MBA Graduates ten years later define success

A new case study has shown that INSEAD MBA graduates see success as much more than simply a good salary and position.

The study, written by Jennifer Petriglieri, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, and Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, drew on stories of MBA graduates from the Class of 2002.

The authors say their findings challenge the stereotype of MBA graduates as high-flying materialists who focus on making loads of money, having corner offices, with little time for family, health or society.

In their study – “Ten Years Later: Memoirs of Life and Work a Decade after an MBA” – they reported on a considerable range in backgrounds and occupations of the survey respondents who worked in every corner of the globe and most sectors and industries.

MBA graduates a decade later were found to be working in large multinational companies, non-profit organizations, while others had set up their own entrepreneurial ventures.

MBA graduates’ definition of success gradually changed

Initially, most of the respondents started off their careers seeking high pay and rapid promotion, what the authors described as “conventional definitions of success”.

However, soon after starting their MBA course, they began crafting their careers with broader and more personal goals.

Jennifer Petriglieri said:

“All graduates enjoyed rewards and recognition for their work. However, very quickly these became insufficient to keep them motivated and fulfilled unless they were associated with work activities that felt meaningful. That is, work that was both aligned with each person’s interests and inclinations and gave him or her opportunity to make a difference. The experience of meaning exercised a far stronger pull than the promise of money and positions in these graduates’ careers and their choices clearly reflect it.”

The MBA graduates who perceived themselves as the most successful and fulfilled were the ones whose jobs gave them opportunities to express their values and “to be connected with valued others”.

”Valued others” included families, friends, communities, customers and colleagues.

The respondents found it important to balance their commitment to work with other domains in life, including…:

  • raising children
  • looking after aging parents
  • pursuing their hobbies
  • personal development

Although many of them said they had not yet struck a balance, most were optimistic that they would eventually.

Gianpiero Petriglieri said:

“These findings raise the question of whether those ‘cookie-cutter MBA’ stereotypes are the product of ambition or conformity. That is, whether they truly reflect individuals’ aspirations in and after business school, or whether they instead reflect collective expectations of them.”

She added:

“Many students take traditional post-MBA jobs because of the financial and social pressures they experience at business school, and move on to what they really want to do as soon as those pressures subside. That begs the question of how to redesign MBAs so that they truly fulfil their promise of broadening opportunities and helping students forge a more authentic path.”

Jennifer Petriglieri says she has integrated data from the case study into her INSEAD course “Psychological Issues in Management”.

During the course, students are invited to examine and interact between their professional and personal choices. They are asked to address the questions that are typically pushed aside by the pressure and pace of BMA life.

J. Petriglieri said “For some, these are broad existential questions, like ‘Who am I and what do I want to do with my life?’ For others, the questions are more defined: ‘Should I join the family business?’”

Current students have the opportunity to hear from MBA graduates who have sat in their seats – literally! They pass on helpful messages and tips, according to students who were exposed to the case study.

Students who attended the course which included the case study said it helped them not lose track of what really matters. They were reminded that it is OK to have doubts, and to remain open to surprises.

Petriglieri’s students first discuss the case and then write up and share how they see things turning out for themselves if they stay on their current track. Petriglieri says “they find the exercise both jarring and liberating”.

During her own MBA, Jennifer Petriglieri made the decision to aim for an academic rather than a corporate career. “This study really makes the point that sometimes the forces that pull us forward are not necessarily pulling us in the direction we want or need to go. An MBA should provide nudges, space and support to ask, ‘Is this the path I want to follow? If not, what might I need to change to find or pursue my own path?’”

Video – MBA graduates ten years later discuss