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Worldwide Alumni Day

Worldwide Alumni Day: One of BCG's Most Celebrated Traditions

Former CEOs Clarkeson and Stern Reflect on How It All Began

September 10, 2018

On October 1, 1998, BCG launched a new era in alumni relations, by introducing the first Worldwide Alumni Day. Also known as the WWAD, this event was the brainchild of John Clarkeson (CEO 1985-1997), and implemented by Carl Stern (CEO 1998-2003).

As Carl put it in an interview, "It really irritates me that John had a great idea, but I keep getting credit for it, and I don’t deserve it. All I did was say, 'Gee, that's a great idea. Let’s implement it.' Worldwide Alumni Day was, I think, the first step making it clear to the alums that we cared about them and wanted to stay in contact."

This view of alumni as a key stakeholder and audience for BCG was formalized by Carl Stern the same year in the new alumni newsletter, Panorama. His message to alumni described shaping the mission for BCG with emphasis on a virtuous circle of insight, impact, and trust to be applied to client service, idea development, and people development. He thanked alumni for "your many contributions to our wealth of insights, capabilities, and relationships. Your individual legacies remain core to BCG and continue to shape our aspirations."

There had been efforts to reach out to alumni previously, including local events initiated by some offices for many years, annual reports by Bruce Henderson and Alan Zakon, and end-of-year letters from John Clarkeson. But John determined that establishing a consistent annual event that encouraged personal interaction was the best way to stay connected to BCG alumni. The hosting BCG offices, from the beginning, were given creative license to run the events as they saw fit. Face-to-face interaction was the purpose at these non-topic events. Today the WWAD has become an October tradition.

The idea of an annual, worldwide alumni event on the same day was unique at the time. It would take global organization, but John Clarkeson had a vision. In an oral history interview in 2009, John emphasized the importance of good relations with alumni that includes consistent, personal, and casual interaction:

  • "My feeling, as I think was shared by a variety of people, was we needed to continually reach out to our alumni. It was important that [alumni] thought we were making an effort. There was lots of spontaneous activity, but there wasn’t anything consistent. People would try [events], and the next year, they wouldn’t do anything at all.
  • "So it seemed to me that by having one day, everybody would be compelled to play the game. It also had a unique feature, which was that, if you were a BCG alumnus or alumna, it didn’t matter what city you were in that day. If you were traveling to a city where there was a BCG office, there would be Alumni Day.
  • You wouldn’t have to be invited, because you would have in your mind that it always occurs at the same time of year. It was self-reinforcing. I don’t want to say there was no excuse, but there was always an opportunity for you to attend and have a drink with people who had shared a common experience.
  • It wasn’t meant to preclude any office from having other events. Munich, [for example], has wonderful events for alumni that are off-schedule. That’s fine. WWAD was just to keep alive conviviality and human contact on a global basis."

And the people came. About 500 BCG alumni and their guests attended the first receptions held at 30 BCG offices on October 1, 1998.

At the second annual WWAD on October 7, 1999, Carl and John reached out to alumni with a video. Carl gave an overview of BCG at the time with its 275 partners. John's words to alumni expressed a heartfelt connection to alumni and the in-person interaction of the WWAD:

  • "Let me say a few words about your role as alumni. The alumni network represents an enormous resource in terms of the talent, the experience, the influence, that's helped people find jobs; it's helped them change careers; it's helped them run for the Senate; it's helped them find investors.
  • "Electronic communication is wonderful but there's no substitute for human contact. The whole idea behind Worldwide Alumni Day is to make sure that at least once a year we get together in person. One of the nice things about being chairman is having a little more time to see alumni. I hope to see more of you next year, and I hope as well that if you're passing through Boston or anywhere else you'll stop in and let us know what you're doing."

Carl ended his section of the video:

  • "As the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants. So let me close by thanking you, our alumni. You have made extraordinary contributions to the development of BCG. We are incredibly proud to be associated with you. We aspire to make you equally proud of your association with BCG."

The WWAD being such a massive coordination effort, BCG has relied on a variety of past and present leaders. Carl recalled, "There were several task forces. I remember John Lindquist and Koof Kalkstein; maybe they did one together, but then Koof took it over, and we diagnosed issues and came up with a variety of ideas to improve the WWAD. I would have to say under Hans-Paul we've gotten continually better. He’s really done a great job of driving it home."

Worldwide Alumni Day: One of BCG's Most Celebrated Traditions

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