A look at alumni philanthropy shows MBAs and business school graduates know how to give. By Jim Ver Steeg
|Sharan Kaur (left)|
But there is another reputation for what it means to be Simon alum. It’s a reputation that many say contradicts the business stereotype that all MBAs and holders of business degrees are self-interested, caring only about the next big deal. It is the idea of giving back to their community and to the School that so many Simon graduates consider their legacy. For them, it is a way to give thanks to the school that gave them a leg up and helped prepare them for career success.
A Degree of Giving
Willett says she and her husband, Joseph Willett ’75S (MBA), personally give back to Simon and campaigns like The Meliora Challenge in large measure because of the support the School showed them when they were students. “Joe and I received great offers from Simon,” she says. “It was a real vote of confidence for them to essentially make a bet on us. That’s why we wanted to give back. Simon took a chance on us, and we wanted to show our gratitude. It’s rewarding to know that a student today might have the same opportunities we did.”
But it is more than just scholarships and financial support that inspire the Willetts and other alumni to give. A report released by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) indicated that there is a clear relationship between alumni satisfaction with their educational experience and the likelihood of later support. Willett sees the connection. “Joe and I still very much believe in the Simon School, in its product and its approach to business education,” she says. “We think it’s the best school out there—especially how it looks at markets and what drives consumer behavior. It’s all taught very explicitly at Simon in a cohesive framework. We find that very worth supporting.”
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And it seems that many of Ochrym’s fellow business school graduates agree. When it comes to giving back, MBAs have deep pockets. In fact, a study by the Economics of Education Review (EER) showed that graduates from MBA programs make higher average donations than do graduates without advanced degrees. Even more impressive, the GMAC report shows nearly 30 percent of business school alumni give financial donations to their school—compared to just 12 percent from graduates of other schools. According to both studies, student satisfaction with their school experience was a key factor in alumni giving.
Investing in the Value
Simon MBAs aren’t just satisfied—they’re successful. For them, the value of their degree means increased job satisfaction and greater earning potential. According to GMAC, the most influential variable in influencing philanthropic donations, even more than satisfaction with their educational experience, is the overall value of a business degree. A major contributor to the value of an MBA degree is significant post-graduation salary growth. It is reasonable, then, that the capacity for increased earnings contributes to higher donations. The EER study showed the average donation of MBA holders is 57 percent higher than the average donation of those without an advanced degree.
But there is another element that adds value to a business degree: the network of colleagues and friends that Simon alumni enjoy as part of one of the world’s top business schools. Willett says she recognizes that value from her own experience and from encounters with other alumni. “You definitely feel like kindred spirits,” she notes. “Simon people speak the same language. We talk opportunity costs and L-X diagrams, market efficiency, and agency theory and we know exactly what that means.”
Rasini says showing thanks is not always about the big gift. “I don’t think anyone is expecting a donor to go broke by giving back to their school,” he says. “People are just grateful that you’re willing to give and be part of the alumni community. I would say you don’t have to worry about the amount you give—just start.”
Angela Cheng ’06S (MBA), assistant director of risk management at AIG, agrees. “I tell people who are considering giving back to their school to think of it in two ways,” she says. “First of all, you don’t really need to give a lot. Just give what you’re comfortable with; it could be $100, $200, or even $50. It’s all good. Second, when we give back, we’re helping build a better Simon Business School. Our support helps Simon get better and better, and with that the rankings go higher and higher. It benefits everyone.”
Rasini says giving back to the School helps take the air out of an unfair stereotype. “There is a general misconception that business school graduates are selfish and self-absorbed,” he says. “But the reality is a stark contrast to that image. We are people of good character who use our professional success to give back. We understand that we need to support our current students and give what we can. Not only does giving back help them, it’s a great way to express your gratitude for everything Simon may have done for you.”
Rasini says he is especially thankful for being able to apply what he learned at Simon to his career in consulting. “I work in the analytics and information management space,” he says. “Understanding how businesses want to position their analytic decision-making, and then using those processes to help our clients answer critical questions and gain useful insights, is at the core of what I do. The education I received at Simon allows me to have those conversations in a very credible way.”
Sharan Kaur ’97, ’14S (MS) had a less direct path to Simon Business School. After earning her bachelor’s degree in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, she realized that working in a laboratory was not for her. “I was going to go into research full time and get my PhD,” she says. “But after spending a year in the lab, I realized I didn’t have the personality for it. So I ended up doing an internship with the technology transfer office at the Medical Center. That’s how my career started.” Still working in the field of technology transfer, Kaur is now senior contracts officer at Columbia University, where she is responsible for negotiating contracts that support the corporate sponsorship of the institution’s research programs.
While she credits Simon for helping her move her career to the next level, there was something else her experience with the School brought her. “Just being in business school gets your entrepreneurship juices flowing,” she says. “Simon has done a lot to promote that, and really encourages students to think in entrepreneurial ways.”
Kaur says an entrepreneurial spirit also helps fuel her philanthropic passion. “In my free time, I run marathons and do triathlons,” she says. “The sport has done so much for me personally and professionally. But it’s so expensive that it can exclude people who might be able to benefit from it. So, about a year ago, I decided to change that and started a nonprofit that helps train children in underserved communities to do triathlons.”
Kaur credits pieces written by Hank Coleman at DailyFinance and by Paul Tran at Pepperdine’s Graziadio Voice for helping shape her thoughts on the importance of giving back. “When I first started giving, it was out of a sense of loyalty,” she says. “I had great memories of the University of Rochester. When you get your degree from a school, you become a shareholder of that community. You have a direct interest in seeing your investment succeed.” Kaur says it’s that return on investment that benefits alumni as much as it does Simon’s future students. “When we show our support, our money goes toward research, scholarships, and new facilities,” she says. “In essence, we’re supporting the next generation of students and alumni, which increases the stature of the school. That really affects how employers view the school, and how employers view the school has a direct impact on whether or not they want to hire its graduates and alumni.”
Kaur says there are many ways to show support. “I give back financially as well as with my time,” she notes. “I serve on the steering committee of the University of Rochester New York Metro Women’s Group. We organize alumni events throughout the year, and as a member of the George Eastman Circle, I feel that I’m a member of an exclusive, like-minded group that wants to see the school thrive.”
According to GMAC, the second-most important factor that encourages alumni giving is their ability to network and form long-term personal and professional connections. Kaur sees the Simon network as mutually beneficial. “When we connect with each other at alumni events, we do it in the mindset that this connection is a symbiotic one,” she says. “It’s not just about what I can do for you or what you can do for me. It’s about how we can help and support each other to raise the stature of the school.”
Ben Ochrym says he also benefits from the Simon network and believes the connection can also begin online. “I’m a big LinkedIn guy,” he says. “I’m always connecting with people, especially current students and recent graduates there. I’m also one to always go for coffee or meet for a drink and talk about the University of Rochester and Simon Business School. I feel like my giving back is taking the time to tell people about the program—what it’s done and what it continues to do for me.”
Continuing the Tradition
When Janice Willett arrived at Simon, it was just beginning to establish its reputation as one of the world’s best business schools. “It was a very interesting time at Simon, especially in finance and accounting,” she says. “The whole market efficiency concept was in the early days of testing, and Michael Jensen and [former dean] Bill Meckling were beginning to advance their agency theory. It really was a time of pioneering research.”
Willett says she and her husband, Joe, want the same sense of excitement to energize and influence generations of students. “Giving back to Simon advances a number of principles that we feel strongly about,” she notes. “When you have more people in the world who know what drives economic value, how to measure performance, how markets behave, how to motivate people, it furthers a way of looking at the world that we think is important. All those things are taught at Simon in a very cohesive way.”
Just two years out of school, Dominic Rasini says he gives back to Simon to help prepare the students who follow him for the realities of the working world. “Simon is a prelude to what you’ll face in your career,” he says. “Any student who wants to challenge himself or herself and prepare for professional life can benefit from Simon’s approach—and the extracurricular activities mirror what you will face in the real world.”
without my degree.” Cheng says everything she learned, and the help she received from the Career Management Center to land a job, are what motivate her to give back to the School.
Ben Ochrym says it was the way Simon helped him change careers and build essential business skills that keep him supporting the School. “I majored in Spanish for my undergraduate degree,” he says. “At Simon, I focused on accounting and finance courses, and was a competitive strategy major. It taught me everything from understanding balance sheets to how the world of banking works. It’s especially helped me at M&T, where we don’t just go out and make a sale. We actually do all the underwriting ourselves. I couldn’t do that without the analytical skills I learned at Simon.”
For alumni like Sharan Kaur, who were looking for ways to advance their careers, Simon offered just what they needed at just the right time. “I reached a stage where I felt I really needed to make a change,” Kaur says. “I knew I needed to make myself more marketable to get my career to the next level. Just as I was starting to think seriously about what to do next, I got an e-mail inviting me to a Simon open house. That’s when I realized that this is it. This is what I’m going to do.”
These alumni stories are just a sample of the thousands of personal and professional successes that started at Simon. Whether it was a transformational experience, an opportunity to create a network of colleagues, or a critical step toward a new career trajectory, the Simon experience has inspired alumni around the world to remember their time on the River Campus and give back generously to the School. It is that connection, that bridge between the past and the future, between veteran alumni and recent graduates, that continues to inspire prospective students to make the small business school in Rochester, New York, a major player in today’s global marketplace.