Li: Yale’s unanswered corporate call

I find Sleeping Giant, a 15-minute drive away in Hamden, much more fascinating than East Rock. Besides the gorgeous New England foliage in October, the mountain offered me some good luck: I met a senior executive at GE on one of my hikes to the mountaintop. After a later lunch conversation on the merits of Yale’s liberal arts philosophy and GE’s business strategy in the Beijing Olympics, he invited me to apply for a summer internship. GE, unfortunately, does not consider Yale a target school, despite the fact that its headquarters is only 25 miles from New Haven.

I decided to pursue other opportunities, but I kept thinking about GE’s passive recruitment effort at Yale. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the problem is larger than GE or Yale. A brief look at the eRecruiting site and the annual Career Fair will reveal the unsettling pattern: An overwhelming army of banks and consulting firms obscure everyone else in the corporate sector, even those in auditing and tax. Undergraduate Career Services would have no problem adding the words “Finance and Consulting” before “Career Services” in its name.

Had there been no other jobs available except in finance or consulting, I would have been fine with the observation. But the majority of Fortune 500 companies (most of which are neither banks nor consulting firms) do recruit — just not at Yale, or even in the Ancient Eight.

Zero Ivy League schools are included in Procter & Gamble’s 17 target school short list. AT&T would rather make a trip to the University of Arkansas than to New Haven or Cambridge. ExxonMobil’s finance division allocates a few spots specifically for Lamar University; with all due respect, anyone ever heard of the school? Last but not least, GE Energy does target one school in our state — UConn.

Manufacturing and services corporations may have some misconceptions about Ivy League students. A News article in 2005, “Fewer CEOs are Ivy League grads” (Dec. 2, 2005), quoted Steve Canale, a GE recruiting officer, saying he believes Ivy League graduates are looking for “a company that will offer them the most challenging work.” He didn’t sound very confident — was he defining most challenging as “longest hours?” By that definition any i-bank definitely beats GE in getting the brightest students.

Similar false impressions fall on the other side. Many of us, despite our true interest in the corporate world, be it automobile industry or energy, simply become victims of the delusional sense of glamour associated with finance and consulting that conveniently plague the ivory tower. We’re from Yale, after all — aren’t we supposed to climb up the money ladder as quickly as we can to prove we’re the best? And isn’t it the case that we can always jump back to the general industries after we get enough experience pitching merger deals for them?

Sadly, the University seems to care little in helping students clear those clouds. Maybe they themselves understand little better. President Levin told the News in the same December 2005 article that “if industrial companies really want to attract Yale-quality caliber, they’re going to have to pay more to make their jobs competitive.” So many of us follow the same logic when it comes to a career choice.

Now, here’s a reality check. Never mind that i-bankers or consultants may never get bonuses nearly as large as they once did; back in the golden days of oil, a friend of mine who went to the University of Oklahoma reaped over $70,000 fresh out of college working for ExxonMobil — on par with a first-year analyst at a bulge-bracket consulting firm. Plus, he didn’t work ridiculous hours or travel absurdly often.

The disconnect between Yale (and, for that matter, Ivy League) students and the general industries have already cost us dearly: Just think about how many of our juniors are still looking for summer jobs and internships now. But more importantly, it is doomed to come back and haunt us as a nation in the long run. Finance and consulting are important, but as the global financial meltdown has demonstrated, the “virtual” wealth created without a solid real economy backing it up can easily evaporate.

And with the lesson of the screwed banking-dependent United Kingdom in the backs of our heads, we should realize that general manufacturing and service industries should continue to be the backbone of our economy. In order to make America stay competitive in the future, Ivy League graduates, arguably the best among their peers, should lead not only Congress or the State Department, but corporate America as well.

And don’t forget: Such a shift will also benefit Yale and the rest of the Ancient Eight. Stanford’s great relationship with the industries made its endowment, established less than 150 years ago, soar to $17 billion by 2008, surpassing old elites like Princeton and Columbia. (Unsurprisingly, the school’s endowment has fallen about 20 percent since then, as have those of most of the Ivy League schools.) The strong representation of Ivy Leaguers in banking and consulting seems to have generated less impressive returns for their alma maters. Ironic? I think not.

Robert Li is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.

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