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Studios no longer major in MBA

MBA alert: You are no longer the target of a massive Hollywood talent search.

Two years ago, industry pundits were calling Hollywood the Wall Street of the West, with a new crop of biz school grads taking their master of business administration degrees from the top schools and using them to get prestigious industry jobs with high salaries. With Wall Street slumping and the banking industry in the dumps, the hot-shots saw Hollywood as the newest place to make their mark.

But not this year. While January traditionally kicks off the recruiting season, few entertainment executives are planning to visit schools because industry jobs are tighter than ever.

Moreover, MBAs who are hired are finding a big salary gap between entertainment and such traditional MBA strongholds as investment banking and consulting, which offer starting salaries of $ 75,000 or more. A newly minted MBA at Disney might start at $ 50,000.

But the first challenge is to actually find a job opening. And in 1993, that hurdle is higher than ever. For example, the Big Three television networks–ABC, CBS and NBC–once formidable recruiters of MBAs, are downsizing and consequently absent on most top graduate school interview lists this season.

Paramount Communications, on the other hand, may appear on a few campuses, but has no formal recruiting effort going. “We’re certainly looking for (fewer) people than we did in previous years,” said Par spokesman Jerry Sherman.

Fox Inc. is seeking only one fresh MBA recruit for its business development group. Last year, the group didn’t even hire an MBA, but two BA’s instead, since two junior analysts equal one MBA salary.

“We’ll be visiting a couple of campuses,” says Maria Hak, Fox’s director of business development. But she says she already has a fat folder of resumes from job-hunting MBAs, in addition to those she’ll be collecting from visits to Harvard, Wharton and Stanford.

Overall, 20th Century Fox offered a job to only one MBA graduate last year, down from two or three in years past.

As for 1993, Leslie Perlstein, Fox personnel veep, said that she isn’t sure she’ll even be hiring one fresh MBA, though she plans to visit at least Harvard and Wharton to stock up on resumes.

“We’re only hiring on need and I don’t know if there will be any openings this spring,” she said. In past years, she said, Fox has hired as many as six MBAs.

Turnover falls

Perlstein attributes the decrease to lower personnel turnover at the company. “People are skittish about making a move and are still concerned about the general economy,” she said.

Sony Entertainment has ended its 3-year-old MBA training program. The program hired eight or nine MBAs per year and rotated them through various departments on the business side of the company for a two-year period.

Sony spokesman Don DeMesquita says the program was “just an experiment” but dubbed it “a success,” with more than 60% of the grads who went through the program now placed in permanent positions within the company.

“The program ran its course,” he said, adding that the company no longer creates special slots for the annual crop of new MBAs. Like Fox, the company is hiring on an “as needed” basis.

Disney appears to be the sole studio that continues to recruit MBAs in a reasonably big way, and is at least visiting Harvard and Wharton.

Traditional MBA havens at Disney, such as entertainment finance, strategic planning and consumer products, all plan to hire some new MBA talent. But there’s no concerted effort on the creative side, which also has hired MBAs in the past.

All the same, says Micheal Buckhoff, a veep in human resources, Disney’s demand for new MBAs “has dwindled over the years,” and in 1993, he estimates, a dozen–tops–in grad hires.

Moreover, the company doesn’t have a set training program for fresh recruits, he said.

“A program of rotating them through various departments is based on need. Last summer, we had a couple of people interning and we moved them into the international area and then hired a few after they graduated.”

And from the sounds of Disney staffers actually involved in the interviewing process, hiring is purely discretionary.

No set number

“We could hire from zero to three new MBAs,” said one staffer. “If we don’t find people we like, we won’t hire anyone, though that’s pretty unlikely.”

MCA/Universal plans to recruit MBAs only locally from UCLA and USC. But there’s no formal training program for recent grads.

“When we have an opening, we post it at the job boards at school, and sometimes we receive their resume books, so we have a source of MBAs at our disposal,” explained Jo Ann Kenney, manager of human resources at MCA/Universal.

Currently, the department is advertising two job openings that require both experience and an MBA. Kenney says she’s received more than 2,000 resumes.

Kenney doesn’t anticipate many new openings: “We’re hiring (fewer) people than we did a year ago. People are staying in their positions.”

Time-Warner only actively recruits MBAs for its publishing unit. Warner Bros. continues to have a one-year training program for recent grads.

HBO still plans to visit a few campuses, says Kiko Washington, HBO’s director of human resources in New York. Last year, the company hired four MBAs in marketing and its international division, but has no extensive MBA recruiting program.

“We encourage people to apply, but the way to get into HBO is really through alumni. We’ve hired a lot of Harvard, Wharton, Columbia and Northwestern MBAs in the past,” he said.

In fact, says one dispirited Harvard MBA who recently completed a six-month job hunt in the industry with little success, “I think there’s a backlash,” she said. “An MBA is no longer a calling card.”

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