The Top MBA Programs That Feed The Tech Industry

There’s been little change in recent years at the top of the tech feeder pipeline. The big question in 2020 was, would coronavirus have any effect on the top schools for producing tech industry MBAs — particularly the University of Washington Foster School of Business, which has long been the school with the highest placement rate as a percentage of its graduating class?

We now have an answer. If the Covid-19 pandemic had any effect at all, it only amplified Washington Foster’s place at the head of the tech pack. With 53% of its Class of 2020 finding work in the sector, the Foster School, which counts as its neighbors and recruiting partners such Seattle-based giants as Amazon and Microsoft, did more than just retain its title as tech titan — it actually improved on its previous-year mark of 44%, while growing salaries by a healthy 6%.

“We didn’t like the pandemic at all, but it’s part of the Seattle culture to welcome challenges,” says Naomi Sanchez, Foster’s assistant dean of MBA career management. “If you think of Seattle, it is really an incredibly creative environment that we live in. And so, we just joined in.”


Washington Foster’s Naomi Sanchez. File photo

Foster’s 53% of Class of 2020 MBAs who went into tech did not, incredibly, set a new school record; the school’s high-water mark was established in 2018, when it placed an amazing 60% in the industry. Still, Sanchez tells Poets&Quants, finding employment for the vast majority of Foster MBAs took a lot of work, whether they were tech-bound or not — an effort aided by good relationships with locally based corporations, alumni pitching in big-time, and the school’s people-first approach.

“One of the interesting twists that the pandemic really gave us was, we were already on the path around bettering humanity through business and in business,” Sanchez says. “The pandemic kind of brought that to the forefront even more, because our population of students are both tech-minded, but they’re also very much concerned about their purpose or their mission, and their emotional attachment to other people. So it all kind of comes together, really.

“We had to figure out a way, in Seattle, in this environment, a heavy tech environment, a heavy creative environment: How do we connect people on an emotional level, especially our students with our recruiters and with our companies? How do we create a new linkage, a new channel, for this to happen? That was the wonderful challenge. We were doing weekly conversations. We call them conversations with a variety of people, just real quick ones, quick conversations, just easy to get on, easy to get off, if you’re a student, if you’re a recruiter — easy to get in front of people.

“We also created some mentoring circles for under-represented minority students, that was quite exciting, with corporate representatives. And we were able to really talk about diversity, and equity, and inclusion, in ways that we didn’t have before mentoring circles.

“I guess the thing about Seattle, and I want to say this about Foster in particular, because we’re nestled right in the middle of it, is that we have our alumni in these companies. They’re in the Costcos, the Starbucks, the Amazons, the Microsofts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These are amazing partners to the Foster school. So when we have the Dean’s messaging around bettering humanity during a pandemic, it comes together beautifully.”


As we await the latest employment data from the MBA Class of 2021, we take a last look, as we do every year, at how the previous class fared. The MBA Class of 2020 had the hardest row to hoe since the MBAs who graduated in the wake of the Great Recession, but they made the most of it, and those going into tech had certain advantages — foremost among them, certainly, the wherewithal to transition quickly to remote employment.

Of the 36 schools in the U.S. and Europe whose employment data Poets&Quants examined, Washington Foster was once again well ahead of other schools for placement, at 53%; the next closest schools were distant runners-up. Six other schools sent 30% or more of their graduating class to the sector: Michigan State University Broad College of Business was second at 37.7%, followed by UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business (32.4%), Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business (32.0%), UCLA Anderson School of Management (31.8%), the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business (31.8%), and Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business (31.4%).

Overall, 14 schools of 36 saw declines between 2018 and 2020 in tech placement, with an average drop of 3.6 percentage points; 10 saw declines between 2019 and 2020, with an average drop of 2.9 points. Interestingly, six of the latter group were top-10 schools. The number of B-schools with three-year-increase in tech placement was 18, with three flat; B-schools with a two-year increase numbered 25 of 36. See more placement data in the table on page 2.

MSU Broad, long considered a primarily supply chain school, was the biggest gainer in tech placement between 2019 and 2020, climbing more than 18 points; Georgia Tech (10 points) was the only other double-digit gainer year-over-year. In the three years from 2018 to 2020, Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School was the biggest gainer, climbing 21 points to 29%.

The biggest two-year drop-offs, meanwhile, occurred at Spain's IESE, which declined 9 points to 15%, and Chicago Booth School of Business, the No. 2 school in P&Q's ranking, which dropped 4.4 points to 16.3%. Over three years, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business fell 9 points to 15%, while Washington Foster fell 7 points from that impressive school record 60% in 2018.

Who's doing all this hiring of MBAs? Amazon, mostly. Though schools increasingly do not report actual number of hires by specific companies, some continue to do so, including NYU Stern School of Business, where Amazon plucked 12 employees in 2020 (up from nine the previous year); Chicago Booth, where the Jeff Bezos-founded behemoth found 20 new hires, down from 23; and London Business School, where Amazon hired 28 MBAs, up from 10. The University of Michigan Ross School of Business was another notable well that Amazon drank from, hiring 26 MBAs from its 2020 graduating class.


Salaries for tech MBAs were also up in 2020, despite the circumstances. Since 2016, the total average salary increase has been 14.3% at 32 schools for which we have sufficient data to measure; this time last year, when we looked at the same data, the increase over three graduating classes was 12%. (Some median-to-mean comparisons, such as at UCLA, Darden, and Rice Jones, were necessary to arrive at these final numbers.) In the top 10, despite a decline in tech placement at a majority of schools, salaries have grown 18.3% since 2016, compared to just 15.2% between 2016 and 2019. (The former number, however, is somewhat skewed by big increases in median pay at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which climbed more than 47%, and Dartmouth Tuck, which climbed more than 35%.)

European schools are lumped in a pack at the bottom of the salary standings — see page 3 for a table with all the data. The average salary for tech-bound MBAs graduating from one of Europe's elite B-schools is $97,788, up 2.7% from 2019 ($95,191) but down 3.2% from 2018 ($101,057). The only school of 36 examined by P&Q to see a salary decline from 2016 to 2020 was France's INSEAD, which saw tech starting salaries fall 3.7% from $99,500 to $95,800.

Overall, 17 schools reported a median starting tech salary of $130,000 or more, up from 11 schools last year. Five — Chicago Booth, UC-Berkeley Haas, Stanford GSB, Harvard Business School, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — all reported medians of $140,000; last year the only school with $140K was Stanford. In 2016, the highest reported tech MBA median salary was $125,000 at Haas, Booth, and HBS.

In terms of bonuses, data is becoming harder to acquire as schools become more reluctant to publish it. Four schools report a median $40,000: Booth, Northwestern Kellogg, Michigan Ross, and Tuck, though three other schools — IESE ($43,932), London Business School ($41,601), and NYU Stern ($40,450) — report higher averages.


At Washington Foster, Naomi Sanchez lauds her school's community for helping to keep Foster MBAs moving smoothly into the workforce — whether it's the tech industry that Foster knows so well or any other field — during a season of unprecedented challenges. The school's success, she says, should be acknowledged as a product of their focus on business as a driver of positive change — what Dean Frank Hodge has called the school's "potential and ability to be a force for bettering humanity."

"We have a really unique situation, where it comes together nicely, but it's built on," Sanchez says. "I think it's really important to remember that it's really built on a focus on bettering humanity — you would think, 'Oh, it's built on building careers, and just focusing on the results,' and that kind of thing. But really it's built on humans. It's built on a focus of how to find a way to help humanity, and understand the purpose of your work. And I think that's right where students are: They are very, very interested in purpose and mission. And they'll look at companies too that way, and they'll look at their mission, and their authenticity around that. The incoming students are very global-minded, because they've connected via technology. And, so we, and education, have to be right there with them.

"Everybody pitches in — the students, the administrators, and so forth. I just have to say, we have a really great team at Foster, with the Dean coming out right on target, where I think things need to be, as we come out of the pandemic. And I would be remiss if I did not say something about our faculty. We have a curriculum that we've reviewed this year, and I think it's right on target, and what students will get in the classroom is truly amazing and relevant to the times."

See the following pages for tables with tech placement and salary data for 36 top business schools, including leading European schools.


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