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Top MBA employers – where female MBAs want to work

I was just reading about all the great new tech start-ups and more really impressive women entrepreneurs (heard of Min Xuan yet? wow, I am so impressed, but I will leave that to another day!!) and it made me wonder what MBAs dream of doing these days. When I was doing my MBA at the London Business School, everybody wanted to work in Private Equity or Hedge Funds, Banking and Management Consulting. And that’s what most people ended up doing (although surprisingly few are doing these jobs three years on!).

One night we went out for dinner and I met this classmate’s friend who was doing his MBA at MIT, and when I told him all our classmates wanted to be bankers and consultants, he was really surprised “really? At MIT we all want to start our own company!”. I remembered him in the last days because I wonder with the financial crisis if MBAs these days want to be entrepreneurs or work for tech start-ups rather than for Goldman Sachs or McKinsey?

So when I googled it, I found this interesting list of the top 100 most desired MBA employers 2011, and what’s more, it was broken down by gender, which gives some interesting insights. First of all, among the top 10, we find four tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) – but also McKinsey, BCG, Bain, GS and JP Morgan. The only non-tech non-banking non-consulting company is Nike on number 10.

In the top 10 most desired employers for female MBA students, we have

1     Google
2     Apple
3     Walt Disney Company
4     McKinsey & Company
5     Facebook
6     Johnson & Johnson
7     Nike
8     The Boston Consulting Group
9     Amazon
10    Bain & Company

Which tells us that there is a big overlap with what MBA students regardless of gender are looking for, but specifically women MBAs are less likely to want to be investment bankers and slightly less likely to want to be consultants, with more interest in corporate careers, especially in media and consumer goods. Not too surprising, is it?

The problem with these lists is that they ask students “which company would you most like to work for?”, which assumes you want to be an employee in the first place. This fits well with @minxuan’s observation on twitter that “things they should teach in business school: suits are mostly worn by employees”. I wonder, do MBAs this year want to join tech start-ups or set up their own companies more than in previous years? I hope so!!

If you’re a current MBA student, I would love to hear what the mood on campus is at the moment – what’s the most desirable job? What are people trying to do?


Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business 2011

Fortune’s annual ranking of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business 2011” has just been released. Youngest high flying ladies to make the list are 36 year old Marissa Meyer from Google, followed by 41 year old Meredith Whitney (the equity analyst who gained fame in 2007 for rightly calling for banking stocks to collapse and since set up her own advisory firm).

Highest paid lady is Safra Catz, CEO and president of Oracle, with a total annual compensation of $42m, not bad at all!!! I was intrigued to find Marina Armstrong with a total annual compensation of $16m on the list of highest paid women. She is the general manager of Gymboree, a retail chain that offers music and exercise games for children and their families. I have heard of Gymboree classes from other mums in my neighbourhood but never knew it was an international business acquired by Bain Capital in 2010!! Its founder is Joan Barnes who had the idea when she was looking for a safe place for her children to play. So much for mocking mumpreneurs!!! I knew babies were big business but didn’t expect a gymboree executive (not even the founder) to be one of the highest flying ladies in the United States!

On a more thoughtful note, I wonder if I, or at least my daughter, will live to see the day when we can do away with “50 most powerful women” and “Highest paid women” and “richest women” lists. When are we just going to have one list of all entrepreneurs and executives and women will just naturally populate all of them to a fair share. It just feels like we’re children who need to be protected and ranked in a separate category. I can see the value of women and men competing separately in athletics and team sports (although I have read that women would outperform men and hold the world record in ski jump if they were allowed to compete!), but when will we be successful and powerful enough that we can aim for making the lists without competing in our own subcategory? It’s time for us to hatch, ladies!

Nobody gives you your dream job. You just make it.

Let me start with two quotes:

[quote]The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.[/quote]
― Roseanne Barr

This seems to be a variation of Malcolm X’s saying:

[quote]Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.[/quote]

The “if you’re a man” part is slightly unsuitable on this website, but otherwise Malcolm X’s quote is just as good for what I will talk about today. I want to talk about finding your dream job and what I’ve learnt on how to go about it. As you can see in the title, I have come to the conclusion that your dream job does not exist anywhere. Nobody else has created it for you. Whenever you work for someone else, you are serving their interest, not yours. Of course there may be an overlap for some time and to some degree. But it will rarely be you dream job.

You might say you know people who have found their dream job, and you are probably right, but how many people do you know? Perhaps 1% of the people you know, if not less? So let me talk for the other 99% of people. And for those 99% of people, the sooner they realise that their dream job will only exist once they make it, the better.

I became more and more sure of this a couple of months ago, and let me tell you how. Because I am part of the McKinsey alumni network, and I am one of the very few alumni who now work as traders, I frequently get emails from associates and EMs (project managers) at McKinsey looking to switch to a hedge fund or investment management. I am always happy to help, especially now that I have set up a career website, it’s a great way to see what people in the industry are trying to do, what their motivations are and how easily they can switch jobs. So I had a call with a McKinsey EM in one of the US offices who wanted to do equity investment management instead. He had talked to hedge funds and asset managers and found it hard to switch. He said he really wanted to invest in equities but had exhausted his options and didn’t know what more he could do. It sounded like his dream was to invest in stocks for a living but he kept working at McKinsey because he hadn’t found an alternative job, and he didn’t have much time to spend on job search or on researching equities because he was working such long hours at McKinsey.

It just freaked me out. If you want to invest in equities, just do it! If you have $10,000 or $20,000 (and I assume you should have at least that after working at McKinsey for a couple of years), who can stop you from investing in equities? If it goes well, great, you generate income from it, and your capital will grow over time. If it doesn’t go well, well then maybe it’s not the best thing to consider as your dream job. If you do really well, maybe you don’t need the job and can just do it for yourself. Or you can go to any company and show them your track record and they will hire you.

It works with a lot of things. When I went on maternity leave, I was planning to write a book about my time at McKinsey, and another one on my experience on the trading floor during the financial crisis (the McKinsey one is half finished, the other one I think will take some more time), and I was starting to worry about how to find a publisher and all that, until I realised I don’t need to wait for anyone to give me approval. I will just write it and publish it myself, and there you go, I am free and I don’t depend on anyone to make it happen (it doesn’t mean it won’t help me a lot to reach out to others for help, what I mean is that I don’t need to kill my dream just because some editor or publisher doesn’t like my work).

With all the technology today, there are really very few things you cannot do if you are passionate about them, and the barriers are breaking down. The only fields that still have heavy restrictions are probably law and medicine, but beyond that, who can stop you from pursuing your dream? Don’t wait for anyone to give you a job. If you want to do something, just do it, and money will follow. Set up a website, write a book, invest your money yourself, find your own clients to consult, create a product, design a t-shirt, whatever. There is software for almost anything, you can google anything, you can outsource or learn whatever it is you cannot yet do yourself, and that way you don’t need to wait for anyone to give you approval or permission to pursue you dreams.

We spend so many years in highschool and university wondering what our dream job is, and the truth is, only you can make it happen. Nothing out there has been perfectly adapted to your passions and your talent yet, but the great thing is, nowadays, you can create it yourself.

So let me adapt Malcolm X’s words:

Nobody can give you a dream job or happiness or anything. If you’re smart, you just take it!


ps: wow, just when I published this, I saw this post by Tim Ferriss: 8 steps to getting what you want, without formal credentials. If you enjoyed my post, you will like this, too – slightly different angle, but same message: don’t wait, just do it!!!

The good things that happen when you speak up

A common explanation cited for women failing to advance to senior leadership positions is that they are less likely to speak up in meetings or make bold demands in negotiations. I certainly fall into the category of those who prefer to speak only when they are 100% sure they know what they are talking about. We are raised to care about what others might think of us, especially to avoid appearing too pushy or opinionated. It has taken me many years to shed those worries and start speaking up with more confidence.

I want to share a story with you of happened at business school when I was tempted to be silent but decided to voice my opinion, and what happened next. I was taking the Corporate Ethics class together with 80 other students from my stream in our first year of the MBA.  We discussed the case of GlaxoSmithKline’s AIDS drugs and if they should be given away for free to poor countries, despite the worry that they might then be reimported and sold cheaply in richer countries. I am strong supporter of philanthropy, but was uncomfortable with the way our professor handled the discussion. He implied basically that GSK should be forced to give away free AIDS drugs in Africa and that that was the only ethical thing to do for any company. It made me uncomfortable for two reasons: the class was supposed to serve as a balanced discussion to weigh moral dilemmas, not for the professor to tell us what was right. I was also worried that forcing a private company to give away its products for free amounted to expropriation and that it was an odd path for a business school professor to advocate. It made me think of Harvard University and its multibillion dollar endowment, and that forcing GSK to give away drugs for free would be like saying the government should confiscate Harvard’s endowment and use it to build schools in poor countries. It sounds like a charitable thing to do, but does not respect private property and might also destroy one of the world’s greatest universities.

As all these things were going through my head, I noticed that no-one contradicted the professor, in fact the only people who spoke up supported his views. I was really torn if I should share my thoughts and use the Harvard endowment analogy. There were three Africans in our class, one of which I knew to be strongly involved in charity programs in South Africa. Saying the respect for private property was more important to me than giving dying people in need free drugs was certainly going to make me sound like a horrible person, no matter what arguments I had. But I was a strong believer in having a deep discussion of the real trade-offs and implications involved in making ethical decisions, rather than saying “this is right and we’re the good guys”, and I somehow decided to raise my hand. I argued that the respect for GSK’s intellectual property was the foundation of our economic system and once it was disregarded, where would it end? I threw in the Harvard endownment analogy. I said while I certainly would encourage companies to do the right thing, I found the idea that the state should force companies to give drugs away for free a horrendous mistake that could have unforeseen consequences for investment in pharmaceutical research. The professor looked rather surprised and the whole class was silent. I regretted having opened my mouth then and there.

As it happened, it was just time for the break, and the professor asked us to relax for ten minutes. I went to the restroom alone, trying not to look anyone in the eye. There was a queue in the restroom (isn’t there always in women’s restrooms?) and many of the girls from my class happened to be there. Suddenly, one girl turned around and congratulated me: “you really nailed it! it was so courageous of you to stand up to this guy” (meaning the righteous professor). Another girl immediately joined in “yes, well done, I was thinking exactly the same but couldn’t get myself to tell him”. In fact, the same day four more people came up to me after class, in the hall, during lunch, and told me how great they thought it was that I had spoken up and that they had been so annoyed by the discussion but had just waited for someone to end it.

How do you think I now felt about speaking up? I couldn’t believe that while I thought everyone would think I am a horrible person if they heard what I thought, they actually agreed with me. Chances are, when you hesitate to speak up and think everyone will laugh at you, they might actually like to hear what you think. Even if not – so what? If you say what you think, at least people know who you are and what you stand for. They may not like you, but if you don’t share what you think, they won’t even know you.

I’m still not immune to the temptation of hiding my face. Until a few days ago, I didn’t even put my name on the about page of this blog. I explained my husband that I didn’t want to be in the public eye, because with my last blog which was quite popular, I kept bumping into young colleagues at work who immediately realised who I was and would blurt out “you are the blogger angie, right?” in front of everybody, and I was very uncomfortable that anybody present could just check out my blog and see what I wrote there. My husband couldn’t understand it at all: “why would you be embarassed by that? you had this very popular blog, you should be proud, if I was somebody present and heard about it, I would find you more interesting for it!”. He was so right, and he reminded me that I had again made the mistake of trying to hide my thoughts. After this conversation, I switched on my laptop and completely updated the ABOUT ME page on this blog, so now you can all know who I am and where I come from.

I encourage you all to do the same. Don’t hide your thoughts, be proud of who you are and what you do and let others know. Next time you are tempted to hide, just speak up and observe all the good things that can happen.

Business school applications drop – a great time to get an MBA!

According to new survey data released by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), applications to full-time MBA programs have again dropped by 10%, following drops in applications in the previous two years. Even applications to Harvard Business School dropped by 4%. Women make up 35% of applicants to full-time MBA programs.

If you’re thinking of pursuing an MBA, now is probably a great time. First of all, it will be easier to get into a top business school. Second, the decline in applications is most likely due to the decline in attractivity of typical MBA jobs such as investment banking following the financial crisis, combined with fears that in a recession the hundred thousand dollar investment that is the MBA might not pay off.

It sounds like a fantastic time to start your MBA. You might have heard of the Harvard MBA Indicator – basically each impending stock market crash was preceded with a rise of Harvard Business School graduates flocking into investment banking jobs (whenever the ratio crossed the 30% mark, a recession ensued). 2010 data suggest we are just above the 30% mark, so one should still wait for the 2011 HBS employment daya to come out – I am expecting it to drop below.

A 2-year MBA is a long term investment, and if you enroll now, your job and earnings prospects are determined by the environment 2-3 years down the road. I would expect the job market to have picked up by then, and with much fewer MBAs graduating, your chances of landing a good job should be excellent. As a hedge, it might be worth doing an MBA at a business school that is strong in entrepreneurship, such as HBS, Stanford GSB or MIT Sloan. That leaves you the option of building your own business if things don’t work out!