The well-dressed executives had arrived in droves. One by one they approached the plush entrance hall overlooking St. James’s Park in London’s Knightsbridge, greeted with smiles, champagne and canapés.
Waiters, elegantly dressed and impeccably well mannered, were only too happy to pamper and serve their clientele for the evening.
Dozens of guests ascended the steps in the splendour of the private member’s club. The band of alumni, representing France’s most prestigious business schools, had been summoned to Belgravia's exclusive Caledonian Club.
From their grand surroundings in the heart of London, the former MBA and Master’s students were busy talking up their achievements, swapping business cards and brokering new networks. After taking their seats to dote on the evening’s keynote speaker, they were hungry for connections.
It was a cold January night earlier this year. The audience of 150 alumni had been launching their careers in the UK markets for months. The ambitious graduates from HEC Paris, ESSEC Business School and ESCP Europe had come to hear David C.M. Carter, a leading executive mentor, discuss leadership – but for 30 minutes after his speech kicked-off, the only thing on their mind was networking.
“Every one of us could take something away from tonight,” enthused Laure Fau, an HEC MBA graduate who co-organised the networking bonanza.
Jeev Sahoo had been inspired by the rare chance to connect with his HEC pals from all age groups – and the other leading French business schools over drinks.
“This makes it very fertile ground to meet entrepreneurs, investors and prospective clients,” said Jeev, who works for car rentals giant Hertz Europe in London. “HEC alumni organizing these events are an attraction for them [other alumni] to make time in their busy schedules to mingle and catch-up with campus friends. Everyone I talked to expressed interest in coming back.”
The Parisian shindig was just one of numerous alumni events in the academic calendar. HEC holds dozens each year for prospective students and alumni alike. Many more business schools across the world share the French school’s lust for networking. The champagne reception in Belgravia shows just how far schools are willing to go to keep links alive long after MBA students have graduated and launched careers overseas.
For Alison Avery, the business is of networking is booming. The senior manager of communications at the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney’s finest, was bombarded with requests from alums wanting to develop closer ties with their school.
Last year their demands were met. The school launched the AGSM Global Business Network, with the aim of facilitating alumni meetings across the globe. Australia’s highest-ranking business school has built up an impressive network of business leaders over the past 30 years which spans across some 68 different countries.
“[The] network truly brings to life the mission of the school: to create and disseminate business knowledge for the benefit of students, organisations and society,” enthused Alison.
A global alumni network is one of the biggest draws for MBA candidates. Students can spend months mapping out career paths, and the opportunity to learn and network with classmates is held in the highest regard.
“It not only has a social agenda but is a way for alumni to be exposed to new ideas and insights, and a high level of interaction with colleagues,” added Alison.
She was banking on a career in the financial services sector. When an opportunity to interview with Goldman Sachs arrived, Fay knew that her MBA network at the Tuck School of Business would help her see off the competition.
Her summer internship with the bank’s healthcare division in New York was not achieved unaided. Her contact book of MBA alumni ensured she got insider knowledge, help preparing for interviews and even mock recruiter meetings.
“It’s a small school; we know who goes to which firm and who to contact,” says Fay. “You have to do your homework to get hired, and having classmates there to support you through that stressful process was huge,” she adds.
By the time graduation rolled round, Fay was offered a full-time job as an investment banking associate. She says: “It was a really immersive experience. You get to know your classmates so well, and when you come out you know their wives names, their kids’ names. ‘Tuckies’ give you 100 percent of their attention and time.”
MBA alumni officers can hardly keep up with demand from budding applicants seeking industry connections and alumnus email addresses. A recent applicant survey by QS picked apart what MBA hopefuls hope to get out of their expensive degrees. The profile of schools’ alumni is more important than course length or even employer’s recommendation, according to QS.
Profile of alumni is considered the 8th most important consideration in the US out of 14 choices; 11th in Western Europe.
In Europe, the United States business schools’ alumni networks are held in high regard. Thousands of graduates from those schools, which hold the highest MBA rankings in the world, are propelled into promising careers across the country’s fifty states.
Sean Hamil, a director in the Department of Management at Birkbeck College in London, says: “It’s something the Americans have always done exceptionally well… The whole alumni infrastructure is just more developed. Obviously now with social media it has become easier to scale it, but we can learn from the Americans on this.”
It is little wander that two-year MBA programs, the preferred, lengthier courses in America, saw a 20% rise in the share of schools reporting volume growth last year, say QS. Part of the puzzle is that elite US schools require a larger amount of work experience for candidates to gain admissions. So, they are more likely to have greater industry experience and contacts.
Many US schools are also larger, and have more funds at their disposal. Bigger cohorts mean bigger alumni networks; a giant school like Duke Fuqua, for example, has more than 16,000 alumni internationally.
But networking is an essential component of schools’ MBA programs across the globe. “It’s important to have students in a room with [others] who are working in industry,” says Sean. “The networking among students is pretty important,” he adds.
Kim Nilsson found her business partner within her business school's network. The Cranfield School of Management MBA graduate joined forces with Jason Muller, a classmate, to launch HR firm Pivigo Recruitment.
They business recruits PhDs into more commercial industries, but now offers a five-week, intensive summer program which seeks to turn PhDs into commercial data scientists. They take about 100 people on at a time.
“We have more than 20 companies signed up as partners, including KPMG. We aim to grow this over the coming years,” says Kim, who set-up the company in February last year.
Fay Wells landed two MBA jobs after utilizing her alumni network at Tuck, based in New Hampshire. The former consultant chose the school because of its strong networking opportunities. She landed a job at ESPN, the sports broadcaster, where she spent three years, after “a Tuck connection recommended me.
“The alumni network has been pretty consistent. If there's ever a role I wanted, if there is a Tuck alumnus at the company, then he or she will definitely spend the time speaking to me about it.”
Fay adds: “I found the network to be incredible. It's full of people who actually care.”