Networking is big business

Overseas Education | Lisa Kao 27 Nov 2018

Learning about business can't be done by simply sitting in the classroom and listening to lectures. Solely acquiring academic knowledge on business may not be enough to start a career.

The London Business School, a graduate business institution, believes that networking is equally important as gaining knowledge from lectures as it enables students to acquire experiences that bolster them academically and interpersonally.

"Alumni have told me that the LBS exceeded their expectations and opened their eyes," said LBS dean Francois Ortalo-Magne.

The school provides wide diversity in terms of nationalities of students, their background and experiences. "About 90 percent of students, aged from 20 to 60, come from 109 countries, and they have diverse backgrounds including finance, philosophy, medical and military," said Ortalo-Magne.

"There might be three Peruvians in one classroom. But one worked in Peru his entire life, another worked in Germany and the third one worked in Sweden for a long time," he said, adding that the number of countries where students originate does not completely reflect their wide diversity.

Students are encouraged to converse and interact with fellow students in classes. Ortalo-Magne believes that diversity is key to global success as the world of business moves closer and boundaries are eliminated. "Students learn how to live and grow amid global diversity. This experience gives them confidence to network around the world."

Linkages are forged not only within the campus as they also extend into the world of business. "For instance, I once met Savio Kwan, the past president of Alibaba. He helps start-up businesses of the alumni grow. I am proud to see a successful alumnus reach out and help young alumni to become successful too," said Ortalo-Magne.

Having alumni from across the world keeps the dean busy nearly all year round, attending alumni gatherings in different parts of the world. "There are about 90 alumni celebrations in Zurich, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai and everywhere," he said.

Attendees may be locals who reside in their own city, but they may also include foreigners living in the city. Ortalo-Magne encourages alumni to use the occasions to network with people who they have not known before and hope that business plans are drawn up after the gatherings. "They know there are many great people in the school and they value opportunities to get connected with each other."

The annual gatherings demonstrate the strong bond among LBS alumni and their care for the school more than anyone does.

Annual gatherings always mean question-and-answer sessions for Ortalo-Magne, who has been serving as dean for just a year.

"Since I am the person who selects students who will be named outstanding alumni, they exert pressure on me. During the events, they ask me all sort of questions until they get tired," he said.

The participation of alumni is not only confined to asking questions. They also also conduct interviews and help select new students.

"The the first stage of interview is conducted by school staff. But in the second stage, each student is assigned to an alumnus. The alumni are trained well and they know what we are looking for," he said.

He added that the alumni also help prospective students get prepared before joining the LBS family.

Although networking is emphasized in school, academic studies are not neglected. "Professors in the school may also be serving as consultants in marketing and in other roles in different companies," said Ortalo-Magne.

He cited professors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton, authors of a best-selling book in Japan, entitled The 100-year Life. "The book helps people think what living longer means to each individual and it offers analyses and solutions on what to do with finance, education, career and relationships in order to succeed in a 100-year life. Among faculty members, they are most sought after."

Research studies on gender, big data and entrepreneurship are being undertaken in the school.

"There is often talk nowadays about people being led by machines. One of our research studies is looking into how to lead machines and make use of explosive data in a big-data environment," he said.

Experiential learning plays a key role in the business school. Students are given varied assignments in different parts of the world, including those related to financial technology in New York or Hong Kong and in consulting work in small enterprises in South Africa.

Student organizations also engage in projects that help enhance their learning experience.

"Last year, Bank of England used one of our student conferences to make a public statement and The Economist covered the event," he said.

The school is especially proud of the diversity of its alumni.

Prominent alumni of the school include Tony Wheeler of the Lonely Planet and Jim Ratcliffe, who invested in the petrochemical industry and is now regarded as Britain's wealthiest man.

Ortalo-Magne said the LBS is always keen to find those who are curious and ambitious, and who are open and willing to learn, just like its alumni.

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