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Business school graduates know there's great value in building and growing a network of colleagues. Michael Bernstein, a 1996 graduate of Western University's Ivey Business School, puts a lot of thought into figuring out exactly what that value means and how to measure it.

The opportunity to become part of a network of MBAs is one of the top benefits a business school education can offer, notes Mr. Bernstein, who is president of Juno Advisors Ltd., a private investment consultancy in Toronto and former CEO of Capstone Infrastructure Corp.

"The network offers three important elements," he says. "First, it brings together people who share a common experience. This builds an element of trust and familiarity, even if you don't know that person.

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"Second, if it's an active network and people believe in it and value it, then it's self-reinforcing. [Business school] grads can build their contacts, experiences and opportunities to learn and broaden their perspectives."

The third advantage is perhaps the most important – how a network can help advance careers and enhance a manager's skills. "[A network is] hard to quantify, by its very nature, but it's real, with substantial benefits," Mr. Bernstein says. "Who you know is as important as what you know" is how The Economist put it in a survey of business school networks earlier this year.

According to the weekly news magazine's survey, a strong network has certain characteristics – a high ratio of alumni to current students, a large and well-organized number of overseas alumni and alumni groups, and a strong perception among current students that the network is there for their benefit.

The Economist also looked at MBA programs' "potential to network" for students and alumni and their "breadth of alumni network." Ivey Business School was ranked #3 in alumni effectiveness of the top 100 business schools in the world for potential to network and the breadth of its alumni network.

But the numbers tell only part of the story.

For years, Ivey has been building a powerful network with worldwide reach. For example, 52 per cent of all Ivey alumni hold the title of Chair, President, C-Suite, Vice-President, Managing Director or Partner. Also 19 Ivey alumni are running Profit 100 Fastest-Growing Companies.

"It's an active network," Mr. Bernstein explains. "There are social events, there are educational events, there are opportunities for continuing learning that can get people together."

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Research suggests that prospective students don't fully appreciate the potential power of a network, but those who get involved do.

"I'm passionate about it," says Natalie Bisset, an Ivey alumni association member who helps oversee the school's Global Ivey Day.

An annual event launched in 2009, Global Ivey Day rolls out across international time zones. Starting in Sydney and then moving to more than 30 Canadian cities and worldwide, it offers a direct opportunity for Ivey students and grads to network, either by attending an Ivey event in their city or following Global Ivey Day on social media.

"It's completely organized by volunteers, which I think is important because you get out of a network what you put into it," Ms. Bisset says. "It helps people connect with each other. It helps people make and build lifelong friendships and gives [them] tremendous access to thought leadership and business connections."

Having an opportunity for business school grads from a particular school to network also plays to the strengths of a school. According to Mr. Bernstein, students at Ivey know that there is a very strong alumni network so many go to the school recognizing that this is part of the value-ad. There are more opportunities for people to get together under the auspices of that common connection. From a network perspective, if you meet or work with another Ivey grad, there's that common element, from both a social and a work perspective."

This is valuable because Ivey produces students who have "a distinctive and differentiated learning and social experience," Mr. Bernstein says. "The nature of the case study [learning method of Ivey's business programs] means you get to know your classmates really well. How you interact and the approach to problem solving [are] consistent across the programs."

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Mary Catherine (MC) Littlejohn, a 2016 Ivey MBA grad, notes that the school's alumni network organizes gatherings and events in addition to Global Ivey Day. "We'll hold sessions for particular sectors such as fintech [financial technology], or events where people can meet professors," says Ms. Littlejohn, who serves with Ms. Bisset on the alumni association's board at Ivey.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bernstein points out that it's hard to put a dollar value on the worth of being involved in a network, but there can be measurable results. "It can bring benefits in job searches, business opportunities, or [you could find] yourself working with someone whom you would run across through the network.

"I know of some people who have been able to raise funding for a startup through their Ivey network and have created substantial businesses and wealth."

A strong network can also bring benefits to the community and society, Mr. Bernstein adds. "There are also opportunities for philanthropic activities that are valuable and life-enhancing."


This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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