March 1, 2017

SERENDIPITY | Business Club Clutter

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Passing through Warren Hall and Mann Library, the typical student is likely exposed to a quarter card too many; these ubiquitous advertisements are found scattered across tables, the floor, and even pasted comically onto urinals. I would liken this experience to that of radiation exposure. Some radiation exposure is okay – a few x-rays here or there can’t hurt. A ton of radiation exposure is not. Sitting in a human-sized microwave will certainly melt your brain. I would argue, however, that radiation exposure is simple; there are only four types of emissions (alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, and x-rays). With Cornell’s business club exposure, there are consulting club particles, business frat particles, student government rays and business team bursts. Then, when you add granularity to the picture, each broad category can be subdivided into even more (i.e. there are over five consulting clubs on campus). This needs to stop: we are melting the brains of poor underclassmen by making the entire campus into a business microwave with dozens of different emissions that no one understands.

Every semester I see a new quarter card I have never seen before. As usual, it’s another attempt at creating a selective business club with arbitrary standards set by students whom, generally speaking, have never experienced the real world before (myself included). This is silly: by filling the campus with organizations all claiming to be “the best” and “most effective,” we are arbitrarily influencing students’ personal and professional decisions. Business clubs create a strange aura. Because we live in this defined bubble with nothing else but trees and snow to measure our self-worth, we look to our local “accomplishments” to assuage our insecurities. So, when someone idealizes a business organization, they look at the leaders and members as leading authorities of whatever field the business organization claims to specialize in. While many of these clubs can be invaluable with respect to job recruitment (I attribute all my interview successes to amazing seniors in my organizations who helped me out), they create confusion about everything else. From hearing students rationalize that one bank sucks compared to another because everyone from “Cornell Business Club Name” rejects offers from the supposedly terrible bank to hearing students genuinely believe that marketing is where the unintelligent students go, I have become fed up with the absurd and somewhat toxic environment Cornell’s business community harbors.

The increase in registered “selective” business clubs is adding to the noise while further segmenting the business population and adding to the hectic swarm of participation. Anecdotal evidence tells me that many recent business clubs (let’s say since 2010) have been formed for the wrong reasons. These reasons include but are not limited to: (1) resentment from unfair rejection, (2) the need to build a resume experience and (3) boredom. Clubs should be founded and conducted out of passion (and, to a lesser degree, campus necessity). In terms of the net impacts to the business community, a new club that does something unique with legitimate interests in mind will actually lead to a sense of intellectual and career progress (i.e. the Cornell Marketing Organization and its proprietarily generated marketing campaigns). A new club that functions as a carbon copy of other clubs only dilutes the field and wastes a combination of people’s time and energy through poor management (i.e. founding members lose interest and this negatively impacts general club members) or improper access to business knowledge (i.e. the older clubs do not share resources, thereby creating a high risk that the newer club will provide uninformed education).

There is a simple solution to this problem. Business club leaders must create a larger umbrella organization to encompass the wealth of clubs Cornell already has. This organization would not be selective. Rather, it would function as a business student general body, providing some form of business access and guidance that all Cornellians deserve access to. Succeeding in college business does not require supreme intelligence. Rather, it requires networking and resource access. For some, this does not come easy – you must have a base level of networking skills to gain access to organizations that will teach you how to network more effectively. This previous example is reminiscent of arguments in support of reducing income inequality. In a way, they are the same. Business students come to Cornell with diverse skills. Some skills and other kinds of potential, unfortunately, are not as readily apparent as others. Because of this, everyone should be given the opportunity to attain a basic level of business operability. This education would be provided by those who were fortunate enough to leverage the fantastic resources provided by their “selective” clubs with high-achieving alumni and questionable legal methods (free interview books anyone?).

One argument against my proposal comes to mind: why does anyone care? Why should the head of an investment club, for instance, take time out of his or her day to help people he or she doesn’t know? The response is quite intuitive: improving the candidate pool. Even with a broader organization, I do understand that some business clubs will remain competitive because of what they do. For instance, my consulting club would remain competitive due to the fact that we need new members to deliver effective work to our clients. With that in mind, if we were to give out some sort of basic training to all students interested in business (i.e. insider, networking tips, actually useful resume reviews and rigorous interview prep), wouldn’t that make for a stronger candidate pool during recruitment cycles? Then, after interviews, wouldn’t that save time on basic training? Organizations could focus more time on the core competencies of said organizations. Investment clubs would be able to spend more time teaching their kids about finance. Consulting clubs would be able to spend more time staffing their kids on projects. Business fraternities would be able to spend more time teaching tangentially-related yet useful skills (i.e. emphasizing philanthropy, business dining etiquette and other topics that are currently unavailable).

I’m saying that we raise the bar in Ithaca. We have absolutely no idea where the SC Johnson College of Business is going, so let’s hedge our bets together. Wharton is extra impressive because employers (and the rest of the world) expect Wharton students to be fantastic – the strong basics they learn from classes build powerful external expectations. Why can’t we do that at Cornell? Since our classes aren’t always doing the job, let’s make a culture where students can pay it forward and help each other while still helping themselves. By siloing ourselves into dozens of different clubs and creating a cluttered front, there is no strong message about the impressiveness of the business community. If we unite under one umbrella, we can construct a cohesive image of ambition and success. This, along with the nuances of the many subcategories of business clubs, could be our unique trait in the world – student-to-student education as a fundamental pillar.

I write this article as an open request for other business leaders on campus to start a dialogue similar to this one – how do we leave a positive and lasting impact on Cornell’s business community? It’s time we started thinking about the future and not about ourselves. This university is a crossroads for diverse and amazing people to help each other grow.