Corporate Alumni

“The way to meet someone famous is to stay in touch with the smart and interesting people you meet, wait 15 years, and see what happens,” says Chris Yeh, entrepreneur, investor and Reid Hoffman’s co-author of The Alliance. He says, for example, I should have met George Clooney when he was a guest spot on the Facts of Life, instead of an Academy Award-winning movie star. (Dang.)

An avid professional networker, Chris was one of LinkedIn’s first 5,000 members. At the time, he was helping his alma mater, Harvard Business School, with their Tech Speaker Series. He sent an email to little-known LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, and asked him to come speak to HBS alumni about how to use this new networking tool. Reid agreed.

Chris met his other Alliance co-author, Ben Casnocha, when Ben was just 15 years old. He was an active blogger—intuitive and intellectual—and Chris noticed something special about him. Following his own advice, Chris stayed connected with Ben, waited 15 years, and now he’s a well-known author, entrepreneur and executive.

“The easiest way ever to become a New York Times best-selling author is to get approached by two New York Times best-selling authors who want to work together,” says Chris.

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha had co-authored The Start-Up of You, a book about adapting to the digital economy by investing in yourself, and were looking to further explore the corporations’ role in this paradigm. After all, a successful employee/employer alliance must have a mutually agreed upon “tour of duty” for the partnership to thrive. Since Hoffman and Casnocha were busy promoting their first New York Times best-seller, their time was limited, and they asked Chris to help out. He agreed.

Initially The Alliance wasn’t a book at all, it was a series of essays self-published on LinkedIn. As traction grew, Chris was approached by his alma mater, who wanted to publish these essays in the Harvard Business Review. The response was so phenomenal that HBS suggested the team write a book. They agreed.

And now, it’s a New York Times best-seller.

The full-circle nature of the creation of this book devoted to full-circle relationship building is not lost on Chris. To say he knows a thing or two about the importance of networking, staying connected and forming alliances is an understatement. The reason he’s so good at it? “I strongly identify with the places I’ve been and am a big believer in long-term relationships. It’s a personal thing,” he says. In other words, it’s authentic.

Chris and I agree that alumni networks, whether corporate or educational, are powerful ecosystems. In fact, corporations and universities have a lot in common when it comes to building and maintaining strong, mutually beneficial alumni networks. Take ROI, for example.

We all know that our alma maters want our money. Sure, they host networking events for us and plan reunions and publish class notes and send us a calendar every Christmas, but at the end of the day, all of this is an investment from which they expect a return.

From saving on rehiring, recruiting and training costs to acquiring new business and intelligence, the incentive for corporations is also financial.

But what’s in it for the alumni themselves?

What fascinates me most about alumni networks is that the value proposition is equally as strong for both the institution and the alumni. A well-connected alumni base maintains ties with each other, provides a trusted and exclusive career network, and provides limitless business development opportunities and helps attract boomerang employees. Every connection that you have with a fellow alum is one more person that’s going to go to bat for you in this highly-competitive world, and a 2nd degree connection to infinite and potentially life-changing contacts.

Corporations still have a lot to learn from schools and universities when it comes to alumni engagement, however. For one, don’t wait until the employees are already gone. “I’m pretty sure Harvard Business School told me I would be an alum on the day I arrived,” says Chris. He suggests that schools and corporations alike create and maintain an exclusive alumni database that is very easy to carve up, is linked to LinkedIn, and allows for self-organization.

Management consultancy firms like Bain and KPMG rule the corporate alumni roost, since they are structured with an “up or out” mentality and mobility is a given. But in today’s economy, this degree of mobility can be found in any industry. According to Yeh, 58% of Millennials will tell you that they’ll be looking for their next job within the next 12 months. Thus, every company needs a strategy to engage their employees, now and forever.

So while Chris Yeh and I may not agree on the fact that I’ve missed my chance to meet Clooney, we are definitely on the same page when he adds, “alumni networks are an amazing channel to a group of people that can add value to you.”


Laura Belyea