MIT Sloan School Students Undaunted by Bad Economy

When we met them last year, the students in the class of 2001 at MIT?s Sloan School of Management, one of the nation?s leading-edge business schools, had already earned the reputation for being the most wired class ever on the Cambridge, Mass.-based campus (see ?Sitting on Top of the World,? May 15, 2000). They were the first MBA class anywhere to get their applications off the Web rather than in the mail. They established a community site on the Internet long before they set foot on campus. They Web-enabled student life with a host of online services such as a student photo directory and a calendar of events. They were idealistic first year students, enthusiastic for change and convinced of technology?s promise. They dreamed of leading companies down the path to eternal profitability, crunching numbers on Wall Street or working as a partner with a high-powered consultancy. Now they?re seasoned. They?ve returned to campus from summer internships with respected companies, such as Accenture and Cisco Systems, and are about to graduate. Last year?before the economy slowed to a crawl?CIO profiled five of the students to find out their goals, dreams and views on business in the new economy. Now, in light of massive layoffs, dotcoms closing their virtual doors and stocks dropping, CIO is looking back on how these hopes for the future may have been affected.

It turns out, the students? attitudes toward technology and the business world haven?t altered too much since we first met them. In the first place, these students were never enamored of Internet pure-plays and always tempered their excitement about technology with a healthy dose of sobriety.

But the fact that Internet startups no longer pose a viable employment option does render the job hunt more stressful than in previous years because:

  • Students don?t have as many options to pursue.
  • Recruiters have fewer jobs to fill since many companies have announced hiring freezes.
  • The fresh crop of MBAs now have to compete with people who have been laid off from dotcoms.

This year, the competition became intense while students interviewed on and off campus. The challenges of balancing their rigorous course loads with interviews and presentations while figuring out just where to take their professional lives were daunting?but the students we revisited all pulled it off. They are finding their roles as entrepreneurs and consultants.

Face The Music

Sandeep Swadia
32
Hometown:
Bombay, India
Major:
New products and venture development
New job:
Entrepreneur
Not yet known
Age: Salary: In December 1999, before the Nasdaq correction, Sandeep Swadia openly questioned the value of dotcoms. ?I don?t want to be the next Amazon.com,? said the entrepreneurship major. ?I have nothing against Amazon, but I don?t know where they?re creating value.?

However, Swadia did hold a desire to start his own company. When the economy was bursting at the seams, Swadia and his friends explored several ideas they had for startups. They didn?t act on any of these concepts?not because VCs weren?t willing to fund them?but because they weren?t confident in them. ?We weren?t sure where value was being created,? he says.

But now Swadia has found a business cause that he believes in. He and a friend from Stanford Business School are starting their own independent record label. He is launching this venture rather than accepting job offers from such companies as Cisco Systems. Their company will promote music that isn?t easily categorized into canned genres like pop or hip-hop through online and offline business models.

?It?s not a dotcom,? says Swadia.

He?s been pursuing the idea for this business for more than a year and thinks that the uproar in the recording industry over digital music and distribution makes it a perfect time to launch this concept. Plus, it marries his two greatest interests: music and entrepreneurship.

?Doing anything else would have been fighting my own entrepreneurial destiny. Finding a path that blends my business skills with my lifelong passion is exactly what I call discovering your calling,? he says.

Make A Difference

Smaranda Moisescu
32
Hometown:
Cluj, Romania
Major:
Strategic management and consulting
New job:
Manager with Accenture state government practice
Salary:
More than $100,000
Age: When Smaranda Moisescu (pronounced Moy-ses-koo) planned her course load at Sloan, she made sure she could complete her studies in three semesters. She wanted to be able to do something different during her final semester. She wasn?t exactly sure what she wanted to do, but she had many ideas: start work, stay home with her two kids (ages 7 and 10), start her own company, help her father develop a branch of his furniture business in the States, take more classes or travel.

Before she settled on one of those options, she had to nail a job. After interviewing with six consultancies in Boston including Accenture, A.T. Kearney and Bain, and getting offers from Accenture, A.T. Kearney and Marakon Associates, she accepted an offer to work in Accenture?s state government practice.

As a Sloan graduate, Moisescu could have pursued more lucrative corporate jobs. But she found the aspect of working on systems aimed at helping society more compelling. In this practice, she?ll be working on e-commerce projects for state governments, helping cities and towns develop websites where users can register their cars, pay parking tickets and find information on taxes and housing. ?It?s more interesting to find solutions that help people rather than making a ton of money,? she says.

Working in the government practice will also prepare her for working in Romania, should she decide to return to her homeland. She?s considered going back home since she entered Sloan but wants to get experience working in the United States before doing so. ?Looking at my country and seeing how there is a very strong need for good government administration at the local and national level, whatever knowledge I gain by working with governments in the States is an investment that?s going to pay back,? she says.

Once she knew where she?d be working in the fall, she opted to travel and take classes during her free semester as part of Sloan?s international exchange program, including Spanish language and business classes at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. ?In consulting, where you never know where your next job will take you, having good control of the Spanish language will be a big asset for me,? Moisescu says.

Wireless Aspirations

Petter Karal
28
Hometown:
Bergen, Norway
Major:
New products and venture development
New job:
Vice president of Scandinavia Online?s wireless division
Salary:
About $100,000
Age: From the time he was 11 years old?importing audio cassettes and pens from Japan to sell to bookstores in his hometown of Bergen, Norway?Petter Karal knew he wanted to start his own company. He has yet to accomplish this goal, but after his time at Sloan, Karal feels he is well on his way.

Karal came to Sloan to study new products and venture development. He believed that a degree from Sloan would help him achieve his dreams of starting his own wireless technology company and setting up the proper infrastructure in Norway that would transform the country into a hotbed for entrepreneurs.

Now he?s frenziedly finishing up his MBA degree at Sloan with a concentration in new products and venture development. In order to graduate on time, he had to cram two semesters? worth of courses into one semester after having dropped out of Sloan in the fall of 2000.

Last May, Scandinavia Online, the dominant Internet portal for the Nordic countries, recruited Karal for a summer internship. He was put in charge of developing and implementing the company?s wireless strategy. The project grew in scope as the months passed. By the end of the summer, the project was nowhere near finished, and Karal had to make a serious decision: either remain at Scandinavia Online and complete his pet project or delegate it to someone else and return to Sloan.

He decided to take a leave of absence from Sloan for the semester to finish implementing the company?s wireless strategy. In September, wireless became a separate division of the company, and Karal was offered a job as the vice president of that division. He accepted the offer on the condition that he could return to Sloan to get his degree.

?I never considered dropping out of Sloan as an option,? he says.

From Math To Consulting

Mark Freiheit
30
Hometown:
Montreal
Major:
Self-managed
New job:
Consultant with Marakon Associates
Salary:
More than $100,000
Age: After completing the grueling first semester of introductory classes at Sloan, Mark Freiheit chose new products and venture development (NPVD), the track that every aspiring entrepreneur follows, as his major.

But that decision changed by the second year. During his first two semesters, he had enrolled in classes that didn?t always fall into the NPVD track, so he switched his major to ?self-managed.? This track allowed him to design his own major, giving him the flexibility to pursue his diverse interests.

?I had spread myself too thin. It would have been impossible for me to finish all the requirements to satisfy the (NPVD) track,? says the 30-year-old native of Montreal.

Freiheit?s eclectic pursuits propelled him in many different directions. Immediately prior to Sloan, he worked as a software engineer for Cognet, a Valhalla, N.Y.-based software startup. Before that, he spent two years as a professional concert pianist after winning the Prix d?Europe, Quebec?s biggest music competition, in 1994. He also has a master?s degree in mathematics from the University of Toronto and he even did a stint in law school, but decided being a lawyer wasn?t for him.

Though recruiters with Accenture, Dean and Company, and Deloitte and Touche have been wooing this Renaissance man with job offers since January 2000, he decided to sign on with Marakon, a Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy that he interned with last summer, because of the knowledge he would gain about the business challenges of upper managers.

?Having the exposure to business problems that CEOs deal with gives you a stronger platform to launch into the business world,? he says.

Fuel The Intellectual Fire

Liz Rounsavall
30
Hometown:
Louisville, Ky.
Major:
Self-managed
New job:
Associate with Booz, Allen & Hamilton
Salary:
More than $100,000
Age: ?A track is great for rŽsumŽs, but in the end, people take what they want to take,? says Liz Rounsavall, commenting on the fact that many Sloanies declare a particular major during their first year only to change it the second year.

Rounsavall entered Sloan as a strategic management and consulting major, thinking she wanted to work for one of the major consulting companies when she graduated, but she switched to self-managed in the fall of 2000. It wasn?t that she changed her mind about being a consultant, she simply wanted the freedom to pursue classes that fueled her intellectual fire.

?[The self-managed track] lets me meet my needs rather than having to follow Sloan?s list of ?here?s what you need.? If your course work doesn?t intrigue you, you have to say, ?What do I want out of school, let alone out of this track, and does this track meet this??? she says.

Rounsavall says that attending Sloan has changed the way she looks at the world. ?I came to Sloan believing there was one right answer or one way to look at a problem. What Sloan gives you is the ability to understand the different aspects of a problem and to question conventional wisdom,? she says.

She?ll be applying those analytical skills when she joins Booz, Allen & Hamilton in New York City in the fall. After interning at Booz, Allen & Hamilton last summer, the company offered her a job for the following year. Though last year she flippantly characterized consulting as ?the catchall for people who don?t know what they want to do,? she still views it as a chance to continue her education in an environment that she says is similar to Sloan. ?I really felt like I was at home [at Booz, Allen & Hamilton]. Like at MIT, I was surrounded by a lot of smart people, a lot of intellectually curious people.?

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Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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