Many of us will have started taking first steps towards networking while at university, through social clubs and classroom projects. Often, these friendships endure and we find ourselves catching up with an old university mate at the odd social or business function.
Whether you are just starting out in your career, or are a veteran in your industry, networking can provide perspective and a sense of support that can benefit your personal and professional life.
We don't always think of the alumni network when the topic of 'networking' comes up, but it is alive and thriving, and has proven to be a rich source of opportunity and connection for many of our graduates.
Charles Custeau – pictured above – is a young graduate (BCom 2011) currently based in Boston, working in private equity after a successful stint at Macquarie Capital in New York City. Moving away from friends and family was a career choice—the hedge fund and private equity industry in New York is by far the largest in the world, and when he was headhunted, he took the chance. Alone in the Big Apple, Custeau quickly got in touch with other Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) alumni, now close friends of his. "We are always making an effort to get in touch and are almost a second family to each other," he tells me. Apart from the social aspect, Custeau adds, "You need to know people in the same industry that you can trust and have a relationship with so that you are exposed to a broader perspective of what is happening at other firms. I've experienced this first hand."
Other times, the relationships are coincidental. In 1988, as BCom alumna Lay Keng Tan approached graduation, she was offered a position with Arthur Andersen in her hometown of Kuala Lumpur. One of her early bosses, Chris Butler (BCom1978, LLB 1979), also an alumnus of the Faculty.
Having the common ground allowed their professional relationship to develop quickly. "Quite a few of the team had studied in Australia and I quickly established that Lay Keng had been at the University of Melbourne like me," Butler recalls. At Arthur Andersen, Tan also met another alumna, Gloria Goh (BCom Hons 1982), who introduced her to the newly formed Malaysia Alumni Association, which Tan has greatly contributed to and supported over the years. "Lay Keng really has been involved in the alumni effort from the ground floor," says Butler. And even though she now runs one of the most successful human capital practices in Southeast Asia, Tan and Butler are still in touch, and Goh has become like a sister to her.
Certainly, alumni connections assist in navigating a new city or country, establishing you quickly in a new community and propelling you to new opportunities. For Hong Kong-based Kenneth Lau (BCom 2009), networking has not only provided a social circle for him to be a part of upon returning after six years away, it has also broadened his career outlook. The native Cantonese-speaker explains, "Regular exposure to like-minded Melbourne alumni in Hong Kong helps me keep an Asia-Pacific outlook, develop important people skills and maintain my English fluency; all contributing to my success with my current employer, a global electronic brokerage company, Interactive Brokers, servicing mainly institutional clients, many of whom work out of Australia." Kenneth is now President of the Hong Kong alumni association.
Kyle Sutcliffe (BCom 2015) – pictured below– an investment banker with J.P. Morgan in New York, is one of the alumni Custeau regularly catches up with. He agrees that networking is vital to professional advancement. "It's been exactly a year to the day since my arrival in New York," Sutcliffe tells me over the phone. "Time flies! I was really looking forward to the move. The added bonus on top of the awaiting opportunities is knowing that there have been Melburnians before me who have gone on to reach the top of their field in one of the most competitive environments in the world. It creates a sense of excitement, is extremely encouraging but above all else really inspiring."
He is thankful that being part of the alumni network has made it easier for him to get help, from career guidance to life decisions such as whether to stay on in New York or return home. "Some of them, like Charlie [Custeau], are only three months ahead in developing their sense of place, while others, like Jennifer Nason [Global Chairman of Investment Banking at J.P. Morgan and also an FBE graduate – BA 1980, BCom Hons 1985], have decades of experience to share with me," Sutcliffe explains. "There is such a big emphasis on university in America, and the relationships that come out of it. Lacking this on a similar level can be tough at first. It takes time to develop new relationships—and being overseas we don't always have the relationships that others enjoy. That's why having this alumni network is so great, and I'm really grateful to be part of it. It's one of the major benefits of having studied at the University of Melbourne and something I will always be extremely grateful for."