Managing a Business School- Alumni

Alumni Relations

These could be the most critical of the relations an institution may have. I am not kidding (not being a kid any more), but dead serious. The brand of their alma mater is carried by each alumnus/alumna for their career and the rest of their life after! Therefore, the institution or its office-bearers need to have a plan of action on roping in the natural goodwill that alumni feel for their alma mater. All great institutions in the world have active alumni support in terms of words and deeds. In India too, some of the better institutions, public and private, have a wonderful alumni network.

What Can be Done
In the pre-internet and mobile phone days, getting in touch and keeping in touch was difficult. Now, it is not. There must be a full-time body or committee headed by a faculty member of the institution to take care of alumni affairs- or relations, if you prefer that word to ‘affairs’.
There are several things one can do to make the alumni a vibrant and connected force. But you must remember to think of it as a human relations exercise, first and foremost, and not as a financial extraction exercise.

Chapter Meets
Regular opportunities that come every year, include a social gathering or chapter meet, attended by the institution head or faculty members, or both. This connects the alumni back like nothing else, except a visit by him/her to the campus. Since that is difficult, you must reach out. Maybe the costs of the chapter meets could be shared between the institute and the alums, but that is an accounting matter. The meets must happen regularly. If budgets are small, this can be initially a low-cost venue, and expanded into a more high-profile one after funding is sorted out. Sponsorship of these by alumni companies is an option.
We were able to attract 500 alums to attend chapter meets at IMT Nagpur (which I headed then), and about 650 of them at IMT Ghaziabad (which I was associated with later), in a year. The interactions were lively, and organised entirely by current students who had a genuine interest in linking up with their seniors from the institute. The alumni felt good, and came up with their ideas on improving their institution further in several directions.

Awards for Alumni
Distinguished alumni awards are another way to recognise the contributions made by alums to their organisation, to the profession, or to causes. There could be one at the convocation each year, and some at chapter meets too.

Admissions Interviews
Most Indian B schools have personal interviews for admission into the institution. You could invite select alums to contribute as a panel member to select future students. This is a sure way to improve ties with alumni, while increasing their feeling of ownership in their alma mater. We have successfully tried this in the IMT system, and at IIM Indore.

Guest Lectures
Most alumni would have experiences to share after a few years of work experience. What better way to get this into your classrooms than to invite them for a guest lecture? They would be very pleased to take a day off sometimes, and come to their institution for one. They also get to meet potential recruits if their company is in hiring mode. They may end up mentoring some youngsters regarding what career paths they should or should not take. A formal mentoring program can also be thought of, and implemented apart from this.

Seminars on a Theme
Themed industry seminars are something we successfully did at PESIT Bangalore. In one academic year, four such seminars were held on four different themes in HR, Finance, Operations and Marketing. These are eminently doable in cities, and also in other locations, for a modest budget. Many industry bigwigs including alumni can be the speakers. It forces students to think about trends in functional areas of management, and organise an event in their interest area too.

To alumni of any program, mementoes of the institute are very dear. US universities do a great job of merchandising mugs, t-shirts and a range of alma mater-branded stuff. We must learn to do this better.

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