Amazon still considering the Triangle for HQ2, but it’s already poaching its students

Monalisa Dutta, a second-year MBA student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, will be moving from Durham to Seattle after she graduates this spring.

It’s an increasingly common move for someone with her degree.

She, and many of her classmates, will be working for Amazon, the Seattle-based online shopping giant that is considering the Triangle as the site for its second headquarters.

“A lot of my classmates are going up (to Seattle),” said Dutta, who interned at Amazon last summer. “It's exciting because it will be like I am taking my Duke family with me.”

Amazon is now a major recruiter of students in the Triangle at a time when it is considering the area for its second headquarters. In the past year, it became the No. 1 recruiter at Fuqua, a position that has usually been held by consultant and investment banking companies.

The company was also the No. 1 recruiter at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business.

Tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft have become more aggressive recruiters of MBA talent in recent years, in part to sustain a massive hiring binge in recent years.

The company’s headcount has grown to 40,000 employees from only 5,000 in 2010, according to The Seattle Times, with 4,000 job listings posted for its headquarters in January. Its second headquarters is expected to eventually have 50,000 employees.

“Tech has become a major industry force in MBA on-campus recruiting in a way that did not exist five years ago,” said Sheryle Dirks, associate dean of the career management center at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “Tech hiring has doubled in the past four years or so. This past year was the first year that Amazon was our No. 1 employer.”

In total, Amazon recruited 45 Fuqua students last year (15 as full-time and 30 as interns). The No. 2 recruiter was Deloitte, a consultancy, with 40.

Online shopping giant Amazon was also the No. 1 recruiter at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, with 24 hires at a school about half the size of Fuqua, said spokeswoman Allison Adams. The company also recruited from the school’s undergrad program, but not to the same extent, Adams added.

Not just MBAs

Amazon’s recruiting doesn’t stop at the MBA level.

At N.C. State University, Amazon is the top recruiter of talent from its computer science program.

“For the last four to five years, Amazon has consistently been the top consumer of N.C. State computer science new grad talent, averaging well over 20 new grad hires per year … mainly students with masters degrees,” said Kenneth Tate, director of corporate and alumni relations at N.C. State’s computer science department.

“This has been aided by a robust internship pipeline, in which we see upwards of 40 students heading out to Seattle every summer for internships.”

On LinkedIn, the professional social network, which offers a rough approximation of how many alumni work at certain companies, N.C. State has 519 alumni working at Amazon. That is the most of any school in the Triangle. Duke comes in next with 292 and UNC 196, according to LinkedIn.

The Brickyard on NC State University’s campus. N&O file photo

The Amazon attraction

Amazon’s rise to being a top recruiter of talent is a relatively new phenomenon – it wasn’t a major player five years ago, according to Dirks.

“If you are going to attract the current generation of students you have to give them something that has meaning and purpose, not just the opportunity to make a lot of money,” Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding told The Financial Times earlier this year.

That was true for Dutta, who worked as a product manager for the Amazon-owned movie database IMDb. A native of New Delhi, India, Dutta worked as a consultant in India and the Middle East before coming to Fuqua.

“I wanted to be part of an organization that was changing the world,” Dutta said. “I had been part of small and midsize companies before … (Amazon) works across so many verticals and industries and they keep innovating and make other rivals shake in their boots.”

Dutta said she was considering going back into consulting before she got the Amazon offer.

“Consulting and banking are great career paths, and still popular, but I think the reason students like Amazon is that you are not just working ... on things (clients) may or may not implement,” she said. “As a consultant I didn't get to see what happens (after we left), and I had no direct authority. I think the combination of working on an entire project is what is attracting business majors.”

You also don’t have to worry about getting bored in one particular area, Dutta added, because you could apply to one of Amazon’s myriad divisions, from groceries to book selling and media to health care.

“One of the reasons consulting has been so appealing is that wide exposure to different industries,” Dirks said. “Now you have a corporate entity that mirrors that.”

Dutta, 30, said Amazon also offers a lot of stability, while consultants often travel three to four days out of the week.

“I never worked on weekends (at Amazon), and there is no travel,” she said. “In consulting people are flying on Monday and going home on Thursday evenings. It’s hard to develop friends like that.”

Students shuffle between classes on the circular stairway inside the McColl Building in the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business complex on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill on Sept. 25, 2012. Amazon was the No. 1 recruiter of UNC’s MBA students last year. Chris Seward

Competitive pay

And it’s not like students have to take a pay cut to work at Amazon. The company offers salaries just as competitive as consulting and banking.

Jeff McNish, assistant dean of career development at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, told The Financial Times that the salaries in those three fields are roughly the same: between $125,000 and $140,000.

And beyond that Amazon is offering employees stock options. Plus, Dutta said, the company also offers MBA students a signing bonus of $90,000 over the first two years.


If the Triangle were to land Amazon’s HQ2, experts say one of the major reasons will be the talent that its universities attract. The Triangle is one of 20 cities still in the running for the new headquarters.

In its request for proposals, Amazon said that a highly educated labor force was one of its main requirements for choosing the eventual home of HQ2. A recent study from the think tank the Brookings Institution noted that just five HQ2 finalists are metropolitan areas where more than 45 percent of millennials graduated college. Those metro areas were Boston, Washington, D.C., New York City, Denver and Raleigh.

Tate, from N.C. State, said he thinks Amazon’s recent recruiting from the area’s universities is a reason why the area made the list of finalists.

“I have no idea how many students they hire from other disciplines and schools, but with these kinds of numbers, I understand why the Raleigh area is high on their list of potential locations for their HQ2,”he said.

Dutta is rooting for the Triangle to land HQ2. She said she really loved her two years in Durham.

“I don’t know anything,” she said about the HQ2 future site, adding, the Triangle “fits all of the criteria.”

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes