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Some Chiefs Stay Close to Alma Maters
Strong Executive Ties Can Create Job Opportunities for Students, Lead to Partnerships Between Companies and Colleges
Some chief executives have formed deep relationships with their alma maters—ties that often result in job opportunities for students.
CEOs can also play a critical role in determining partnerships between companies and colleges, leading to the creation of research and education centers, influencing course work and sometimes adding cachet to a lesser-known school's reputation.
Jennifer Merritt discusses a new Wall Street Journal survey, which reveals recruiters are shifting their attention away from elite private schools to focus instead on state universities.
Throughout his career, beginning as an engineer working on Bounce fabric softener for Procter & Gamble Co. in 1972, John Brock often returned to his alma mater, the Georgia Institute of Technology, to recruit. When he became president and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. in 2006, he quickly made Georgia Tech, just 10 miles from the company's headquarters, the bull's-eye of his recruiting efforts.
"Coca-Cola already had a good relationship with Georgia Tech," he said. "But we've ramped it up significantly." The company, which typically scouts new graduates for technology, supply-chain management and finance-related jobs, says it now hires more new grads from Georgia Tech than from any other school.
The impact of an alumnus-turned-CEO can be felt in student recruiting almost as soon as an executive takes the reins, say college administrators.
Jack Rayman, director of Pennsylvania State University's career center, said the school will sometimes "notice a big spurt of activity and attention" from a company it only had loose ties with before.
"Suddenly, they're coming on campus to career fairs," said Mr. Rayman. For example, several years ago Mr. Rayman noticed that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire, which repairs and retrofits U.S. Navy nuclear submarines, started sending representatives to the university's career fairs to hire Penn State nuclear engineering students. He later learned that a Penn State alum had recently risen to a prominent position.
The vicissitudes of business can also play a role. James W. Owens reconnected with his alma mater, North Carolina State University, after he became chairman and CEO of Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar Inc. in 2004. When Caterpillar opened new facilities in North Carolina, Mr. Owens directed the company to step up recruiting from the school to fill the newly-created jobs. He also advised his alma mater on some changes to its supply-chain management curriculum, after university leaders requested his suggestions for improvement, established a fund for doctoral students in economics and funded a chaired professorship.
The school "did a lot for me in my formative years," Mr. Owens said. "I'm giving a little back, I hope." In 2009, Weili Dai, Sehat Sutardja and Pantas Sutardja, the three co-founders of semiconductor company Marvell Technology Group Ltd., donated more than $20 million to their alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, for research expansion.
The gift helped fund Sutardja Dai Hall, a seven-story research facility that includes a semiconductor laboratory named for the company. The school is also the company's top source for new graduate hires in information technology and engineering, Ms. Dai said.
CEOs have also been known to lend a little star power. When Macy's Inc. CEO Terry J. Lundgren makes his annual visit to his alma mater, the University of Arizona, his home base is the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, which he funded to serve the university's retailing and consumer science majors.
Mr. Lundgren personally enlists industry stars, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Martha Stewart, to speak to students and faculty. He also hosts the university's annual Global Retailing Conference, which 250 industry executives and 240 University of Arizona students attended last year. The event has become an ad-hoc forum for recruiting, attracting CEOs of major retail companies with their recruiting staffs in tow, said Melinda Burke, the Lundgren Center's director.
"There's the impression that if Mr. Lundgren believes in this program, it must be high quality," she said.
Executives sometimes look to their alma maters to forge relationships with top-notch students long before their job searches have begun, particularly in industries that tend to fall below the radar of the younger generation, companies say.
"We know we're not on the tip of graduate's tongues," said Tom Lange, a spokesman for Union Pacific Corp. The railroad hires more graduates from its CEO's alma mater, University of Nebraska, than any other college.
Jeff M. Fettig, CEO of Whirlpool Corp. and alumnus of Indiana University, says his company sponsors five professors, known as Whirlpool Faculty Fellows, who spend time at Whirlpool's headquarters to learn about the company's business model and needs.
"When they go back and teach their classes, they use live examples and case studies that highlight our company," Mr. Fettig said. Later this month, the company will sponsor a Habitat For Humanity project in Bloomington, Ind., with students, in part to raise the company's profile among prospective hires.
By Gregory Beyer
Wall Street Journal Online Article - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703882304575466072777832584.html
Released date:Oct 7 2010