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The financial services firm that absolutely insists on an MBA from a top business school

Career options for MBAs in the financial sector are becoming increasingly limited as investment banks pull back from their on-campus associate recruitment programmes. However, there’s one company on the buy-side that continues to hire MBAs for a variety of roles – Pimco.

Pimco is the one asset management name that consistently crops up in the employment reports of top business schools across the world. The $1.97 trillion asset manager recruits from Ivy League and other top business schools for jobs that you wouldn’t expect to require an MBA – everything from sales and marketing to portfolio-management positions.

“Pimco much prefers hiring MBA graduates from the best business schools in the world”, says Karin Schambach from Indigo Headhunters, which focuses on asset management. “It is their aspiration to only hire the smartest candidates and it shows that they can afford to pay for that talent.” Pimco maintains a very “strategic” approach to recruitment, she says.

Another headhunter, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirms this policy, saying that Pimco even insists that sales staff needs to have an MBA. Trying to find an MBA from an Ivy League school who is willing to work in asset-management sales in smaller European financial centres like Frankfurt or Paris is a big ask, he says.

Pimco admits its preference for hiring MBAs. “In our experience, an MBA provides a solid foundation of skills which, combined with several years of work experience, helps talented individuals adapt and build a career in a variety of jobs within asset management, such as portfolio and product management, client-focused roles and research”, says Kimberley Stafford, an executive vice president and Pimco’s global head of human resources. MBAs are an important part of Pimco’s “academic environment”, she adds.

Pimco has been undergoing some significant management changes over the past few months, following the exit of co-CIO Mohamed El-Erian in March. Its total return bond fund, run by its founder Bill Gross, has experienced outflows of $830m in July; the 15th consecutive month of outflows. It’s been hiring, however, predominantly as it diversifies away from its traditional strength in fixed income and builds out an equities team that could be 15-strong by the end of this year.

Of the first batch of recruits for the equities team, only Aylon Ben-Schlomo, who joined as an equity analyst, has an MBA (from UCLA Anderson School of Management). Iain McNaught does not possess an MBA, but did go to Eton College; Simon Peters, who will work in sales, has a degree from Exeter University (but no MBA); while Sean Heymann, a portfolio manager, went to the University of Miami.

However, a glance at Pimco’s careers website proves that the company’s preference for hiring in MBAs, even for more obscure roles. It’s recruiting for a senior sales and relations manager for Latin America. “An MBA degree from an accredited, leading business school or university, or other equivalent Advanced Degree as it relates to the position is preferred,” it says.

It’s an expensive preference. According to the employment report of Columbia Business School, the base salary of its graduate MBA hires in investment management varies between $75k and $175k and the median is $125k. Bonuses also come in at up to $200k. At Wharton, the median salary for asset management was $120k and at Chicago Booth base salaries come in at $100k with a median bonus of $40k.

Pimco targeted MBA graduates in 2013: seven from Chicago Booth, five from Columbia and three from the London Business School – the most active asset management recruiter on campus. Pimco employs 2,454 people globally.

Stafford says that hiring MBAs is not necessarily about what they can do in the job when they join, but what they can do in the future. Today’s MBAs are “tomorrow’s leaders” at Pimco, she says, citing the current senior management that came through the firm’s MBA recruitment programme: its president Jay Jacobs, Sabrina Callin, head of the firm’s StocksPLUS products, and Eric Mogelof, who was recently named head of Pimco Asia.

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