Companies not traditionally on an MBA grad’s map are looking to hire

“Those industries are relatively minor consumers of MBAs,” said Damian Zikakis, director of career services at University of Michigan‘s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

GMAC’s 2013 Corporate Recruiters Survey showed the largest increase in demand for MBAs came from the energy and utilities sector, with 86 percent of those companies saying they planned to hire MBAs, compared to 69 percent of them saying they had hired MBAs in 2012.

Another industry that hasn’t been a hotbed of MBA hiring but reported a heightened interest was pharmaceuticals and health care (treated as one in the GMAC survey), with 89 percent of those companies planning to hire MBAs in 2013, compared to 77 percent who’d actually done so in 2012. The 2013 survey results came from 935 employers across all sectors from around the globe.

Of course, company plans also can change, as seen with GMAC’s 2014 survey results, released late last month. Two non-traditional big draws of MBAs — pharmaceutical/health care and manufacturing — saw different hiring in 2013 than predicted. In the pharmaceutical/health care sector, 81 percent of companies hired MBAs last year, not the 89 percent expected. Last year, 63 percent of manufacturers said they expected to hire MBAs; this year they reported that 85 percent of them added MBAs. But as an indicator of which way the winds are blowing, the survey is a useful starting point.

GMAC’s survey of class of 2013 MBA graduates showed those targeting traditionally marginal MBA industries had a greater chance of getting a job offer. The percentage of graduates who received job offers from the energy/utility sector was 62 percent; 67 percent received offers from pharmaceutical/health care companies; and 71 percent got offers from manufacturers.

Numbers for the traditionally popular industries came in at 65 percent for consulting, 54 percent for finance/accounting, and 53 percent for products/services.

Industries on the less-beaten path draw fewer business school students. “However, students looking for jobs in those industries are highly successful and receive job offers,” said Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC’s survey research director. “There’s high demand, and people interested in those industries are becoming quite successful.”

In the case of the utility industry, rising pressures are behind the new appreciation for MBAs. The industry is changing from being the static, highly-regulated power plant to one in which things like data mining and J.D. Power and Associates customer rankings matter, said Cynthia Westerhof, director of people services and talent acquisition at Jackson-based Consumers Energy Co.

Engineers are the classic utility hire. At Consumers, many go on to get MBAs through the company’s tuition reimbursement program, Westerhof said, and she did just that. But only very recently has there been a push to go hunting for MBAs outside, in areas such as data analysis, productivity, technology investments and customer service.

Westerhof has been hearing more demand for MBA talent from officers and managers. Consumers is putting together an MBA hiring program it plans to have ready by graduation time next year that could include a rotation so entry-level MBAs can quickly gain experience.

The challenge will be in educating MBAs that the industry is a lot more dynamic than people realize. “A lot of people are totally clueless about our industry. It’s not as sexy as getting an MBA and going to work for a consulting firm on Wall Street,” Westerhof said.

Utilities have morphed into diversified energy companies, and they need people who can handle business development, strategy and acquisitions, said Jean Redfield, president and CEO of NextEnergy.

Redfield herself is an engineer who went on to earn an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and worked for McKinsey & Co. before moving to DTE Energy Co.(where she struggled to hire MBAs). Regulatory changes developing over the past 20 years are manifesting now, she said.

“The first 100 years of the industry compared to the next 30 years is going to be night and day,” Redfield said.


The industry faces massive investments to upgrade aging power plants, continued pressure to cut carbon emissions, commodity price uncertainty and an aging workforce, said Marco Bruzzano, vice president of corporate development at DTE.

“We need to bring in a lot of new young talent because the industry is going through a lot of change now,” said Bruzzano, who also has engineering degrees as well as an MBA, and spent time at McKinsey and Booz Allen Hamilton. DTE has about 30 percent more MBAs than it did a decade ago, and the company expects that trend to continue.

UM’s Ross school has a 60-member club for students interested in utilities and energy, said Redfield, who works with the students.

Zikakis said career advisers try to steer students toward whatever kind of work they think they will do well in, as opposed to which industries happen to be hiring more. But for those who aren’t sure of what they want, advisers will talk about industries in demand.

Students fear that starting with a company in a specific industry locks them into that industry, said Zikakis. They figure it’s easier to start a career at a consulting firm and later jump to a company.

Last year, 4.4 percent of Ross MBA grads went into the energy/utility sector, up from 2.7 percent in 2012 and similar to the 4.7 percent of 2011. For health care and pharmaceuticals, 2.9 percent of the school’s 450 MBA students went into that sector, compared to 2.5 percent in 2012 and 2.4 percent in 2011.

Like utilities, the pharmaceutical industry has been slow to develop demand for MBAs. That’s partly because it is loaded with small companies like Riverview-based Ash Stevens Inc., a maker of ingredients used by drug companies, said Stephen Munk, its president.

Munk hires Ph.D.s who can speak to the scientists holding the purses at customer companies.

But the big drug companies like Pfizer Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline plc are starting to behave more like traditional manufacturers, looking to streamline manufacturing and research processes.

“If you’re sending thousands of pills to millions of locations, things you learn in business school, like operations and JIT (just-in-time manufacturing) are really critical,” Munk said.

This year’s GMAC survey showed 90 percent of pharmaceutical and health care companies expecting to hire MBAs before the end of the year. Another industry, one near and dear to Michigan, showed signs of needing MBA skills: 87 percent of manufacturers projected MBA hiring this year. Companies in that sector reported that 85 percent of them hired MBAs in 2013, compared to 70 percent in 2012.

June 10, 2014 | Crain’s Detroit Business

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