Thousands of Miles from Campus but Feeling at Home

Business School alumni clubs in Asia keep graduates connected to one another, as well as to current and even prospective students.

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Each spring, almost 7,500 miles from campus, about 100 Columbia Business School alumni who live in Beijing and across greater China get together for their annual Spring Fling, a festive gala the club has been holding since 2014 at which, among other things, they hear live performances by alumni musicians who call their band 116th Street.

“It’s like we’re combining the Spring Ball and Follies and the Fashion Show into one event,” explains Steven Fan ’08, who, along with Alex Zhou ’11, serves as club leader of the Business School’s alumni club in Beijing. “We tell people—even though you left CBS, you can still enjoy the life of the School.”

The Beijing club is one of nine Columbia Business School alumni clubs in Asia that—despite their distance from campus and comparatively small numbers—are increasingly active in engaging alumni and remaining strongly connected to the School.

Fan’s club is one of the most active Columbia Business School clubs in Asia. A team of volunteers organizes more than a dozen cocktail hours, dinners, lectures, outings, and other events each year. But, he says the club activities are about more than simply having fun; it’s also about building connections for both career and personal development. “The alumni network is a place you can share and learn. Today, in the 21st century, information is the most important thing,” Fan says. “The alumni network is the best learning and information sharing platform ever—other than the two years we spent at CBS.”  

116 Street, the band

116th Street, the band

The club also engages in charity work, creating the Lions Foundation to raise money to educate children in poverty, particularly in western China. “CBS alumni have achieved high education levels and we know how important that is,” explains Fan. So we feel that it’s our responsibility to help young children get an education.”  

That unique experience of having spent two years at Columbia is often what binds alumni together, despite the fact that they are so far from New York City—or perhaps because of it, explains Gene Soo ’09, who leads the Hong Kong alumni club along with Ariel Shtarkman ’07 and Allen Lin ’08. “The Business School was a very special experience, and we want to talk about our experiences at School and how it changed our lives,” Soo says.

With about 400 members, the Hong Kong club is one of the largest Columbia Business School clubs in Asia. They host regular happy hours and organize lectures, and recently arranged a special tour of Art Basel Hong Kong, one of the world’s premiere arts events. At the heart of all these events, says Soo, is the opportunity for alumni to network with one another and form potentially invaluable business relationships. “There are a lot of synergies found between alumni in terms of what we do currently and how we can help each other in our careers.”

"The Business School was a very special experience, and we want to talk about our experiences at School and how it changed our lives."

Alumni also often enjoy reminiscing when they get together says Seokho Lee ’88, leader of the alumni club in Seoul. While the club hosts regular events including, for instance, golf sessions and beer parties, Lee says, “These events help us not only with sharing information regarding various industries we work in, but also with reminiscing about our two years of fond memories of CBS and our days in New York.” Lee has led the club since 2005; his 12 years of service earned him the prestigious Alumni Medal at the University’s 2016 Commencement ceremony.

This type of commitment is representative of the level of passion alumni in Asia have about staying connected with fellow Business School graduates, says Beth Brown, executive director of alumni relations. “The clubs in Asia are extremely tight-knit and supportive communities whose members are incredibly engaged and excited about the School,” she says. “Older alumni often readily connect with more recent graduates, in some cases serving as mentors. When a new alum arrives, the local club reaches out. When an alum moves, the club helps connect them with club leaders in their new cities. They all create important connections both socially and for business.”

The alumni clubs in Asia don’t only gather to engage with one another, but they also stay closely involved with what is happening on campus. In the last year, almost every Columbia Business School club in Asia hosted a reception for students taking part in a Chazen Global Study Tour, which offers students an intense, firsthand look at the business cultures of various regions. In Tokyo and Singapore, the alumni clubs hosted cocktail receptions for students on a Chazen Tour to meet local alumni. In Shanghai, Kit Low ’03 hosted a cocktail reception; Todd Miller ’94 hosted one in Hong Kong; and Stanley Ko ’00 hosted a dinner for the students and local alumni at RAW, one of his award-winning restaurants in Taipei.

The alumni clubs in Asia are also especially excited about promoting the School to prospective students. Fan says that in Beijing, alumni regularly attend welcome sessions for prospective students. “The prospective students are so impressed when they realize how many alumni come out,” he says. Plus, the alumni typically make strong showings of support for one another, when one gives a public talk or presentation. Most recently, for instance, more than 50 alumni and prospective students attended a reception featuring Jane Shao ’95, executive director of ChinaPlex Network, who shared her career story. “The prospective students feel good because they see the strong connections among the alumni, because they see how we help each other out,” points out Fan, adding that this strong alumni community spirit has gone a long way toward raising the School’s profile in Beijing, if not across all of China. “The things we do not only help us stay connected, but also help us build our reputation,” he says. “People know CBS because of the strength of the network.”

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