Study Results: The Top Ranked Companies For MBA Marketing Students

September 5, 2016 | Forbes

MBA students agonize over the “right” school to attend. How will the choice of an MBA program impact their first job? Or their career? Or their happiness?

While the choice of which MBA program to attend matters, just as much attention should be given to the first post-graduation job; it sets MBA graduates on a path that can impact their learning and growth, their potential, the number of options they have later in their careers, and ultimately their career satisfaction. If knowledge, experience, and competency are what companies seek to hire in their employees, which firms do a better job of providing training and development in these areas?

Last year, as I prepared for a discussion with our students at the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), I looked for data regarding which companies were reputed to be the best places marketing-interested MBA students should work upon graduation. When I couldn’t find such data, I partnered with Christine DeYoung, Partner at DHR International, a leading senior-level executive search, management assessment and succession planning company, to survey executive recruiters who specifically place C-level marketers.

The objective of the survey was to identify the top companies for marketing-interested MBA students to consider upon graduation. While there are a number of different methods for identifying and ranking the best firms, executive recruiters have a unique perspective that makes them ideally suited for such a study. First, the executive recruiters in our study have all placed a significant number of C-level marketers. Consequently, they have a good understanding of how early career choices can provide a better (or worse) launching pad from which to establish a career. They also know what types of companies on a marketer’s resume are better (or worse) brands. Just as MBA brands have rankings, there are companies that have become branded as better general management marketing training academies. Lastly, because executive recruiters have talked with hundreds or thousands of marketers and companies who hire marketers, they have a unique vantage point from which to compare and contrast the development capabilities of different companies.

In total, the 2016 survey includes executive recruiter responses who represent 19 different firms (including boutique, mid-sized, and large recruiting firms) and have placed over 2600 C-level marketing leaders over the course of their careers.

The 2016 Rankings: Top Companies for MBA Marketing Students

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When asked to recommend the best companies for marketing-interested MBA graduates, the company that came out on top was Procter & Gamble, followed by Pepsico, Unilever, Google, and AMEX. DeYoung explains: “The companies that continually breed and turn out top Marketing talent have a few things in common: 1) they invest in their people heavily; training, exposure, and cross-functionally; 2) they invest heavily in Strategic Marketing because they believe in its power to drive results; and 3) “Marketers” are synonymous with general managers versus marketing communication experts. The top marketing companies teach and expect their brand marketers to holistically drive the P&L, which ultimately is what creates more capable, enterprise-wide leaders.”

Robbert Rietbroek, Chief Executive and SVP of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand, has the distinction of having worked at three of the top firms across his career (PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever). When asked what makes these companies better launching pads for a C-level career, he explains: “These exceptional companies are organized around brand management teams, with brand managers who operate as general managers of their brand franchises, and work across functions to bring their strategy, innovation, and brand building programs to life. Brand teams receive a lot of training, as well as daily coaching. Given the competitiveness of the markets these teams operate in, they form excellent training grounds for strategy and plan development, as well as in-market execution. This provides the right set of experiences to develop leadership, strategic thinking, multifunctional collaboration, agility and personal accountability.”

Of the top firms, CPG firms (consumer packaged goods) dominate the list with 10 companies followed by retailers with 4. However, many industries are represented including: financial services (AMEX), healthcare (Johnson & Johnson), communications (Verizon), consulting (McKinsey), tech (Google and Facebook), and sporting goods (Nike).

If you asked many MBA graduates what brands they want to work on, few would say Tide, Pepsi, or Dove. However, what makes these companies the best places to land after an MBA program is not the products, but rather the training, experience, leadership development, challenge, learning, opportunity, and growth. As Elaine Dinos, Principal at Korn Ferry suggests: “CPG firms have always been a great training ground for marketers who are early in their career, because marketing is leveraged as an integrated capability with an expectation to drive revenue growth. Even more so today, there is a great opportunity for those seeking purpose and values alignment in their work, as many high growth consumer goods companies are also solving for our world’s systemic needs through their products.”

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Surprising for many students may be the fact that tech firms, with two exceptions (Google and Facebook), were largely absent. Ed Tazzia, Principal of Sycamore and Company offered the following perspective: “For companies like IBM, HP, etc., their historic focus has been on direct selling. They have depended on their agencies for broader messaging. They have hired some CPG marketers but the management is still focused on a different model from what I can see. They are getting better, but still sit behind consumer-focused companies that are dependent on getting the brand promise right and then delivering with product, service and messaging. Many tech companies have populated their management with CPG veterans. It remains to be seen if these tech firms can develop their young marketers into enterprise-wide leaders as these CPG marketers were developed. I have a lot of respect for the folks I know in these senior roles and I expect they will meet this challenge. But the jury is still out.” Tazzia notes that the tech firms are turning to CPG firms to source senior-level talent which demonstrates the optionality that early CPG training provides.

Notably, Google was ranked #4 in this list, while in another survey (top firms for developing C-level Marketing Leaders), Google didn’t make the list. This suggests that Google is the company to watch. They have developed a reputation for being a terrific place for marketers to head after graduation. Can they develop general management marketers whose enterprise-wide training is respected and are therefore recruited by industries outside of tech? Will it be a stepping stone for marketers to reach the C-suite? Based on the results of this survey, executive recruiters are predicting this will happen although, as Tazzia suggests, the jury is still out.

When asked to describe the attributes of the firms that are best at developing marketing talent, the open-ended responses centered on 7 factors:

  1. The best firms recruit the top talent. Consistently, respondents indicated that these firms start by hiring top talent from either top MBA programs or from the best firms.
  2. They provide the best training. The top firms are known for having developed systematic, rigorous, and disciplined approaches to development. Managers are often held accountable for the development of those beneath them. Some firms provide cross-functional training while others provide cross-brand training.
  3. The have a long track record for developing successful C-level leaders. A reputation is built over time and executive recruiters consistently mentioned the importance of firms’ having demonstrated that they have a “system” for developing talent that transfers well to other firms and industries.
  4. Marketers at these firms are trained to be strategic, P&L leaders who “own” brand results. As one executive recruiter suggested, to reach the C-level, you must have P&L management experience. Not all firms believe marketing should be such a central function and therefore don’t provide marketers with enterprise-wide training and preparation. The top firms, in contrast, generally value marketers and train them to be enterprise-wide, P&L leaders who are accountable for total business results—not responsible for just a cost center.
  5. Marketers at the best firms have superior consumer-insight generating, analytically-centered skills. The executive recruiters consistently indicated that marketers from the best firms were “consumer-centered” and could generate “innovation-creating insights”.
  6. The best firms are big. Many executive recruiters indicated that the best firms were global, with many brands, and were large enough to be well resourced—including budgets that enabled marketers to make investment decisions to drive growth.
  7. The best firms have created a purpose-driven and values-based culture. Executive recruiters acknowledged that marketers at these firms have been exposed to brands built on values and purpose. P&G’s mission is to provide products and services of superior quality that improve the lives of the world’s consumers. J&J’s credo is to put the needs and well-being of the people they serve first.Starbucks’ mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. And Coca Cola’s mission is to refresh the world in mind, body, and spirit. These companies all put the consumer at the center of the firm, have very lofty, aspirational mission statements, and have created cultures that stand the test of time.

As Greg Welch, Senior Partner at Spencer Stuart suggests: “Young people today are most interested not only in companies that have great training and offer future potential but importantly, they want to work for companies and brands that have a clearly defined sense of PURPOSE which is aligned with their personal beliefs.” These top firms combine not only best-in-class training but do so within purpose-driven cultures.

While there are a number of paths that students can take to achieve their goals, the companies on this list provide learning, growth, and development opportunities that can extend the MBA education. With many people opting to work long past age 65, the early career choices graduates make can have annuity-like impact. Thinking through the attributes that matter most in a first job (e.g., training, opportunity, learning, growth) can help graduates choose wisely for long-term!

About the Survey: U.S. based executive recruiters were surveyed and asked (unaided) to: 1) identify and rank the top companies for developing C-level marketers, 2) to rank industries in terms of their ability to develop C-level marketers, and 3) to identify and rank the best companies for MBA graduates aspiring to reach the C-level in marketing. The executive recruiters were also asked to identify the attributes associated with the best companies and to explain their ranking (i.e., why the #1 ranked company was chosen as the best, etc.).

To be included in the results, the executive recruiters had to have had experience placing C-level marketers. In aggregate, the survey includes executive recruiters who represent 19 different firms (including boutique, mid-sized, and large recruiting firms) and have placed over 2600 C-level marketing leaders over the course of their careers. While the survey didn’t place any restrictions on the location of the companies, because the executive recruiters were sourced from the U.S., all firms identified have a meaningful presence in the U.S.