The Rollodeck Degree

Rollodeck Degree

It is often said that the most valuable benefit of a business school education is not what is learned in the classroom, or the ability to work all night fuelled only caffeine, but an address book. Pick the right school and a few years down the line you might find yourself connected to some of the most powerful and influential people, not just in the world of business, but also the world of government and politics.

Alumni of HEC Paris, for example, account for over 15% of French board members in the CAC40, the top 40 companies in France. They head up organisations such as Axa, BNP Paribas, EDF and L’Oréal. And now an HEC graduate, François Hollande, even runs the country itself. Monsieur Hollande will doubtless be drawing on the expertise of his former classmates as he faces up to the ongoing problems of the euro zone, and they will of course be keen to volunteer their advice.

But not everyone views their network with such enthusiasm. Many business school graduates who have built and sold companies tell wearily of how the phone started ringing as soon as the ink was dry on a deal. If wasn’t a former fellow student looking for investment in the next big thing, it was the school itself. Harvard Business School “has a very slick machine when it comes to raising funds from alumni,” says Alain de Mendonca, an alumnus. He found fortune when he sold the online travel business he started during his MBA to a consortium of European airlines. “The person who makes the first approach always comes from your original class. I guess the thinking is that you are less likely to say no to someone you actually went through the MBA with.”

The alumni network can be immensely useful—for opening doors, making introductions, trading knowledge and even for generating investment. But are many MBAs who don’t know how to use it properly. So what are the key points when it comes to using the address book effectively?

Roslyn Layton is a US-based management consultant who took the OneMBA programme—which rotates students around five schools from different regions—to help her expand her internationall client base. Although based in California, since graduating she has worked for companies in Europe, Latin America, India and Japan. “The first myth is that networking is about helping yourself,” she says. “It is not. The most effective networkers think of the other person first. When you meet a prospective member of your network, ask the following questions to yourself: ‘How can I help this person? What does this person need? What in my repertoire of skills, experience, insight, and connections can help this person be successful?’ Consider these questions on both the personal and professional level. Remember, when you need a friend, it’s too late to get one.”

Especially if that friend is now a multi-millionaire or the president of France.

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