WisBusiness: UW-Madison MBA’s back in vogue

By Brian E. Clark

Preliminary placement figures for graduates of UW-Madison’s MBA program are up about 20 percent over last year, and graduates are commanding salaries that average nearly $73,000 – an increase of almost 5 percent from 2004.

That’s the word from Blair Sanford, director of the school’s Graduate Career Services office. She attributes improved job numbers for 2005 full-time MBA graduates to an improved economy and a refining of the program’s curriculum.

According to Sanford, 73 percent of this year’s graduates had accepted jobs by graduation last month – up from 60 percent in 2004.

By three months out, a respectable 82 percent of 2004 grads had found work, but Sanford said she is confident that figure will easily be surpassed by this year’s class.

"It’s a good job market for MBA’s," she said.

Final figures will not be complied until the middle of August, when data is turned in to the MBA Career Services Council.

Sanford said the top recruits, who are starting at salaries of more than $80,000, focused on brand and product management or supply chain management during their two-year MBA programs. Finance students are finding the most competition for work, she said.

“Clearly, it is an improved economy that is largely responsible for this change,” said Sanford.

But Sanford said changes implemented by Dean Michael Knetter that have concentrated the MBA program into 13 specific sectors have helped students find employment. Knetter has been on the job for about three years.

“Instead of everyone taking general management courses, it is much more focused,” she said. “That’s allowed graduates to get better responses from companies. Employers don’t want to spend as much time training. Our program is designed to take advantage of that.”

Alumni are also key to helping graduates get interviews and find work, she added. Advisory boards made up of industry leaders in each sector also are key employment aids for graduates.

Finally, increasing use of internships by students are leading many to work offers, she said.

“Internships were encouraged somewhat, but we are pushing them a lot more more now for a number of reasons, including excellent work experience and references – if not jobs,” she said.

“Our best students are getting multiple interviews and multiple offers,” Sanford said. “That did not happen a year ago. A big part is the economy, but other changes have helped, too.”

Though a significant number of MBA graduates take jobs in Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee, she said New York, Denver and Southern California are also hot spots.

Historically, she noted, only about 25 percent of MBA grads stay in state. Fifty percent remain in the Midwest and the remaining half scatter around the country and abroad. She said she does not expect those figures to change this year.

Blair said 116 students graduated in the 2005 full-time MBA program and most had at least five years of work experience before they entered graduate school.

Christopher Smith, a 1991 Air Force Academy graduate, already had a job from W.W. Grainger, the Chicago-based industrial-supply company before he graduated. Smith, 35, also has a master’s degree in operations research from the Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio.

In addition to time spent toiling in a Pentagon personnel office, Smith also worked for Sony and another electronics company before enrolling in UW-Madison MBA graduate program in 2003.

He figures he gave u $100,000 in salary to go to school full-time, but called the investment “well worth it.” He focused on supply chain management, one of the most heavily recruited specialties.

“The program was excellent and met every one of my expectations – from curriculum to recruitment help,” said Smith, who was a project assistant in the school and on scholarship.

He said one of the best things about the program was contact with senior executives on advisory panels who made sure that students were focusing on skills that were marketable and had real-world applications.

“This has been an great investment in my career,” said Smith, who declined to reveal his salary at Grainger. He would say, however, that it is well above the $80,000 average for supply chain graduates.

“It may take me about four years to recoup my costs,” said Smith, who went to work for Grainger in January while completing his studies.

“But the opportunities are so much greater here for me that it’s really hard to compare.

“Best of all, I’m back doing what I want to do,” said Smith, who is working on improving the placement of inventory in warehouses for his new employer.