The Merry Pranksters they're not. But like Ken Kesey's frenetic band of youthful travelers, a half dozen MBA students from the University of Texas began a raucous journey on Aug. 15 in search of their own futures. Over six weeks, they'll put some 10,000 miles on a Ford van to court 125 would-be employers.
The object: recruit the recruiters. The job marketplace for graduates of Texas and other second-tier business schools has become increasingly tough. Many of the big companies that once favored such MBA programs have cut back sharply. And while investment banks and consultants are flocking to campuses again, they're mainly visiting places such as Harvard and Stanford.
As a result, the opportunity gap between elite MBA schools and the second rank appears to be widening. This year, only 4% of the graduating classes at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management or Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School were without job offers by commencement. Compare that with Ohio State, where 40% of grads lacked a single offer at graduation (table).
AGGIE BARBECUE. The battle lines are clear. "MBAs from second-rank schools generally aren't going to be hired by the big firms like the Citibanks," says Peter C. Thorp, director of Citibank's recruitment program. Thorp, whose company recruits about 400 MBAs yearly, sees a simple solution: "If the corporation is the customer and they're not calling on you, you have to call on that customer."
That's exactly what several schools are doing. Administrators and students at the University of Tennessee, Texas A&M University, Tulane University, and the University of Georgia are actively pursuing employers. "We have to market ourselves to remain competitive," says C. Warren Neel, dean of the University of Tennessee's B-school. "By sending our students out into Corporate America, we show the recruiters that our program is relevant to their needs."
Relevance, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. At Texas A&M, students plan to woo 30 companies with a down-home Texas barbecue and an informative conference on their B-school program. The two-day "sell" weekend in September will allow Aggie students to interact with recruiters from such large companies as Texas Instruments Inc. and Price Waterhouse. A&M MBAs hope the networking will translate into jobs.
Students at Georgia take a more cerebral approach. MBAs research cities and companies that fit the students' areas of interest. After screening out uninterested firms, teams of five MBAs, along with school placement head Lisa Ransom, visit recruiters, hoping to bring them to campus. The effort has lured six new companies, including Michelin Tire Corp. and AT&T.
Thus far, though, Texas' effort is the most ambitious. The campaign is the outgrowth cf a 1992 McKinsey & Co. study that found that many MBA recruiters avoided the school because it attracted younger students with less polish than those at peer institutions. Dean Robert E. Witt responded by making extensive work experience an admission requirement and by further diversifying Texas' once regional student body.
GORDIAN KNOT. To spread the word, students came up with the idea for the tour. Sam Turcotte, the group's leader, raised about $20,000 from corporate sponsors: Ford Motor Co. donated the roving van, and Apple Computer Inc. lent computers, laser printers, and electronic message pads. American Airlines Inc. tossed in airplane tickets so that rotating teams of four could join Turcotte on the road. Armed with a 90-pound Gordian knot--the better to symbolize their problem-solving prowess--the MBAs hit the road.
After the road tour, a separate group of 28 students will make follow-up phone calls and visits. Their message: "Texas MBAs have first-tier business skills without the '80s attitude," claims Turcotte. "We're down-to-earth, we work hard, and we're willing to put in the long days needed to help companies."
So far, so good. Corporate recruiters such as American Express Co. and Sara Lee Corp. think the idea is novel enough to meet with the group and hear the pitch. "Students on the road can establish lasting relationships with the recruiters," says Rick Perez, an Apple account manager who arranged for the company's sponsorship. That's not something Kesey's pranksters, who displayed absolute contempt for corporate life, would countenance. But it's exactly what Texas' MBAs need to compete.
THE MBA RECRUITING DIVIDE Percentage of Class of 1994 without a job offer by graduation TOP TIER MIT (SLOAN) 4.0% NORTHWESTERN (KELLOGG) 4.5 DARTMOUTH (AMOS TUCK) 11.0 STANFORD 16.0 SECOND TIER OHIO STATE 40.0% GEORGIA 30.0 TEXAS AT AUSTIN 24.0 TULANE (FREEMAN) 24.0 DATA: SCHOOL REPORTS, BUSINESS WEEK