A Network To Call Your Own

The value of B-school ties lasts a lifetime

Sherri C. Oberg knows the value of school ties. When she graduated from Dartmouth College's Amos Tuck School of Business in 1986, she landed her first job in venture capital from a Dartmouth alum. She moved to her next position when her resume found its way into the hands of a Tuck grad. And when she launched Acusphere Inc., a Cambridge (Mass.) biotech company, two of her major investors were Dartmouth alums.

The old-boy network it isn't--but this web of connections can often be far more inclusive and more powerful. Indeed, with job security little more than a distant memory, an increasing number of MBAs are looking to their alma maters as a cushion against the bumps of a less stable corporate world. The logic is simple: MBAs from the best schools should graduate not only with a degree and a job but also with the contacts that will help them climb the corporate ladder throughout their lifetimes. Those networks, carefully maintained by schools, can help alums link up with a new job or cinch a business deal.

Many of the best schools are responding by actively placing long-departed alums in new jobs, counseling them on career options, and making it easier for them to tap fellow alums for help. They're also devoting greater resources to alumni affairs, creating private Internet sites where alums can track down others by geography, industry, and company.

Which schools boast the most loyal and committed networks of MBAs? While there's no sure way to measure the true value of a school's network, there are numbers that provide a glimpse of the affection attached to the university name stamped on a diploma. Most observers believe that the single most important measure is the percentage of alums who annually reach into their pockets and vote with their wallets (table).

Consider Oberg's alma mater. Some 63% of Tuck grads give money to the school each year--the highest level of support for any graduate business school in the world. That's more than twice the percentage of contributing Harvard B-school grads and six times the rate at the University of California at Berkeley. Harvard, with nearly 35,400 living alums, beats all the schools when it comes to size. That's why it boasts 110 alumni clubs, more than twice as many as Stanford University has.

Many rivals are now playing catch-up. Chicago is investing $1 million a year in alumni services to launch more clubs, do resume referrals and job counseling, and create directories for alums in specific regions of the world or in specific industries. Chicago boasts 52 alumni clubs, up from just 15 four years ago, including some on the Internet. Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg school publishes a twice-monthly newsletter averaging 150 job listings. If you're an unemployed alum, you can even get daily updates via computer. Last year, a former IBM executive hired by the school advised 1,600 Kellogg alums on job search techniques and interviewing skills. He also taught an additional 700 graduates in 27 career workshops.

But when it comes to loyalty, few B-schools can top Tuck. In part, it's a function of the school's close-knit culture and the isolation of the campus in Hanover, N.H. "Tuck people feel a special kinship to their brethren and will go out of their way to help each other," says Jonathan L. Cohen, a 1961 graduate and a general partner at Goldman, Sachs & Co. "It's an extraordinarily effective network."

The school works hard to nurture commitment. When an alum has a child, the school quickly sends the parents a tiny Tuck T-shirt. Alumni director Andy Steele writes personal notes of congratulations to alums whose promotions are reported in The Wall Street Journal. Some 1,000 alums help interview applicants every year, and Dean Paul Danos is trying to use technology to bring them even closer. Some 150 alums engaged in class discussion groups with current MBA students via the Internet last year.

Danos hopes these moves will further strengthen already tight bonds. Says Oberg: "When I was in venture capital, I got 300 resumes a year from people looking for informational meetings," she says. "I wouldn't even look at one unless it was from a Tuck student." That's some network.

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