Inside the National Zoo’s new Amazonia Science Gallery recently, approximately 50 people crowded around a small armadillo, watching it curl into its shell and dart around the marble floor. Others mingled over a table spread with asparagus stalks, sliced cheeses and wine, marveling at the giant spinning globe that serves as the table’s centerpiece. As people arrived, they delved into conversation with other attendees, catching up on the time that had passed since their last encounter and excitedly anticipating the evening’s speech from Zoo Director John Berry.
Though this may seem an unlikely setting for networking, for alums of Harvard Business School (HBS) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, it was just another way to connect with fellow graduates away from campus.
Anthony Priest, the HBS Club of Washington, D.C.’s president and a real estate professional, said that the club tries to arrange events that both educate and interest its members. And if attendees happen to gain something more, whether a new friendship or a professional connection, so be it.
“Yeah, you get tons of networking here,” Priest said.
“Tonight’s more of a social thing,” he said. “But we have many topic-focused groups as well,” such as private equity, real estate and career transitions “that help focus the conversation a lot.”
The Zoo event was sponsored by the Wharton Club of D.C. as well as the city’s HBS club. The Wharton Club’s president, attorney Alan Schlaifer, described recent club events featuring leaders such as former Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Carly Fiorina and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“We have some of the best events,” Schlaifer said. “You make great contacts for business and personal, and you learn.” He cited recent offerings such as power networking, leadership skills-building and career transitions to illustrate the club’s diverse offerings.
Sonny Bloom, the HBS Club of D.C.’s vice president of membership and a healthcare consultant, said, “One of the greatest benefits of these events is getting out and schmoozing with people from HBS.”
Jean-Francois Orsini, Wharton’s D.C. chairman and a business-relations consultant, seconded that thought.
“Part of the value of the degree is your fellow students. They’re as important as the studies and the curriculum,” he said. “It’s best to see them where everyone is out and networking.”
Bloom said, “Personally, over the years, networking has been a plus. It’s definitely made a difference, professionally.” He cited the HBS Club’s annual healthcare conference in Cambridge as just one perk of membership, explaining that such events “offer ways to facilitate your career.”
Victor Reyes, an HBS alum who recently moved to the District, has already been to two HBS D.C. club events.
“It’s a useful way of meeting people,” he said, “and it can help professionally.” He also noted that events “allow you to connect with a group of people other than in your immediate work environment, which can be insular.”
Alums also come to events to raise awareness of their own projects — and hopefully connect with other graduates who might wish to get involved.
HBS graduate Cassandra Hanley, who is currently a full-time mother of 3-year-old twins, said HBS events “keep my brain in gear.” At the Zoo event, she was hoping to publicize Compass, a pro-bono consulting organization started by HBS graduates that now involves alumni from the business schools of Stanford and Dartmouth, as well as Wharton’s.
“We hope to be the social-enterprise aspect of the club,” Hanley said. “There were people I met at the annual HBS kickoff who then came to volunteer at the Compass kickoff.”
Fellow Compass volunteer, HBS alum and full-time mother Karen Mazze said the Zoo event was her first involvement with the HBS’s D.C. club.
“I just joined a week ago! I’m just hoping I can shake hands and meet enough people,” Mazze said, before engaging in an animated conversation with fellow alumni.
From the looks of her experience, that wouldn’t be a problem. Mazze displayed the business-school skills she’d gained at Harvard, shifting seamlessly from making small talk to exhorting her fellow alums to donate time to Compass.
After an hour-long reception, the HBS and Wharton alums settled in to listen to Berry’s speech, during which they were treated to some privileged advice.
“You all are the first to hear this,” Berry said, describing the Zoo’s deal with Chinese officials to breed “the strongest bear in the world,” using sperm from its male panda Tian Tian. “This is a very significant growth opportunity and a scientific breakthrough.”
Alumni Networking Events
•Stanford Business School Alumni Association, Washington, D.C./Baltimore Chapter, Stanford GSB Student/Alumni Reception: “The Nexus Between Business, Politics and Public Policy,” The Metropolitan Club, Washington, D.C., March 27, 6-8 p.m.
•John Hopkins University Alumni Association, Washington, D.C. Chapter: “Networking in the Biotech Sector,” panel discussion and reception, Montgomery County Center, Rockville, Md., March 29, 6-8 p.m.
•George Washington University Alumni Association Fourth Annual Women’s Leadership Conference: “Agents of Change,” GWU Mount Vernon Campus, Washington, D.C., March 30, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m.
•MIT Club of Washington, D.C./MIT Sloan School of Management Eleventh Annual Career Development Workshop: “Network, Network, Network,” Systems Planning and Analysis Headquarters, Alexandria, Va., March 29, 6:30 p.m.
•One Ivy (open to all Washington, D.C.-area Ivy League clubs) reception with Chinese Ambassador H.E. Zhou Wenzhoung, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 10, 6:30-9 p.m.
•Cornell Club of Washington, D.C./Cornell Entrepreneur Network Reception with Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, The Madison Hotel, Washington, D.C., April 12, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
•Harvard Club of Washington, D.C.: “Leadership Secrets with Mike Mears” (MBA ’75), Hogan and Hartson, Washington, D.C. April 17, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
SPECIAL SECTION: NETWORKING
Harvard, Wharton business schools’ alumni forge connections