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Amazon com : Is Prime Job For New M.B.A.s -- WSJ

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10/05/2017 | 06:47am CEST
By Kelsey Gee 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (October 5, 2017).

Amazon.com Inc., disrupter of industries from book selling to grocery shopping, has found its latest sector to upend -- recruiting at the nation's elite business schools.

The Seattle-based retail giant is now the top recruiter at the business schools of Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University and University of California, Berkeley. It is the biggest internship destination for first-year M.B.A.s at the University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College and Duke. Amazon took in more interns from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business than either Bain & Co. or McKinsey & Co., which were until recently among the school's top hirers of interns, according to Madhav Rajan, Booth's dean.

All told, Amazon has hired some 1,000 M.B.A.s in the past year, according to Miriam Park, Amazon's director of university programs -- a drop in the bucket for a company that plans to add 50,000 office workers, mostly software developers, in the next year. But Amazon's flood-the-zone approach to recruiting and hiring future M.B.A.s -- in some cases before they have taken a single business-school course -- is feeding the career frenzy on campus and rankling some rival recruiters.

The talent wars begin even before classes do. This past June, Amazon sponsored an event at its Seattle headquarters for 650 soon-to-be first-year and returning women M.B.A. students, some of whom left the event with internship offers for summer 2018.

Scott DeRue, dean of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, urges Amazon and other avid hirers to refrain from recruiting activities until at least the end of the first week of classes. "It's nearly impossible," Mr. DeRue said. "You say an academic building is off limits, and they're at restaurants and coffee shops across the street."

So far this year, Amazon has hired around 40 Ross grads. Last month alone, it was one of 196 companies that trekked to the Ann Arbor business school to host a total of 400 events, ranging from in-classroom presentations to happy hours and pizza dinners, a Ross spokesman said. Recruiters from consulting firms favor a wine bar called Vinology on the college town's Main Street.

At Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business, 25 to 30 people, or an average 10% to 15% of the graduating M.B.A. class each year, go to work for Jeff Bezos. The retailer's recruiters fill the nine interview rooms in Tepper's career center, and the staff at the career office turn over their personal offices to interviewers too, said Steve Rakas, career-services administrator. Only PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP sends as many people, he added.

Next month, Tepper is set to host its annual Amazon-sponsored case competition for M.B.A. students, where the company reveals a business-operations challenge, and students vie to come up with the best solution. Student teams from business schools around the country sign a nondisclosure agreement to compete; judges are a mix of professors and Amazon employees. Prizes have included Amazon products like the Echo home speaker and Kindle e-reader, $5,000 or more in cash and invitations from the tech giant to interview for open jobs.

Tech companies, once averse to hiring PowerPoint-loving B-school grads, have embraced them in the past few years. Ms. Park said business students understand Amazon's customer-obsessed ethos and tend to be "risk oriented," scrappy and analytical. Many join the company's future leadership ranks in the role of senior product manager, which typically pays $120,000 to $160,000 a year, according to the career website Glassdoor.

Wall Street firms and consulting giants, historically the big recruiters of M.B.A.s, are having to adjust to Amazon's tactics. Amazon's campus recruiters descend en masse and are in almost-constant touch with students, according to Abby Scott, an assistant dean of Berkeley's Haas school: Amazon might have eight or 10 alumni working large events or hosting coffee meetings for one-on-one conversations with students, compared with a typical one or two presenters from other companies. "It's been a huge volume play," Ms. Scott said.

M.B.A. career-services officers often find they have to navigate tensions with other recruiters and become careful keepers of the recruiting calendar. Many big banks and consulting firms now want to know when Amazon is coming to campus so they can schedule their visits for a different day and avoid going head-to-head for an audience, said Erica Marks, a director in the career office of University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Keith Bevans, partner and global head of recruiting for Bain, said the consulting firm continues to command its share of elite students, hiring roughly 500 M.B.A.s each year. Bain offers new hires the chance to learn strategy and problem-solving from masters of the craft, he said. "Going to the best grocery store in the world doesn't make you a better chef," Mr. Bevans said.

Students are flocking to the grocery store, though. Last fall, Amazon at Wharton's recommendation moved a recruiting presentation to the nearby Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, because the overflow crowd of 350 attendees had become "overwhelming," Ms. Marks said.

At Tepper, Mr. Rakas and his career-services colleagues lead student groups on trips each fall to potential employers' headquarters around the world; a few years ago, about 15 students signed up for the Seattle trip. He turned students away for the first time this fall, capping the group at 50.

Though Amazon is known for its demanding culture, M.B.A.s who also have experience on Wall Street or at big consulting firms say the retail giant's workload seems more manageable in comparison.

Abe Levy interned at Amazon in Seattle this summer as a senior program manager and is considering taking a job there after he graduates from Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business Administration. A father of three, Mr. Levy found his Amazon co-workers were friendly and observed that many seemed to have a better work-life balance than consultants do.

At Duke's Fuqua School of Business, Monalisa Dutta says she and her cohort of M.B.A. interns have joked that Amazon fills a role in their careers similar to that of a McKinsey, given all the businesses Amazon touches and the number of ex-management consultants in its ranks. She said they see it as a place to dive into many industries and try different roles.

Ms. Dutta was interning this summer with IMDb.com, Amazon's movie and TV database, when the company announced its deal to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. She attended events with the deal makers in the following days.

"It was like being in the center of the universe," she said. "I can't wait for my M.B.A. to be over so I can go back."

Write to Kelsey Gee at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications Keith Bevans is partner and global head of recruiting for Bain & Co. An earlier version of this article misspelled his surname. And Jewel Lai was misidentified as Xujun Hong in a photo caption with an earlier version of this article. (Oct. 4)

Corrections & Amplifications

This item was corrected at 6:14 p.m. ET on Thurs., Oct. 5, 2017 to clairfy that Amazon is planning to add 50,000 office workers, mostly software developers, in the coming years. The original incorrectly stated the company plans to hire 50,000 developers this year.

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