P&Q coverage.
‘THE TEST WAS IMMEDIATE’
Starting in 2014, Washington Foster’s tech placement turbocharged 19 full percentage points, growing from 41% to 52% in 2016 and up to 60% in 2018. That year there were 125 Foster MBA graduates, of whom about 75 of whom went into tech. Too much shouldn’t be read into the fact that tech dropped to 44% last year, Naomi Sanchez says, dropping the number of actual hires down to about 40, though she declined to give a preview of the school’s 2020 employment numbers.
Since the pandemic began playing havoc with business schools in early March, students, faculty, and administrators at the Foster School have learned to live with instability — or more accurately, without “foreseeable stability,” Sanchez says. “We do not have a foreseeable stability at all,” she says. “And the idea here is to get comfortable with today’s environment, which is unknown and definitely a situation where we are going to be encountering scenarios we never thought of. But can we anticipate that this is going to happen and actually be able to adjust emotionally and mentally to it?
“What prepared us for this situation was actually unintentional to some extent, because we could not have predicted this happening. It’s the whole notion of strategic thinking, which has been around at Foster for a number of years, and which we integrated throughout our curriculum about 10 years ago. Then lo and behold, we are now in a time where this is a test of mental and emotional agility. So the test was immediate.”
The test included a major disruption in recruiting, even for a school situated smack in the middle of Second Silicon Valley. “The messaging was, ‘Minute by minute things are changing, and they’re changing in this way: Recruiters are calling us, they’re telling us there may be some delays in recruiting.’ Next minute, ‘Some people have had their offers rescinded.’ Next minute, ‘We may see less recruiting outreach in April and May.’ So it was minute-by-minute communication, but strategically we knew that we were going to have to communicate differently. We were going to have to provide information virtually. So virtual career fairs — we had our first virtual career fair and now since we’ve had a number of them.
“Now I think things have settled down. We have had a few internship offers rescinded, and we haven’t had very many full-time offers rescinded at all. We’re seeing less immediate changes on the dial and we are working with our corporate partners, providing them with information on our graduates and our talent as needed.”
As the health crisis extends into the fall, the school’s culture of innovation and resilience will speak for itself, she says.
“I think there’s something very special here and it’s reinforced by our new Dean Frank Hodge, who came on board just this year during this pandemic,” Sanchez says. “We have a values-based culture and one that is innovative, that grows out of a growth mindset. Truly, we talk growth mindset all the time, which then generates the innovation that you’ll see in our career office.
“We have been on this for a number of years. This is not new. A couple of us in my office led a resilience workshop in the MBA CSEA conference about two or three years ago because we anticipated that one of the biggest challenges for MBAs will be this sort of volatile potential future that they’re going to be leading in. Well, we’re there now.”
See the next pages for charts of the placement and pay data for tech-bound 2019 MBA graduates.