When Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both Ph.D. students at Stanford University, came up with an idea they called Google in 1996, it’s highly unlikely they fathomed what would come of it. They probably didn’t know “Google” would become a noun and a verb. And they probably had no idea it would be run by an MBA and become the most attractive employer for the country’s most elite business students. Yet two decades later, Page and Brin’s brainchild has become just that — while altering modern life and history forever.
For the five years that Universum Global has been tracking worldwide employer popularity among business students, Google has topped the list. This year, for the first time ever, the employer branding firm separated out the 1,564 MBA students from 89 U.S.-based programs that responded to create an MBA-specific ranking — but while the methodology was different, the result wasn’t. According to the research announced today (Sept. 29), Google reigned most popular once again.
Participating MBAs were asked to write in 16 companies they aspire to work for. Of those 16, they were asked to narrow the list to five. An astonishing 35% listed Google as a top-five company. Up next was McKinsey, listed by 24.5% of participants. Besides Google, the major consulting firms held their own in MBA popularity compared to the growing tech industry: Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, and Deloitte took third, fourth, and fifth respectively. They were followed by Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple in sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, respectively; Goldman Sachs was the lone bank to sneak in the top 10, with a little more than 8% of participants listing it as a top-five potential employer.
TECH, STARTUPS SLOWLY CLIMB THE LIST
According to Dustin Clinard, managing director of the Americas for Universum Global, allowing MBAs to write in their own answers — as opposed to providing a list of employers to choose from — shows which companies are in “high demand” along the employer curve. “The curve tails off, but it is very long,” Clinard, who holds an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, tells Poets&Quants. “There are a lot of companies in the mix for MBA grads.”
Clinard says the rise of tech and startups has significantly increased the number of organizations MBAs are interested in. “The range of options for graduating talent is getting larger,” he says. “Where you used to have primarily banks and consulting companies, now you have a whole lot of startups and a whole lot of more traditional tech companies.”
Tesla is a case in point. While Elon Musk’s electric car company didn’t make the university-wide list released in August, the Fremont, California-based automaker still captivates MBAs, ranking as their 18th most popular pick. Nearby Uber finished in 20th, and LinkedIn and IDEO followed in 21st and 22nd, respectively, rounding out a relatively young group of tech companies. In order, MBA hiring stalwarts Procter & Gamble, Accenture, PepsiCo, and Citi followed, rounding out the 26 most popular companies.
COMPANIES WITH AN ‘INSPIRING PURPOSE’ PERFORM BETTER
Clinard says tech and startup popularity goes beyond innovation and flexibility. It has to do with an increasing emphasis on purpose. “MBA grads are placing an increasing amount of importance on companies that have an inspiring purpose,” he says. “They do more than simply make money. They make money with a purpose of greater good to it.” Clinard points to Google as another example of a company that is attractive to work for that makes money and also has an overarching positive purpose. “That is often the icing on the cake for a lot of people,” he says.
It’s also the reason traditional MBA hiring companies are slipping. “It’s harder to see that overarching motivation for the traditional players — the consulting firms and banks,” Clinard says. “It’s probably there, but being able to articulate what that higher good is is a challenge a lot of firms have.”
Clinard says those traditional companies should figure out how to communicate that message before they fall too far down the list.
“We anticipate that companies that link to a higher good will continue to rise in prominence relative to those who are struggling to articulate what that might be.”
LOOKING TO BE ‘COMPETITIVELY OR INTELLECTUALLY CHALLENGED’ — FOR A TIME
Elon Musk’s work continues to captivate MBAs. Perhaps more fascinating than popularity of employers, Universum Global essentially asked MBAs to map out their most important career aspirations. Participants were asked to choose their top career goals immediately after finishing their MBAs, within 10 years of earning their MBA, and before they retire. They were given 12 goals to choose from and allowed to pick a maximum of three.
Some 93% of MBAs said they wanted to be “competitively or intellectually challenged” in their first job — a significant insight into how MBA recruiters should be portraying and messaging their companies. After that, 71% said they wanted to have a “secure and stable job”; more than half (58%) said they wanted to “lead or manage a team” in their first role. And 52% said they wanted to feel their work is “serving the greater good.”
Interestingly, just 13% said they wanted to “become wealthy” in their first job. At the bottom were starting a company (5%), being in a C-suite position (3%), and holding elected office (2%).
Within 10 years of finishing an MBA, though, a lot changes. Becoming wealthy jumps from 13% to 57% and ranks as the most important career goal. The second-most popular goal, at 51%, is being “seen as a technical or functional expert” in a field. Remarkably, being “competitively and intellectually challenged” drops from 93% to 5%. Meanwhile, having a secure and stable job drops from 71% to 18%, and starting a company zooms from 5% to 29%.
Not surprisingly, by career’s end, holding a C-suite position is the most popular important goal, with 48% of MBAs indicating they want to do so. Serving on a company or nonprofit board becomes the second-most important goal at 36%. Some intriguing, albeit obvious, trends surface across all three time frames. Achieving a healthy work-life balance drops from 48% at the beginning of a career to 41% within 10 years, then to 6% in the “before I retire” prompt. Being competitively and intellectually challenged plunges from 93% to 5% to 1% across a career; similarly, feeling that one’s work is serving a greater good drops from 52% at the beginning of a career to 26%, and then to 14%.
CAREER GOALS FOR ENGINEERING VERSUS BUSINESS BACKGROUNDS
Universum Global further broke down the data into two subsets: MBAs coming from a business background and those with an engineering background. While 93% of the total population marked as desirable being competitively and intellectually stimulated in their first job after an MBA, for example, more students with a business background (94%) viewed the prompt as important than students with an engineering background (88%). Another substantial difference came in the importance of leading or managing a team right out of the gate: Some 64% of former engineers said managing a team was important, while just 58% of those with business degrees marked the same. As Clinard points out, this speaks to the trend of engineers snagging MBAs to learn management and leadership skills. According to the report, one-third of respondents noted they are using an MBA to switch industries or roles within an industry.
As for the growing interest of entrepreneurship in MBA programs, both the data and Clinard say not so fast. “There is a feeling of entrepreneurialism that continues to grow,” Clinard says, “but I think that is different from going out and starting a venture on my own right away.”
Instead, he says, many larger companies are doing things to create an entrepreneurial environment within their organization. Some have acquired small companies to run from within like a startup, Clinard notes; others are creating smaller teams. “We see that entrepreneurial desire being fulfilled by larger companies,” he says, something he thinks will continue to increase.
And then there’s the question of debt: The amount of it many MBA programs throw on their graduates, Clinard says, can dampen even the most robust entrepreneurial dreams.
“When you have a lot of debt, startups might look attractive in five years when that debt is paid off,” he says.