When Cupid Visits B-School

Romance has a logic all its own -- and that can make relationship-building between MBA students a particularly tricky act

By Francesca Di Meglio

They're the type who make everyone in a room jealous with their flirtatious giggles and ability to finish each other's sentences. Miguel Galméz Schwarz and Paula Rodriguez Castells met in 1999 while earning their MBA at ESADE Business School in Spain. The day after their first date, they found out they were in the same study group. It would be months before they shared the truth about their relationship with their classmates. She fell in love with him for his outspokenness. He fell in love with her as they overcame problems together.

B-school gave them everything, including amor, say the couple. They married in December, 2003, and have a nearly four-month-old daughter Andrea. "It's nice and relaxing to come home and see your daughter laughing at you," says Schwarz, director of Sóller's Railroad, a train company that provides transportation for tourists. His wife is the marketing director for Spain and Portugal at 3i Iberian, a private-equity and venture-capital firm.

It certainly seems like this power couple has it all. But how often do MBAs really find money, power, and love? This might sound like an entry in Carrie Bradshaw's Sex and the City column, but it's a question that regularly surfaces in BusinessWeek Online B-school forums.


  Going to a top B-school practically guarantees a prestigious job and higher salary. But what about the L-word? About 40% of students enrolled in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., are already married when they arrive on campus. At Duke about 35% of graduate business students are married, 33% at MIT, and 30% at Dartmouth, to name a few. But what about the majority of B-school students who are unmarried?

Not surprisingly, few single MBA students wanted to spill about their still-budding romantic lives with BusinessWeek Online. But there's no question that the unattached often turn to their classmates for love. Women on B-school campuses are at an advantage because men still make up the majority of the classes.

"An MBA program is like a screener for compatibility, much like a dating service," says Marilyn Puder-York, a PhD in clinical psychology and executive coach based in Old Greenwich, Conn. Jeff Arnett, psychologist and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties, adds that B-school students tend to be "lucky in love because they have a place to go where they're sure to find single people around their age."


  The B-school population is a sought-after bunch in the dating game. When your income is above $50,000 and you're 30 or slightly older (typically the case for recently graduated MBAs), the probability that you'll marry shoots up to 83%, according to a 2002 report by the U.S. Health & Human Services Dept. Higher education and income are also associated with a lower probability of separation or divorce.

MBAs from the top programs tend to go on to run the corporate world, and leaders are in high demand. In 2001, more than 15% of men and 20% of women surveyed by the Internet dating service Match.com said an executive or CEO was the most eligible and desirable date.

It doesn't take long for single MBA students to notice these attractive qualities in their classmates. Take Jennifer Tucker and Trevor Montgomery, second-year students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, who met at orientation in 2003. They were just friends until they both returned early from Thanksgiving break:

"We decided to go for a drink, and one thing led to another and.... [Pause] Should I tell the rest?" Montgomery asks Tucker.

"Let's leave some things to the imagination," responds Tucker.

"Anyway, we were friends, and there was pretty good chemistry," Montgomery rephrases.

After 10 months of dating, Montgomery surprised Tucker with an engagement ring. The couple plans to graduate in May, move to Cincinnati where Tucker already has a job at Proctor & Gamble, and marry in October.


  They warn MBA couples: If you break up, you'll have to see your ex everyday. But, they add, you should never let your fears stand in the way of love.

The reality is that it is tough to balance school, the job search, and your personal life. Couples in B-school -– whether one or both people are earning a degree –- have loads of advice. Most say it's important to set aside couple time, even if it's just one night a week. Harvard Law School graduate Staci Rucker and UNC first-year student Hollis Rucker spent time together commuting to work and school in the mornings when Hollis' schedule became overrun by finals that prevented him from sticking to their usual Friday dates. "Those 30 minutes [commuting] gave us a chance to just talk and catch up without any interruptions," says Staci.

Of course, sacrifice is built into the B-school bargain. Hollis and Staci spent their wedding night in a lavish suite reading The Goal, so he could finish writing the paper that was due on Monday for his operations class. Dana Powers, wife to second-year Kenan-Flagler student Ty Powers, is happy to be out of the big-city rat race as she raises their five-month-old son, Tyler. But she says pregnancy was a bit trying because Ty was away at his summer internship, and she was alone a lot.


  Many spouses find it difficult to relate to each other when one is back at school and the other remains in the workforce. But many have come up with creative solutions to the problem. Amy Eirich was motivated to switch to a job in the nonprofit sector when her husband Matt decided to attend Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. Landing a job as an associate in corporate and foundation relations at the B-school was an added bonus that brought the couple closer. "He does his thing, and I do mine, but we have the business school as a common point of reference," says Eirich.

MBA students have to be pretty single-minded to succeed. "When you're getting your MBA, you must love yourself," says Beth Schoenfeldt, a 1994 Columbia Business School graduate and founder of FLOinc., a New York-based life-coaching service. But it's a mistake to let being busy with school cause you to miss out on the chance for love.

"I've worked with many people in their 40s who look back with regret," Puder-York says. "They were so focused on career that they didn't more seriously evaluate people [around them] who could have been a potential partner."

Just remember that even MBAs, with their penchant for planning everything, can't schedule love in the way they do their career. It just happens even at B-school.

Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in New York

Edited by Thane Peterson

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