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Business students shun Wall Street for Main Street

By Barbara BradleyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 1988

Charlottesville, Va.

LAST year, Donovan Perkins, a business-school student, made the rounds of cocktail parties hosted by Wall Street companies. He liked what he heard: ``It seemed like a go-go industry,'' he says. For Mr. Perkins and thousands of other business-school students, Wall Street is more gone-gone than go-go. ``After the layoffs, I thought, `Well there goes that industry,''' says Perkins, a second-year student at the University of Virginia's Darden graduate business school.

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For several years Wall Street seemed a corporate black hole that sucked in the best and the brightest from places like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. Despite the stock market's 508-point plunge last Oct. 19 and subsequent layoffs, investment companies say they want to remain a presence on campus. But for the first time they are having to compete for talent.

Recruiters who used to pick and choose among candidates for interviews, not to mention job offers, are going begging. Meanwhile, mainstream corporate America - the Fords and Eli Lillys and Mead Papers of the world - are seeing a new tide of interest from MBAs, which, economists say, that bodes well for United States competitiveness down the road.

Last year's insider-trading scandals involving big players like Ivan Boesky curbed a few appetites for Wall Street jobs. But the stock market plunge and subsequent layoffs - 14,000 in the New York City financial district alone - have created an ``active disinterest'' in investment banking, says Darden's dean, John Rosenbaum.

That has led to an overhaul in student thinking about Wall Street players. ``There's a sense of: `These guys cooperate with the takeover artists to destroy America,''' Mr. Rosenbaum says. ```These guys, in a self-serving way, [take part in] the Wall Street-Boesky greed.'''

And if there were any doubt left about whether Wall Street was a good place to work, he adds, ``The first time the market starts to turn down, it's `Clean your desk out; you're gone.'''

While job opportunities have narrowed, the October plunge has been healthy for students, says Mark-Tami Hotta, a Stanford Business School student. It has forced them to reassess their life goals.

``There were a lot of people in the business who didn't belong there,'' says Mr. Hotta, who worked at First Boston last summer but is not returning to Wall Street. ``They were there for the wrong reasons: money, fame, glamour, not because they wanted to be bankers.''

For many students, Wall Street still has its allures: the intellectual rigor of the work; the impact that the young employees have on corporate clients; and, incidentally, the $50,000-plus salary in the first year, not including bonuses, which often double one's total pay.

Michael Smart at the Wharton School is one of the loyalists. Last summer he worked at the investment firm Dillon, Read & Co. and plans to return to Wall Street after graduation. ``The people who sincerely want to do investment banking aren't letting [the stock market plunge and layoffs] divert them from that goal,'' he says. ``The market fluctuates, and you have to take the bad with the good.''

Pick of the graduate crop

For its part, Wall Street has a history of taking the good, generally graduates from the top of the class. Last year, it skimmed off 30 percent of Harvard grads, 25 percent of Wharton grads, and 28 percent of Columbia's business school grads.

This year, Wharton and Columbia expect Wall Street to get as few as 15 percent. Harvard won't make predictions, but it's reported that interviews by investment banks have dropped by half.

Consider the case of Goldman, Sachs & Co., one of the nation's premier investment banks. When executives made their presentation at the University of Chicago business school, about 500 students attended. That was before Oct. 19.

``A month later, we had empty slots on the interview schedules,'' says Rachel Adler, who heads recruiting in the Chicago office. That was a new experience for Goldman Sachs, whose interviews have been a prized possession among MBAs.

By contrast, Boise Cascade, a paper company based in Idaho, is pleasantly stunned by its newfound popularity. In the past, company recruiters always had time to kill when they visited Harvard Business School, since students didn't fill the interview schedules.