This blogpost belongs to the series “MBA, Entrepreneurship and Family Business“.
The role of an MBA graduate in the tech industry
We had the chance to sit down with Anne Caron who spent 10 years with Google. We wanted to know more about MBA, Google and Startups to understand better the value of an MBA. Particularly, we wanted to discuss with Anne of the specific challenges that large tech organizations are facing when it comes to talent acquisition and talent retention as well as the challenges that startups face. Finally, it was important to hear her thoughts on the role that MBA graduates can have in the Tech industry and most importantly the skills and mindset that are required for them to have a successful career.
MBA, Google and Tech: it’s real!
Anne Caron is the founder of Anne Caron Consulting, an HR and People Strategy consulting firm. It specializes in the development of innovative People Strategies and adapted HR models for startups and SMEs in South East Asia. Launched in 2015, Anne Caron Consulting has successfully helped and supported dozens of startups through the complex topic of People Strategy, from defining the culture, attracting and hiring the right talents, to retaining and developing employees.
Anne started her professional Human Resources in a European executive search firm specialising in headhunting for upper management level. She was approached by Google in 2006 to set up their in-house headhunting function in Europe. In her 10 years at Google, she built several Talent Acquisition teams across EMEA and APAC . She designed HR processes that maximise both efficiency and productivity at scale. Her teams reached best productivity worldwide at multiple occasions (in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015). Over the course of her career, Anne has developed an expertise in HR, specifically people management in a diverse workplace environment. Find out more about Anne’s experience on her LinkedIn profile.
Anne, you had a successful career in Talent Management and you spent almost a decade with Google from 2006 to 2015. During the same decade, Tech was becoming an increasingly popular destination for MBA graduates. Today, Tech has become the second most preferred industry for MBA graduates ahead of Finance. Did you notice this change when at Google?
When I joined in 2006 we were less than 6,000 employees. In 2015 we reached close to 70,000 employees. Not the same company, not the same needs. At that time Google was still scaling. Our Paris office was just 80 people, there was no offices in Africa and Middle East. The Singapore office had not opened yet…
Google did not specifically target for MBAs specifically but:
- Google was attractive for MBA graduates: gradually Google’s employer brand started to be stronger and stronger in all regions. People were attracted. The message was also that Google was hiring the best of the best. Most of MBA candidates pursue this route to join the best of the best club ;). So Google quickly became one of the main target companies for MBA post graduates.
- Candidates with MBA were relevant to Google: Google was not just looking for the best of the best, but also looking for potential, and for people with an aspiration for innovation and leadership. Candidates with very linear and strong specialities were not really our target. The company was shaping and needed people able to adapt through the multiple reorganizations we went through, people with drive and strong potential to grow into strategic roles. MBA students usually have less traditional career paths and also have gained more maturity, a more generalist business approach and stronger leadership skills.
- Google needed stronger managers: As we scaled we needed stronger managers. With stronger business acumen and people skills. We realized it was not possible to only grow managers from within. So in that sense candidates with an MBA started to look more attractive to us.
How did Google HR teams adapt to this increase in hiring MBA grads?
We did hire more and more MBA graduates over the years. I would say that it was an evolution and surely not a revolution. We didn’t modify our recruitment process nor have a specific emphasis on recruiting MBA. In other words, from a HR perspective, there was no change in our recruitment process and practices. As I mentioned previously, the increase of MBA hires was part of a much more global and comprehensive change in our talent acquisition strategy. Besides, Google has always supported strong values around diversity which was implemented at all levels of our HR functions including recruitment.
We have therefore led a number of diversity programs in our Staffing organization to increase diversity (ethnicity, gender, nationalities, etc.) which led us to change the way we recruited from schools for instance).
The objective was dual. First our internal researches proved that the GPA and selectivity of school was not necessarily predictive of performance. Second, from a business perspective, if you want to develop a product adapted to everyone, you need to ensure your workforce is as much diverse as possible and representative of your customers group. Without females involved in the design of the cars, the automotive industry would have never been able to capture the women market!
From your experience with Google, have you noticed a change in the company culture? We had a chat recently with Paul Ollinger (ex-Yahoo! and ex-Facebook). He was telling us that the friction didn’t really happen with MBA specifically but more in terms of tension between tech and business units. Would you say that it was the same with Google?
Corporate culture evolves over time and this is surely very true for Google. This is a fact and there is nothing you can do about it. However, what you can and need to do as a founder or a management team is to be conscious and deliberate about it. You need to drive change instead of experiencing it passively. Company culture has to be at the Centre of the people and business strategy.
In 2006 when I joined, we were 70–80 people in our Paris office and some were there since the opening of the office. Some of the original team members started to feel disconnected and nostalgic of the office they started few years before, and a number of them had left within the next 5 years. It’s not that they didn’t love Google anymore. They just did not feel they fitted in anymore. It’s cyclical. Google grew considerably, the profiles getting in evolved (more MBA-like!). It was indeed impacting the culture, especially in the smallest offices.
Google leadership team understood something sooner and better than most of the tech behemoths’ leadership team.
They understood that people strategy has to be central and that the corporate culture is at its center. Stacy Sullivan (Google Chief Culture Officer) is a key member of the leadership team. She ensures that culture is adapting and aligned with Google business goals. As Google grew dramatically over the past 10 years, inevitably the Company Culture evolved too. But it did in a conscious and driven way, to ensure it was providing a clear direction, a meaningful purpose and that consistency is maintained in everything we do.
To come back to the tension between tech and business units, I would agree with what you mentioned and I would say that it is true for most tech companies (from startups to giants). Google was no different. I would not call it “tension” but Tech and non-Tech worlds are significantly different in their approach of business and communication and it is challenging from an organizational perspective to prevent silos. Also, I would tend to agree with Paul Ollinger as I didn’t witness any resentment towards MBA graduates. Finally, I really think that our recruitment process ensure that no one feels better than someone else. On top of this, when you face such a high concentration of talents, it is not easy to feel cocky. [laughs]
In your opinion, what are the qualities that MBA grads must have to be successful in Tech? We recently read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that outlined that leaders in Tech must 1. create a culture where anyone can speak up and 2. where anyone can hold anyone accountable. Would you say that this is something that sounds familiar?
It is interesting that you mentioned those two points. A successful team is a team where everyone can speak and where everyone can hold anyone accountable indeed. But not only. At Google, we conducted a research globally to know how to build a successful team; regardless of the individuals that you were to put in the team. We learned that there are five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google:
- Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
- Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
- Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
- Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
Regarding the first part of your question, I would go back to what I said previously. What makes MBA graduates successful is their excellent adaptability and flexibility that enable them to rotate easily between roles and adapt to a fast-changing organization such as Google. This is what we call “Leadership” at Google, this ability to think strategically and be an agile problem solver.
To learn more about MBA, Google, Startups and Tech, make sure to read the second part of this interview. You can also check our list of best MBA programs to pivot into the Tech industry.