MBA stars shun Wall St for the good life elsewhere

NEW YORK • Ruined weekends, PowerPoint drudgery and overnight shifts in Manhattan skyscrapers once were a point of pride for the Harvard Business School graduates who went to Wall Street.

Now young stars hold heads high about how lucrative and healthy their lives will be - elsewhere.

"People used to brag and say, 'Oh yeah, 21-hour days, seven days a week for eight months,' that was a badge of honour," said Ms Kiran Gandhi, who like others in this year's class applied to technology companies. "The humble brag is now, 'Oh yeah, I work 9 to 5, I get paid a tonne of money, and I have a great life.'"

The allure of Silicon Valley, where hip start-ups are minting billionaires, is eclipsing that of staid investment banks under pressure to cut risks and costs.

This year, a long slide in the number of Harvard MBAs joining banks may hit a new low, even after many of the biggest firms adopted policies to become more hospitable to new recruits.


The humble brag is now, 'Oh yeah, I work 9 to 5, I get paid a tonne of money, and I have a great life.'

MS KIRAN GANDHI, who applied to technology companies instead of Wall Street

In 2007, about 13 per cent of the school's graduates who landed jobs went into investment banking or trading, according to Harvard's reports. By last year, that fell to about 5 per cent.

Now a preliminary survey of this year's grads shows only 4 per cent intended to join a bank after getting degrees.

Among the 46 Baker Scholars - a designation Harvard grants the top 5 per cent of MBAs - only one expressed interest.

Those are the findings of Mr Keima Ueno, who got his MBA from Harvard this year.

As a student, he served as a peer mentor and wrote a blog on what life is like at the school.

So when Harvard sent his class data from a pre-commencement survey, he used it to figure out where the Baker Scholars wanted to go. He wasn't surprised by the results.

"When we hear that our classmates managed to acquire a position with an investment bank, we say, 'Congratulations,"' he said.

"But we are thinking, 'I'm sorry to hear that.'"

Mr Ueno spent three years in Morgan Stanley's investment bank before returning to school to earn his MBA.

Now he's in Japan, running his family's healthcare business and a start-up Internet retailer.

Technology companies have been luring more top graduates with the promise that they'll not just make gobs of money, but also have a happier life, even if the hours are still long, according to students and recruiters.

Last year, about 17 per cent of Harvard's business school graduates poured into the industry, up from 7 per cent in 2007, its figures show.

Banks lost more recruits than any other sector.

While Mr Ueno's tally doesn't break out tech the same way, it shows start-ups alone are attracting 16 per cent of this year's class, including six Baker Scholars.

Big banks are fighting back, promising recruits more hours to sleep, the occasional day off and reasonable deadlines.

What the banks can't promise is the kind of windfalls that attract graduates to start-ups. And average pay at investment banks has shrivelled since the financial crisis because of a drop in revenue and a greater focus by regulators and shareholders on bonuses.

Goldman Sachs per-employee compensation expense fell to US$373,265 (S$517,000) last year from US$661,490 in 2007.

US business schools don't typically release statistics showing where graduates landed until autumn, and Harvard would not comment on Mr Ueno's tally.

Representatives from top investment banks said they are still drawing plenty of business school graduates.

Goldman Sachs received more MBA applicants this year for its summer associate programme, a feeder for the firm's full-time associate positions, according to Ms Leslie Shribman, a spokesman.

Mr John Yiannacopoulos, a spokesman for Bank of America, said: "We continue to see strong interest in our programmes from students at top MBA schools across the nation."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'MBA stars shun Wall St for the good life elsewhere'. Print Edition | Subscribe