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by Nikki Scott | March 10, 2009


It's true what they say - some of the best things you take away from business school are relationships. For social and business reasons, your classmates, alumni and professors can be an invaluable resource throughout life. The important thing is to nurture those relationships - which is why Columbia Business School's Young Alumni Council ("YAC") is so important to the school, alumni and student body.

There are numerous alumni organizations at Columbia Business School, but the YAC is unique: founded just one year ago by an ambitious group of recent alumni, professors and administrators, the group is devoted to maintaining a dialogue between Columbia Business School and recent graduates.

Bita Javadizadeh ('99), the chairperson and a founding member of the organization, explained how the YAC got started. "The year I graduated," says Bita, "our Class Gift Campaign raised just under half a million dollars," the largest gift ever donated to any business school from a single class upon graduation. "It was a great time," she continued, "we were in a great economy, we were receiving an unrivaled education, and the energy level at CBS was at an all-time high."

Knowing that people tend to fall out of the loop after graduation, a group of alumni got together with professors and administrators, "looking for a way to harness that enthusiasm," said Javadizadeh, "and keep graduates actively involved with CBS." Thus was born the Young Alumni Council. In addition to organizing an annual formal ball, the YAC this year founded a panel series on campus to address issues of high priority to the student body. The first two panels were a resounding success: the first addressed "non-traditional" career paths, and the second provided alumni's varied views on the "business school experience." The YAC intends to organize several events annually to supplement an already-robust score of career-oriented events held at the school.

The Non-Traditional Path

About 250 students assembled in a Columbia Business School lecture hall on January 24th to hear a panel of CBS alumni from the classes of 1996-2000 discuss "non-traditional" MBA career paths. (For MBAs, that means everything but consulting and investment banking.) "Fifty to Fifty-five percent of our graduates entered the financial industry last year," remarked Vice Dean Safwan Masri, who was moderating the event, "and twenty-two percent went into consulting. A growing portion of the student body has been pursuing the 'nontraditional' path."

The recent graduates on the panel work in venture capital and private equity, money management, entertainment, corporate development, and Internet/New Media businesses. ~ Work your contacts

"Talk to a lot of different people," insisted Jennifer Carragher ('98), a Corporate Development Officer at Lab Morgan, J.P. Morgan Chase's e-finance unit. "An unlikely connection at JP Morgan helped me get my present job at Lab Morgan. You never know which relationships will pan out." Anneke Rifkin ('00), also emphasized the importance of networking, especially in the entertainment business. "It's a relationship driven industry," she explained. "People want to feel like you're 'one of them.'"

How do you get to know 'them'?" "Use alumni contacts, go to industry conferences," she suggested, "and get an internship - either during the semester or during the summer. You might also try getting in through consulting." Rifkin didn't have a job when she graduated last May, but she continued researching her options, identified the companies she wanted to work for and used her network to land a job soon thereafter. "I had a business school contact who knew someone at a company called kpe, they put me in touch, and I got an interview." Now she's the New Business Development Director at that firm, which provides digital solutions and broadband production services to the media and entertainment industry.

Get an internship

Few full-time business school students consider internships or part time jobs during the semester, but all of the panelists encourage them - whether they're paid or unpaid. Panelist Catherine Jacodine ('99) worked in the fashion industry before enrolling at Columbia, but had an interest in the Internet. During the school year, "I found out about a company called through a friend of a friend in VC. I worked informally with [the company] for free, helping the founder set up financial plans/projections, analyze sales data, etc."

After graduating, Jacodine joined dEliA*s Corporation, a leading teen direct marketer, and has since been promoted to General Manager at, the largest teen community and content site on the Web. "The web division of dEliA*s was relatively new at the time," she noted. The internship definitely helped her get the job, "because I was familiar with e-commerce." Working at also made her realize that she "rather enjoyed working in a more unstructured, entrepreneurial environment."

Panelist and event coordinator Adam Smith ('98) also took a part-time internship during school after finding a listing in CBS' career resource center. After working 10, then 20, then 30 hours a week during his second semester at Matrix Global Investments - an operating company of a reputable New York buyout firm, Castle Harlan - Adam was offered a full-time position with the company as a junior partner. There was a catch however: he had to start full time at the beginning of his fourth semester. Adam saw it as an opportunity he could not pass up, and finished his last five classes at night over the course of the next year.

For the entrepreneurial types

Jeremy Kagan ('98) addressed the entrepreneurial types in the room. While studying at Columbia, Kagan launched Internet media company Volatile Media Inc., also known as When things started to take off at Volatile, he went to school part-time so that he could devote more time to the business. Kagan's advice: "If you have a business plan, write it or present it for class. You'll be forced onto a schedule and get valuable criticism from people before you start talking to investors.

After three years as CEO of Volatile Media, Kagan was preparing for acquisition when his acquirer lost its funding. As a result, he's had to shut down the firm, and is doing consulting work while he considers his next step. He explains it all without an inkling of regret.

As for career life after CEO-dom, "I don't know exactly where I'll end up just yet," he says. I would probably do well in an operating role, or with a consulting firm."

~ If you like the job search process...

Interested in working at a hedge fund? Kelly Hearn, a principal at Ziff Brothers Investments in London, spent a year in JP Morgan's investment management group before joining Ziff. When she decided to leave J.P. Morgan, she realized how helpful her Columbia network was. "I contacted some friends and teachers, and within a day I had interviews set up." This is no small feat, considering how hard it is to get a job with a fund. "Hedge funds are very press-averse," she explains, "you have to do your homework just to find firms to apply to." But "if you enjoy the process of looking for a job at a hedge fund," Hearn remarks, "you'll like doing the job."

Hearn recommends networking through business school contacts - "friends, professors, advisors and alums" - but also suggests a slightly more radical tactic. "Scan business journals and call people who are quoted in the articles." Hedge fund hopefuls should also "constantly scan business journals and the local press for hedge fund news." You'll then be prepared to break the ice when you contact fund managers. She does remind job seekers to "be creative, though. These people read the same publications you do. They want to hear something new."

The "sexy" job of the year?

A random sampling of students at the cocktail hour following the panel discussion confirmed a rumor that's been going around for months - Private Equity has officially deposed Venture Capital as the "sexiest job of the year." When I asked panel organizer and principal investor Adam Smith what all the fuss was about, he explained: "You work in a smaller, intense, entrepreneurial environment, usually with very smart, passionate people. Private equity combines the key elements of high finance - capital management, financial valuation, mergers and acquisitions, and execution - with critical strategic and operating exposure. Compared to much of VC, private equity provides a greater opportunity to get your hands dirty on the operating side working with company management and, today, given the markets, it offers a compelling risk / reward career path. Ultimately, a successful private equity professional can become master of his or her own universe." Although rewarding in many ways, private equity is a long-term track: "They will pay less than banking on a cash basis, but there can be significant reward down the road, both intellectually and financially."

Right, but why PE over VC? "Private equity firms have the ability to find and acquire sound companies, and realize on these investments, despite choppy equity market conditions. This is primarily due to the fact that private equity involves 'later-stage' investments (e.g., leveraged buyouts) relative to venture capital, and the market's appetite for their investments are less dependent on doing an IPO." That is, private equity is less vulnerable to the 'window' provided by the capital markets to provide profitable exits. "There appears to be a growing number of venture capital firms which are having a tough time finding and doing attractive deals, and sleeping well at night." In short, considering the state of the markets, PE is just less risky right now (but no less difficult to land a job).

Smith, a Senior Associate at Caxton-Iseman Capital, and Chris Lawrence, SVP of Operations at Venture Capital firm VenturiFX, had some advice for those looking to break into both areas. Like Rifkin, Lawrence strongly recommends attending industry events and networking hard. If you're in or near New York, consider the New York Business Forums ( The New York Venture Group, New York Capital Roundtable and the New York Infotech Forum each hold monthly breakfast meetings with industry leaders speaking on current topics. Besides the obvious value of attending these forums, Lawrence points out that "you get to take home a directory of all the attendees."

"If you want to contact someone and request an interview," Smith advises, "send a short, cogent email with a focused message," and attach your resume. If the person does not respond within a few days, Lawrence suggests that you follow up with a phone call.

At the cocktail hour following the panel, students and alumni milled about, talking business and exchanging cards. (Get personal business cards made up if you don't have them, or carry a PDA so you can beam your information.) There's no doubt that this new tradition will last. Over wine and cheese, second-year student Roberta Griff discussed the significance of the business school network: "After two years, you can point out the classmates you'll be tripping over in the future. In fact, I can think of two people here I could definitely start a business with."

For more career advice, check out the CBS Young Alumni Council's Tips for the Non-Traditional Job Search.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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