When Mahesh Murarka graduated from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in June 2009, he shunned the traditional B-school path of accepting a job in banking, consulting, or marketing in New York, London, or San Francisco. Instead, he returned to his native India to work for a reinsurance company with headquarters in Switzerland. "There is a lot more opportunity here right now," he says. "The change in India is mind-blowing."
Many of the nation's top business schools report an increase in the number of students who are interested in working overseas in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia, and Brazil. Roughly 25 percent of recent Wharton M.B.A. graduates are now working abroad, compared with 16 percent a few years ago, and the trend no longer applies simply to international M.B.A. students who opt to return home after earning their degrees. In addition to working in finance and consulting, these M.B.A. students are moving overseas to work in real estate, investing, energy, and infrastructure. "It definitely feels like it's not a temporary hiccup," says Michelle Antonio, director of the MBA Career Management at Wharton. "The students feel like that's where the action is."
South Korea is hardly the spot Curtis Gasser expected to land after business school. The native Seattle resident interned during the summer of 2008 in marketing at the Ford Motor Co.. Though he says he always wanted to work internationally, he and his wife assumed they would do so once his career was more established. Then last spring he received a job offer to work as a consultant in the global strategy group at Samsung. The only catch? The position was based in Korea, where Samsung has its headquarters. "I felt lucky," he says by phone from Seoul. "It was a good job in a down market."
The lone caveat of working abroad can be the discrepancy in salary. It's not necessarily a concern for graduates who work for a multinational company, but it can deter people from breaking into less-established fields in emerging markets, particularly if they leave school with tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt. The median starting salary of a Wharton M.B.A. graduate from the class of 2009 was $110,000, with a signing bonus of $20,000. By comparison, the salary ranges for jobs in emerging markets vary wildly, says Antonio, from $35,000 up to $100,000.
For those willing to take a possible pay cut, M.B.A. graduates say that working overseas can give them the chance to gain responsibility in a growing (as opposed to middling) market. For Murarka, this means working with both his company's IT and business departments to bridge the gap between the two. It also means having a greater say in the company's direction and processes, and feeling as though he can easily tweak things. "When you actually propose changes in my office, they are argued, discussed, and accepted," he says. "When I was in New York, I felt like people were less open to change."
And, in the new economy, American workers will have to be open to change. According to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, any slowdown in the emerging markets' financial systems in this recession is merely a "pause." In the coming years, McKinsey says, more and more of the global asset growth will come from overseas, where the gross domestic product is rising faster than it is in the U.S.
M.B.A. students now understand that regardless of where they geographically build their careers, most likely they will come into contact with these markets, whether it's from investing in China to building supplier relationships in India. There's a growing sense that you cannot just work for an American company, just as American workers most likely will not work for just one employer. "Most students recognize that you can't have a single-country career anymore," says Pulin Sanghvi, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Thinking more broadly about how and where to build one's career may be a legacy of the Great Recession. For M.B.A. graduates such as Murarka and Gasser, the economic downturn made them more flexible. While the allure of Wall Street will always be strong among B-school grads, there's a growing recognition that the road to success doesn't lead just to downtown New York.