Keeping In Touch

Corporate alumni networks are an increasingly valuable resource for employees and employers alike.

When Dick Bruder founded the Cincinnati Consulting Consortium Ltd. in 1999 after working in finance at Procter & Gamble for 35 years, his earliest marketing efforts targeted his fellow P&G alumni. One of them, Robert S. Morrison, was the chairman, president, and CEO of Quaker Oats Co. at the time (he is now chairman and CEO at 3M). Morrison hired Bruder’s firm to help Quaker with an information-technology project. The assignment lasted several years, bringing an important revenue stream to Bruder’s new company.

Since then, Bruder’s consultancy, which is stocked with other P&G alums, has thrived through similar connections with his former colleagues. “One of my main marketing thrusts is contacting former P&G people, because they have worked with most or all of the people in my group,” says Bruder. “They know what they’re getting.”

Such connections are a big reason why, two years after he started his consultancy, Bruder helped found the P&G Alumni Network. And like Bruder, an increasing number of executives are realizing that networking with former colleagues can lead to opportunities ranging from job offers to business prospects.

Employers themselves are beginning to see value in keeping in touch, too. “Companies used to say, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,’” says Kathi Jones, executive director of the Microsoft Alumni Network (MSA). “Nowadays, a company that does that is really missing out.”

Making It Official

While P&G alums had been meeting informally to socialize for years, it was an appearance by company CEO A.G. Lafley at one of the group’s gatherings in Chicago in 2000 that inspired Bruder and five longtime colleagues to broaden and strengthen the network. “When A.G. appeared, it generated a lot of enthusiasm,” says Bruder. “Several of us thought there might be an opportunity to expand the P&G alumni group into a multifunctional, global group, and that there could be some commercial benefits.” The network now has more than 10,000 members worldwide.

Tony Audino launched MSA with a similar motivation. Audino, who held finance and marketing positions at Microsoft from 1987 until he left in 1994, funded the start-up of the network in 1995, “partly for altruistic reasons and partly for capitalistic reasons,” he says. He admired the energy of his Microsoft colleagues and guessed that, if directed toward a charity, the group could do a lot of good. But he was also starting up a new venture firm, Voyager Capital, and was looking for good ideas to fund. “The people I worked with at Microsoft were some of the brightest, most self-directed, hardest-working people I’d ever met,” he says. “I thought I should keep in touch with them, because I thought they would start new businesses.” Voyager has since backed several companies run by Microsoft alums.

Both P&G’s and Microsoft’s alumni associations are hybrids of a sort: they are independent, but they grow and flourish with the blessing of those companies. Other organizations, like consulting firm McKinsey & Co. (regarded as setting the gold standard in alumni networking) and accounting firm Ernst & Young, run their alumni networks in-house. Professional-services firms have been quicker than most to recognize the importance of keeping in touch with alums, in part because the businesses are so driven by relationships, speculates Helen Walsh, E&Y’s director of alumni relations for the Americas.

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