The UK’s Oldest Alumni Association Helps MBAs Build Global Networks

Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University boasts the oldest alumni association in the UK, The Watt Club, established in 1854—and students are reaping the rewards

MBA programs are renowned not just for their academic offering but for a wealth of opportunities for networking. Being part of a class of businesspeople from around the world and working together is bound to create strong connections that will hold long after graduation.

But, if your school has strong relationships with its alumni, your network can extend across disciplines and geographical locations to people you’ve never even met.

This is the case at Edinburgh Business School (EBS) at Heriot-Watt University, as students who choose business programs offered by the school benefit from lifelong membership with the school’s alumni association, the Watt Club.

The Watt Club was established in 1854 following the unveiling of a statue of James Watt outside of the University. Since that day, it has grown from a small dinner party in 1855 to be a club of 123,000 graduates of Heriot-Watt University, and its growth shows no signs of slowing down.

Membership of the Watt Club is free, automatic and lifelong for graduates of the University, and of the 123,000 current members, over 23,000 are the Business School’s grads.

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“That group especially is very international,” says Adam Gillies, the Alumni Engagement Officer at EBS. “The people that I work with day to day are based across 160 countries around the world, and we have branches of the Watt Club in several key regions.

“Some examples would be London and South Africa, and the wider University has Watt Club branches in Dubai and Malaysia where we have our two international campuses.”

Through these branches, the Alumni Engagement Office at Edinburgh Business School puts together a yearly roster of events that occur all around the world, and not just in the main business hubs.

“The events programme gives our graduates an opportunity to come together, to meet one another, to build their own personal and professional relationships, and it gives them a chance to also meet people in their region who they may not have met otherwise,” says Adam.

Particularly for online learners, this opportunity for networking is invaluable and helps to foster links with other professionals in the regions and sectors that are most relevant to them.

Indeed, Adam says that it is the Business School alumni in the Watt Club who really know how to make the most out of the opportunities that the alumni network offers. “Our graduates are at ages and stages in their career, where they know the value of a network,” he says. “They understand the value of having a network and the power of it.

“They might have the idea of developing a business through networking at an event, or just making new relationships that might come to something in the future.”

Events are one thing, but for graduates who are too busy in their careers to travel, Edinburgh Business School provides an alternative.

Just over a year ago, the University launched their online alumni platform called Watt Club Connect. Working in a similar way to the big social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, Watt Club Connect has the benefit of being exclusively for both Heriot-Watt University and EBS grads, creating a community feeling that it is difficult to find on other networking platforms.

“All EBS students have access to the platform,” Adam says, “and they instantly have access to about 6,500 graduates on there at the moment—and it’s growing every month.”

The portal is a site of support both from the School and from fellow students and graduates, offering a direct line to thousands of other experienced students and professionals who are willing to help with any problem.

“As a graduate, you might be willing to open doors at your workplace, to make introductions to people in your own professional network, to answer industry specific questions for someone,” Adam suggests. “You might help with things like offering advice or internships at your own place of work, or reviewing a CV or job application.

“The platform itself is just a nice place to facilitate a lot of the relationships that we’re trying to foster.”

As business and networking become ever more globalized, it’s no wonder that MBA graduates at Edinburgh Business School are seizing this opportunity with both hands.

“I think especially with the Business School being a postgraduate school, people are a bit more savvy,” Adam says.

“They understand that you can know a lot and you can learn a lot, but to get on in life it’s also about who you know, and how you can leverage your own network, and we can really assist with that through our alumni program.”