Continuity and Change in the MBA Class

Stanford GSB Dean Jon Levin writes for Stanford Business magazine about the MBA Class of 2020.

October 01, 2018

People are the most valuable asset at Stanford GSB. It is a view that was reinforced after I spent time with so many alumni at last month’s fall reunions.

I was fascinated to hear what our former students have been doing since their own graduation and to learn that such a wide range of their journeys and experiences has been in some way connected to our community.

As I consider our new students, I’m excited to think about the perspectives and skills they bring to the school and how their lives will also become intertwined. This fall, we welcomed 419 students to the Stanford MBA Class of 2020. At our opening session, Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions Kirsten Moss described the class composition, inspiring me to reflect on some of the changes, and points of continuity, from class to class.

Our MBA cohort remains strategically small, ensuring an immersive, close-knit experience for Stanford GSB students. The relationships that students form with each other, with faculty and staff, and with alumni, are central to the experience. This year’s students will take dozens of new courses that we have introduced in recent years and have wider access to study trips, experiential learning, and global internships, but they also will experience some of the same courses, such as Interpersonal Dynamics, Investments, Paths to Power, and Managing Growing Enterprises, that have been in high demand for decades.

This year’s students come from a striking array of backgrounds. Indeed, one of the numbers Dean Moss cited at the welcome is that first-year MBA students arrived from 306 different organizations. That is just one indicator of their breadth of experience. One student is a former cancer cell researcher who became an investor and now plans to return to Lebanon to start a private equity fund. Another student is interested in social impact, cofounded the first U.S.–based sourcing enterprise for cacao, and created a global network of thousands of farmers. A third student was an Army intelligence officer who, while serving overseas, created an online brand that repurposes military surplus products, with proceeds going to support veterans.

From an industry perspective, the biggest shift over the last two decades has been the rise in students coming from technology firms. Today, students from technology firms represent 17% of the class, running a close third to finance and consulting, and up from less than 4% 20 years ago. The increase in students coming from government and nonprofits is almost as significant. These students represent 10% of this year’s class, up threefold from two decades ago, perhaps reflecting a broader conception of who stands to benefit from a Stanford MBA.

Our MBA students today have also become more global and more demographically diverse. Twenty years ago, around a quarter of the class was international and 30% was female. Today, both numbers are over 40%. Indeed, Dean Moss pointed out that this year’s class speaks dozens of languages, so living in Schwab or McDonald Hall presents an ideal opportunity to pick up a new language!

The composition and careers of our graduates also have evolved. Twenty years ago, 43% of our graduates joined consulting and investment banking firms, about the same percentage that came from those firms. Today, the fraction of students going to consulting firms has declined from 30% to just under 20%, and only 2% of last year’s class landed at an investment bank. Technology, private equity, and venture capital firms have been the big gainers. Our entrepreneurship classes and programs have also had an impact on careers — 15% to 17% of graduates in the past three years have founded companies, up from 5% 20 years ago.

The process of finding a job has evolved as well. Our current method for tracking job searches dates back to 2005. At that time, around a third of our students found jobs through on-campus interviewing, and the GSB hosted more than 250 official recruiting visits. This year, less than 15% of the class secured a job through on-campus interviewing. Two-thirds of students found jobs through network search, relying on peers, faculty members, and, in many cases, alumni. Our current students benefit enormously from the help and generosity of Stanford GSB alumni.

The nature of educational institutions is to evolve and innovate, reflecting and sometimes leading changes in the world. But because we have an enduring mission — a commitment to knowledge and to educating principled leaders who seek to broadly serve society — it is also fitting that the school’s culture and spirit of optimism, innovation, and collaboration remain unchanged. We all share a thirst for knowledge and a collective sense of curiosity. Indeed, if you closed your eyes and simply listened to the conversations some weeks ago when the Class of 1968 convened for its 50th reunion and reminisced with Professor Jim VanHorne, you could have been forgiven for thinking you had stumbled instead into this year’s required finance class.

This letter from the dean was published in Stanford Business magazine in Autumn 2018.

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