Looking for Business-Ready Candidates, Companies Turn to Finishing Schools of Commerce

July 30, 2004

After General Mills hired Kira Goldman to work as an entry-level marketing associate, the company enrolled the history major and 2004 Yale graduate in a crash course in Business 101. For four weeks this summer, Goldman lived and breathed spreadsheets, case studies and team projects as part of a "boot camp" for liberal arts and other non-business majors at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

    The payoff for General Mills: a new hire who’s better prepared to plunge into work. And for Goldman: more confidence in her ability to do the job she starts later in August.

Double purpose
    Corporate recruiters are courting hundreds of college graduates like Goldman who are fresh from an expanding number of business finishing schools. The summer programs, run by prestigious B-schools at Dartmouth, University of California/Berkeley and others, offer students the chance to learn the ropes from respected MBA professors and rub shoulders with like-minded overachievers who would rather spend summer break becoming more marketable than playing on a surfboard.

    Companies hiring graduates of these sessions don’t seem to be calculating the exact return on investment. General Mills says that the $7,000 and more per person it pays to send new hires through the four- to six-week sessions is doubly valuable. It’s about both training--offering a well-groomed new employee--and recruiting--making the company more appealing to candidates.

    "You can never have a bad investment when you’re spending on an employee," says Kenneth Charles, director of university relations and marketing recruiting at General Mills. "The value they receive will be tangible to our business going forward. Plus, this generation looks for opportunities to learn and grow, and it makes us attractive to them as an employer to offer this."

Driven by McKinsey
    Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business pioneered the business boot camp concept in 1997, after executives at McKinsey approached the B-school about creating a business-immersion course for liberal arts majors the consulting firm had hired as entry-level analysts. Tuck responded with the Business Bridge Program for students from McKinsey and elsewhere, which has become a pattern for others that followed. Tuck’s is still the largest program, having graduated more than 1,550 students, including an estimated 260 this summer (see chart).

    The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm, sends a handful of entry-level associates with no previous business education to Tuck’s Bridge program each summer, all the better to prepare them for the company’s own monthlong training course. "For those who need to get a solid understanding of business concepts before they start our training, it pays off," says Deb Hills, Parthenon’s human resources manager. "If they see things for the first time during our training, they aren’t as likely to retain it."

    Corporate sponsors such as General Mills, McKinsey and Parthenon once supplied almost 70 percent of the students in Tuck’s program, which costs $7,500, including tuition, books, room and board. The number dropped three years ago after the economy tanked and companies trimmed training budgets. Even McKinsey, which over time had sent 439 employees through the Bridge course, switched two years ago to enrolling new hires in an online business-immersion program, also run by Tuck.

    With the economy on the rebound, Bridge program director Corrie W. Martin is redoubling efforts to market the program to companies that might not have in-house management training. "We need to be looking at the smaller tier who want to hire and retain [entry-level employees] but who are a little less on the radar," Martin says.

    Other schools with business boot camps, including Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, NYU’s Stern School of Business Undergraduate College and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, haven’t specifically targeted corporate sponsors. Even so, graduates of those programs have gotten jobs at Fortune 1000 companies, according to school officials. Students at Haas’ six-year-old Business for Arts, Sciences and Engineering Program have joined DHL, General Electric, Ogilvy & Mather and UPS, to name a few. Alumni of the four-year-old Stern Advantage program have gone on to jobs with Pfizer, Boston Capital and CIBC World Markets.

    Regardless of who’s paying, trainees work hard. Students are in class full-time studying accounting, management, marketing and other rudiments of commerce. They take corporate field trips, team up on real-world client projects--complete with PowerPoint presentations--and meet in MBA-style study groups. Students, who range in age from sophomores to people a few years out of school, also make use of career centers or tutors they can use to polish résumés and practice interviewing and negotiating skills.

    While you can’t cram an entire MBA into four weeks, you can give people enough of a taste of the business world to give them an edge on their liberal arts or engineering contemporaries, says Sally Blount-Lyon, Stern’s undergraduate college dean. "When they sit down with recruiters, they can talk that much more intelligently," Blount-Lyon says. "They won’t know all the answers, but they’ll be quicker to ask the right questions."