Top-Tier MBAs Ask: Got Reputation?

What do the alcohol, chemical, and tobacco industries have in common? According to a new global survey, they are the three industries with the worst reputations among top-tier MBAs.

In fact, only 13% of the participants in Hill & Knowlton’s eighth annual Corporate Reputation Watch expressed interest in working in the tobacco industry. The alcohol and chemical industries are attracting about 20% and 19%, respectively.

Oil & gas and the pharmaceutical industries are also losing the “reputational battle” in the global war for talent. Oil and gas is attracting 32%, while pharma is attracting 31%. On the positive side, industry winners include banking/finance, IT, and energy.

Hill & Knowlton says all 527 survey participants are top students in the United States, Europe, and Asia who are destined to be corporate leaders in the next 15 to 20 years, otherwise known as “Generation 2025.”

More than 75% of these students say corporate reputation will play a critical role in deciding where to work. About 20% say it is fairly important, while 4% say reputation is not important.

Location Winners & Losers

Location counts, too, with top MBAs believing that Western European and North American firms promote their corporate reputation much better than those in the rest of the world. Location winners include Western Europe, North America, North Asia, and Australia/New Zealand. Location losers include South Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe.

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The study also shows that MBA students value publicly listed companies or venture-funded institutions. In addition, about one in five MBA students intend to return to the firm they worked for prior to their MBA.

Paul Taaffe, Hill & Knowlton’s CEO, noted that companies with “inferior” reputations will find it difficult to attract and retain the best and the brightest.

“MBAs graduating in a post-Enron, post-WorldCom world have a strong preference for the companies with the best reputations,” he said.

“It is clear that recruiters of top talent will need to offer more than just generous compensation and ample opportunity. The leaders of tomorrow are overwhelmingly seeking to associate themselves with industries, and specifically companies, with great reputations,” he said.

The survey was conducted in November 2007 at the following 12 schools: Columbia Business School; Harvard Business School; New York University; MIT; London Business School; IESE Business School in Spain; HEC Paris; University of Oxford; SDA Bocconi in Italy; TIAS in The Netherlands; Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Tsinghua University in China.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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