A Bridge for London B-Schoolers

The director of London Business School's new career center says an international outlook gives graduates an edge

Our guest on May 2 was Graham Hastie, the new director of London Business School's Career Management Centre (CMC). Hastie arrived at London Business School (No. 4 in BusinessWeek's latest B-School rankings for Non-U.S. schools) in early April, after working as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. for eight years. At McKinsey, he specialized in retail financial services and "change management." He was also involved in McKinsey's MBA recruiting at INSEAD's Singapore and Fontainbleau, France, campuses, where he graduated with distinction from business school in 1995. He has recruited graduates from all of London Business School's full-time master's programs, as well as other top-tier B-schools. Hastie spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Mica Schneider about his new role. Here are edited excerpts of that conversation:

Q: What brought you to London Business School?

A: I had had a great career at McKinsey, where I was involved in strategic consulting at the highest levels. In addition, I used to lead McKinsey's (MBA) recruiting at INSEAD, and have also recruited MBAs from all of the top-tier business schools worldwide. I was becoming more and more involved in people issues, including recruiting, training, and development, and I eventually came to the realization that this was where my real interest lay.

When I saw an advertisement in the [London] Sunday Times for this position, I knew that it was right for me, so I applied. I had no guidance, and used no networking to get the position -- even though that's what we teach MBAs to use to get jobs. I wanted to work in the area, but with really good students. Thus, it was less the result of a carefully thought-through job search, and more of an opportunistic approach. Certainly not something that I would recommend to the students here as a sensible approach in the current market!

Q: You chose a difficult time to begin a new job as a career office director. Year over year, some B-schools are reporting a 10% to 15% drop in job offers, and the 2002 recruiting season wasn't much to boast about. What results do you expect for LBS graduates in July?

A: We're broadly in the same situation as we were last year. One-third of the students already have jobs. And the rest are in different stages of the career-search process.

At the moment, there are very few opportunities at banks and consulting firms. There are some jobs, but instead of running associate programs for MBA graduates, they are looking for graduates who have specific industry experience. So what the students have done before B-school is important.

Q: How does that pan out for students wishing to use the MBA to switch from both the industry and job function they worked in before grad school?

A: Unless you are considering a move into consulting, in this environment, it's far easier to make a single change of function or sector. The consultants, however, are just looking for generalists.

Q: How might consultancy-bound MBAs fare this year?

A: I believe that consulting is recovering, and that big companies will come back to recruit MBAs soon. And within management consulting, I believe that the first-year MBAs will have more success getting [full-time] jobs [when they graduate] next year.

The best surprise I've had so far was when a contact of mine at McKinsey, who is also an LBS alumna, came to me with a large number of job opportunities in their offices around the world. This just shows how important it is for us to utilize the alumni network and let the alumni network utilize the school.

Q: Which MBA skills are the most desired among recruiters?

A: The skills that companies are looking for are broad, general management skills, with a strong element of finance, but also softer skills, such as leadership and management across boundaries. Strategy and finance are what London Business School is known for. But we're excellently placed to teach managing across cultures and leadership.

Q: You're director of an office that has lacked a director since the end of 2002. What are your plans for the CMC?

A: My goal is not to place students. The priority of the career management center is to develop opportunities for the students, and to give them the skills and capabilities to find opportunities for themselves. Business education is not just about immediacy of the job you get after B-school. Business school is a passport to a great career. Although at the moment an MBA from the top schools isn't opening doors as it did, look at it as an investment for the whole of your future.

My goal for the CMC is to be considered as world class, not just by our students and recruiters, but also by our peers at other schools. That will take two or three years to achieve.

Q: What needs fixing at LBS?

A: First, I haven't inherited a lame duck, but something transforming. And it's important to note that the CMC at London Business School faces particular challenges, as it serves not only the MBA program, but also the Sloan Fellowship program for senior managers in their late 30s, and also the Masters in Finance [MiF] program.

The CMC, and this is not specific to the London Business School, but at all the top-tier schools, had evolved to serve a model of sending students in large numbers to traditional MBA recruiters through a milk-round process. For instance, McKinsey used to take 100 (graduates) a year from INSEAD alone. So the career offices were in trouble when the banks rolled back their hiring, followed by the consulting firms, which hit a post-dotcom area of difficulty, and had already filled their pipelines.

The real challenge for the career management center is in meeting the needs of industry. Many of the companies in European industry have seen MBAs as an unknown proposition.

Q: What will it take to get them interested in MBA talent?

A: Some companies understand business graduates, and have programs to recruit them. American industry has accepted the value of hiring MBAs, the European industry much less so, and the U.K. is somewhere in between.

The first thing to realize when engaging with industry is that there is no such sector. Industry is a generic term used by business schools to describe all business sectors apart from investment banking and consulting. Once one realizes that, it is then necessary to understand the needs of each individual sector and company and help them think through how they can best use the wonderful talent that business schools produce. Obviously, the specific way in which companies can use this talent will vary greatly depending on their internal culture and experience with graduate students. So we must work with each company to try and help them consider how they might use the talent.

Q: Which industries currently have the most jobs to offer MBA job candidates?

A: We've had a couple of companies from the oil and gas sector posting a lot of jobs, and engineering and electronics, but I just don't know at this point.

Q: What tasks top your to-do list?

A: The first priority is to identify jobs for the graduating class and summer positions for the first-years. The next is to recruit a new senior team. For the last six months, the work of the CMC has been being carried out by a team of interim senior consultants. However, the sorts of relationships that we need to build are best handled by a strong, full-time team. I've already hired one person, a 1997 MBA alumna, to focus on nontraditional recruiters within the industry sector, and I'm looking for another three people to work alongside her.

I'm also doing a review of all of the skills-development workshops we currently offer to students on all programs. Much of it is extremely strong, but I need a full understanding of what we offer, benchmarked against the best in the world.

What I'd also like to do is to involve alumni far more than before in the skills development program. For example, I would like to use actual practitioners to run mock interviews, rather than professional trainers. We're going to start using investment banking professionals that actually do hiring at their firms to run through practice interviews with the MBAs [who are applying for jobs at the banks.] It will be higher quality preparation [for the MBAs], but at a lower cost, because the interviewers will be London Business School alumni.

Q: When you were a recruiter, why did you look at MBAs from London Business School?

A: The caliber of London Business School graduates is among the best in the world. What makes the graduates uniquely attractive is their international outlook and experience working across national and cultural boundaries. Also, the students have a great deal of prior work experience, ranging from an average of 6 years on the MBA program, to 15 years for the Sloan Fellows. The fact that the students are international in their outlook, and have experience working in other cultures, makes them attractive.

One of the things that stands out from my 1997 tour of the top business schools is that every one of the top U.S. business schools made a point that their students are "global," when actually only one-third of the students are from outside of the U.S. Learning is completely different in multicultural environments. There are only really three, world-class international business schools: INSEAD, [Switzerland's] IMD, and the London Business School. Only around 15% of our current students are from the UK. Having bought the product for so long, I find it relatively easy to help sell it to others.

Q: On Jan. 28, 2003, the British government decided to extend a trial visa program it began in 2002 to recruit highly-skilled workers to the country. How is that impacting MBAs?

A: The visa is setting the U.K. apart from the other European Union member countries, because we're offering work permits to highly-skilled individuals when they have good work experience and excellent business qualifications. It's great for our students, especially because the visa is attached to the individual, rather than to the job or employer.

Q: LBS's class of 2003 is comprised of students from more than 50 countries. Where are most of these MBAs hoping to work?

A: If you ask the students where their ideal job is, 70% will say in the U.K., and 20% will say in Europe, with the other 10% in other places around the world. So, my priority is finding them positions in the U.K. and Europe. Our strong international alumni network, and our networks of regional advisory boards, are useful conduits for the students who want to work outside of the U.K.

Q: How are MBA salaries going to change in 2003?

A: If I look at the current reported data, I haven't yet seen a drop in salaries. But I cannot believe that there won't be a drop given the market. Straightforward economics tells you that MBA salaries are going to decrease, but we haven't seen it yet.

Q: We haven't spoken about the executive MBA and part-time Masters in Finance students at LBS. What attention can your office offer these students? Are more evening students unemployed than in years past?

A: The full-time Masters in Finance students are fully supported by the career management center. Traditionally, students in our executive MBA and our part-time Masters in Finance programs have been employed -- and often company-sponsored -- and as such they haven't had access to the career office. In the current market, more of these students are looking to change careers, and we're having a debate at the school whether or not they will have the full services of career management centre. It helps us [to have them involved], because we have a bigger pool of candidates to attract more companies.

My suspicion is that it's right that the services be offered to the executive MBA and part-time Masters in Finance students. I'm just not sure how long it will take us to get there.

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