Running a Conference, Learning to Lead
The Marketing Club holds a conference, as do the Private Equity Club, the Healthcare Club, and the Christian Fellowship, among other clubs. Ranging from small events held chiefly for members of the SOM community to large affairs drawing participants from around the world, these conferences cover the range of interests of the SOM student body. But, for the handful who organize each event, they’re full-on management opportunities often as intense as any summer internship.
For the three students in charge of organizing the third Educational Leadership Conference, work started as soon as last year’s concluded. With more than 500 attendees for the event at the Omni Hotel in New Haven on February 13, students had to develop themes, book speakers, organize the catering, and work with the media to maximize its impact. Paul Holzer ’09 said the experience was intense. "Nothing so far in our Yale SOM experience compares to having created such an event," he said. "It’s one thing to learn about management in the classroom, or even through an internship. But to organize an event like this took our MBA education to a whole new level. And from all the feedback we received, it’s clear the conference had an impact on the larger debate."
There are more than fifty student clubs at SOM. It’s understood among students that those seeking leadership opportunities will find plenty within the school’s vibrant club network. Clubs across the spectrum of interests bring speakers in to meet with students on a variety of topics. But the conferences take the experience several steps further, booking top names in the fields to touch on important, breaking topics. The eighth Private Equity Conference, held as the financial system slid into crisis, sought to address the road ahead for what had been one of the most dynamic sectors of global finance. In November, the Marketing Club partnered with the Yale Center for Customer Insights in hosting a conference on luxury goods that included CEOs of Chanel and Cartier North America. And in April the SOM South Asian Business Forum will host top financiers, academics, and public sector leaders from India and the U.S. for frank discussions on how the economic crisis will impact India’s development and its economic relation with the West.
Rakesh Shankar ‘09, a co-leader of the Private Equity Club, said pulling together a conference such as theirs, which took place in Greenwich and included more than 35 speakers and 200 participants is impossible even for a group of dedicated students to do alone. "It was an amazing experience — getting the operational experience and working with the other co-chairs, but also seeing the kind of support system we were inheriting from the previous leaders of the club and from the CDO, student affairs, and alumni relations," he said.
That support system creates momentum from year-to-year. Students help pull together loose ends their first year. In their second year, they organize the event. After graduation, they return as attendees, or even speakers. In this way, no conference is really the sole responsibility of its small group of organizers. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way.
The first three Believers in Business conferences were largely produced by the Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture. But leadership changes at the Center left this year’s conferences solely in the hands of the SOM Christian Fellowship. Kimberly Yerino, Jaison Ipe, and Philip Lee broke-up responsibilities, including finding speakers, marketing the conference, and securing funding. What seemed a daunting task turned into the most successful event yet, featuring former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese and Dennis Bakke, former CEO of AES and the founder of Imagine Schools. "It really became a fantastic opportunity for us,” Yerino said. “It forced us to pull together everything we learned at SOM, including how to manage groups and unlock our leadership potential. No doubt we all become much better managers as a result of this."
Learn more about some of the SOM student conferences.