Where Have All the MBAs Gone?

One went to bartending school and worked as a dominatrix. Another took up white-water kayaking. A third is trying to become a voiceover actor.

They aren't who you might think. They are the fallen MBAs who landed hotshot corporate and tech jobs after school, only to lose them or leave them when the economy went bust.

"It's been the toughest job market since I've been teaching at NYU," said Rich Hendler, an associate professor at Stern School of Business since 1993. "There are a lot of MBAs who are working as independent contractors or on individual assignments who don't really have full-time employment."

For many MBAs who toppled on their climb up the corporate ladder, the paths they've taken since have been anything but traditional.

"It's about having a good sense of humor, no matter what the situation," said Sandi Longhurst, 28, the Arizona State MBA who became a dominatrix for nine months.

Longhurst graduated from ASU in the spring of 2001 and was set to begin her job as a business and systems analyst that July. But before she started, the company went south, laying off numerous employees and pulling offers it had handed out. Longhurst's was among them.

So she moved to New York, enrolled in bartending school and hit the pavement interviewing. When that proved fruitless, she tried something … different.

"I started joking around that I would become a stripper," said Longhurst, who now lives in Salt Lake City and works for a radio station in sales and marketing. "Instead, I became a dominatrix. I thought it would be really funny. I figured, I'll just do the trashy adult industry."

She worked at a place called the Dungeon, making $80 to $210 an hour plus tips helping people live out their fetishes and S&M fantasies – though there was no sex involved and it was more theatrics and dirty talk than anything else, she said.

"That was my post-MBA experience," she said. "It was actually a lot of fun."

Fun aside, Longhurst was disappointed that she didn't have the chance to put her degree to good use after school was over.

"It was very demoralizing," she said. "It's frustrating to spend that much time and money on something and not be able to see the fruits of your labor."

Kellogg MBA Beth Gertz, now of D.C., has also found it challenging to stay positive through unemployment.

Gertz, 34, voluntarily left her job at Boston Consulting Group – which had taken her to Southeast Asia – opting instead to move back to the U.S. and look for a management position in the non-profit world. It hasn't been a cakewalk.

"I've personally found it difficult, perhaps because I'm holding out for a dream job," she said. "I envisioned trying to take a step up, in terms of being passionate about the work I do."

But competition in her chosen field – especially in Washington – is furious, and many of the organizations she interviews with aren't familiar with her credentials.

"It would be funny if it weren't so tragic," Gertz said.

So while she continues interviewing, Gertz has pursued other interests: taking photography and white-water kayaking classes, painting a friend's house.

"How could you stand yourself unless you take advantage of all the free time to do the things you couldn't when you were working?" she said.

For MBA Ronnie Raviv, 29, of Chicago, getting laid off from his management and technology consulting company was a dream come true.

Raviv decided to seize the opportunity and do something totally new: voiceover work. After taking a seminar, doing a few jobs for his father's company and recording a demo tape, he's currently looking for an agent and trying to become a voiceover actor.

"I'm having a blast trying a whole different world of experience outside my engineering/MBA background," Raviv said. "I'd rather live the life of a starving artist than a starving consultant."

Other MBAs have stuck with business – but gone the entrepreneurial route.

Jeremy Feinstein, 32, was laid off from his Silicon Valley job as a product manager, moved to New York and developed his own human resources-related software. He's now making a good living on his own selling his product and doing compensation consulting.

"Whether I succeed or fail, at least I'm improving myself," he said. "You can only sit around and sent out resumes for so long until you go nuts."

Another unemployed MBA, who asked not to be identified, has launched his own financial advisory business with a friend after getting laid off from his investment banking job last year.

"There's stuff out there – you just have to go find it," he said. "It does involve a little bit of creativity. You do get frustrated, but you just have to pick up and move on."

Hendler predicts 2003 will be more of the same but has faith that things will turn around by 2004. He urges students not to lose hope.

"Everything comes in cycles," he said. "I think the future's bright."