Stanford success: Jenna Nicholas, GSB graduate. © Anna Gordon/FT
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature

Ophir Samson’s career took off one day in August 2016.

It did not start well. The former financial analyst should have been celebrating, having completed two years of study for his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). His research into self-driving cars during an elective on public speaking had led to a job offer from an automotive manufacturer, and he was due to start work the next day.

Instead he found himself in a roadside argument with an Uber driver, who had thrown him and his luggage out of the car after a dispute over the best route home from San Francisco airport. 

His Stanford alumni network came to his rescue. Minutes after recounting the incident on Facebook, Mr Samson was called by Ryan Graves, then Uber’s senior vice-president of operations, offering a personal apology.

Mr Samson mentioned his new job to Mr Graves, who mentioned there was an almost identical position vacant in Uber’s technology team, and invited him to apply. Within weeks Mr Samson was a business development manager in Uber’s self-driving car team.

“I wouldn’t have got the attention of an Uber board memberwithout the strength of the GSB network,” Mr Samson says. “But I wouldn’t have got the industry knowledge if I had not taken that GSB class.”

Stanford, which has reclaimed the number-one position in this year’s Financial Times Global MBA ranking, is nicknamed “The Farm” by former students — a reference to the farmland that once occupied the university campus site. But the achievements of its MBA graduates make it look more like a factory for overachievers.

Stanford receives one of the largest volumes of applications of any of the major schools and accepts fewer students than any of its peer institutions.

Last year’s MBA class contained 418 students, compared with 941 at Harvard Business School and 864 at The Wharton School. At the same time, Stanford received a record 8,173 applications, up from 7,108 five years earlier, meaning only 5 per cent of those hoping for a place received an offer. Only MIT Sloan comes close in terms of exclusivity, accepting 7 per cent of applicants last year. HBS recorded a relatively generous 11 per cent acceptance rate.

The battle for places at Stanford means the school can exercise a degree of selectivity its peers can only aspire to match, according to Susan Cera, a director at Stratus Admissions Counseling.

“Stanford can hand-pick their class,” Ms Cera says, adding that it is easier to get a senior role at Google than a place at Stanford.

Top academic results are not enough to guarantee an approval from the admissions team. Those who succeed demonstrate an inquiring mind and prove that they can work in teams, which helps explain why the alumni network works effectively, according to Ms Cera. “Stanford selects students who focus on the ‘we’ over the ‘I’,” she says.

For those offered a place, jobs and business connections follow. The salary level of Stanford MBA students three years after graduation stands at just under $215,000, according to data collected for the latest FT MBA ranking table, the highest average salary on the list.

About a fifth of Stanford students set up businesses after graduation. These alumni, who often do not draw a salary when starting ventures, can access support from those connected to their former school.

Jenna Nicholas founded Impact Experience, a social enterprise that introduces projects set up in marginalised communities to foundations and individuals that can fund them. She was helped by a $100,000 investment through a connection made by a visiting lecturer.

She also received support through Stanford’s connections with multimillionaire entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley communities that surround the campus.

“A powerful selling point for my business is that there really is a desire among these entrepreneurs to do something good with their money,” Ms Nicholas says.

Stanford’s location, immersed in the US technology industry, helps with this. Some of the world’s richest companies, including Apple and Facebook, as well as hedge funds and venture capital firms that feed them with capital, are a short drive from the school.

These companies tend to offer the most sought-after jobs, and some visit only Stanford when they look to hire MBA graduates for these roles, according to Maeve Richard, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center. Students have generous access to the most popular employers during campus recruitment roadshows.

“The top firms typically spend the day interviewing 300 students at other schools, but here they will only have to interview 100,” Ms Richard says. “That puts our students at an advantage because they have more time to present themselves.”

Many of the MBA recruiters are graduates from the course. Nick Hungerford, who in 2011 founded Nutmeg, the London-based online wealth management business, just a few months after leaving Stanford, used the school’s internship scheme for early hires. 

His first employee, who went on to become Nutmeg’s head of product, was a fellow student on a design class he took at the engineering school as part of the “personalised” curriculum Stanford allows its MBA students to compile as credits towards their final qualification.

Mr Hungerford, who worked at Barclays Wealth in London before studying for an MBA, credits Stanford with giving him the confidence to strike out on his own.

“You end up with this belief because you are surrounded by people who really want to make a difference and want to help you out,” he says, adding that he noticed a change in his personality. “I went to Stanford thinking a risk is something that I did, like going to business school,” he says. “When I left Stanford my feeling was that the risk was not doing something.”

Stanford first reached the top of the FT ranking six years ago, and only held the title for a year before being surpassed by Harvard Business School, then by France’s Insead — which capitalised on its shorter programme length compared with US schools. However, the wealth and opportunities in Silicon Valley, on Stanford’s doorstep, suggest that The Farm may retain its global MBA supremacy for longer this time.

The FT’s complete Global MBA ranking 2018 is published today. Find the ranking, our analysis and full methodology at FT.com/mba.

How much do graduates earn?

Stanford’s students may not be entirely motivated by financial rewards, but the salaries they can expect to earn after graduation are still higher than those from similar institutions. 

The most recent cohort set a new record for earnings, with a median total salary package of $180,284, according to figures released by the school in 2017. This figure was slightly up from the $179,346 reported the year before, and ahead of Stanford’s peers, the so-called magnificent seven (M7) US business schools. Harvard Business School, for example, reported median total pay of $174,600 for its MBA graduates in 2017.

Average base salary for Stanford graduates rose to $144,455, from $140,553 a year earlier, while signing bonuses rose to $29,534, compared with $23,636 in 2016. Other guaranteed salary payments increased on average to $83,065, up from $74,665.

The total average salary does not include additional performance bonuses, which Stanford calculated to be an additional $71,946 per graduating student.

Be alerted on Business school

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.