You never know where networking can lead.
For me, it led to a trip on the private plane of one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, who I had the opportunity to spend last weekend with at the Safari Club International convention in Reno.
It was there that I learned firsthand that there really is merit to the vast support system USC students are exposed to.
After all, being in the middle of a major economic center, there is no shortage of connections.
USC students take pride in knowing that we have supportive employers — Trojan alumni, USC supporters and those who just feel connected to the university — leading top businesses throughout the region. And we have every right to, but only to a certain extent.
But there is a distinct line between having the necessary connections and actually utilizing them.
Those who suggest that this network of Trojans, and even non-Trojan alumni closely affiliated with USC, are out there waiting to employ us upon graduation based on a one-minute conversation, an affirmative handshake and an exchange of contact information have taken the meaning entirely out of context.
With the season of on-campus career fairs, workshops and networking events in full swing, many students might feel inclined to wait for opportunities to come to them.
It’s hard to blame them. We pay a lot of money to go to a school where respected alumni come meet with eager young minds.
But that’s no reason to be complacent. In fact, successful alumni are only half of what makes up our beloved supportive networking cast.
The other half consists of proactive students willing to go the extra mile.
Last week, I was assigned to interview an entrepreneur for my “Management of New Enterprises” class. Almost immediately, I thought of Glenn Stearns, founder of Stearns Corporation, a mortgage banking enterprise specializing in financial services.
I had met Stearns, an alumnus of my fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa, once before. Though we exchanged business cards, I didn’t realize how far this encounter would take me.
That is until I decided to follow up. I was convinced that it was a long shot that Stearns would take an hour out of his day for a class project, but I tried anyway.
The next day, I received an e-mail reply: “Stephen, you are more than welcome to fly up to a convention with me on my plane tomorrow morning.”
I wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity. I packed my bags, and within hours I was aboard a G5, headed for Reno with the man himself.
Although at the time I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I now know it was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. I went the extra mile to reach out to Glenn, and it paid off.
That weekend, I spent breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night chats with Stearns. He could have been at other places. He could have been hanging out with his good pal John Elway, or striking up a conversation with Sarah Palin, whom he briefly met that weekend at the convention.
Instead, Glenn was mentoring me, giving me his full attention. From a hard-nosed kid who grew up in a rough side of Maryland, to a rebellious teenager who snuck into the Oscar after parties, to a hard-nosed and rebellious entrepreneur who grew up to be the owner of the second largest independent corporation in the nation, Glenn had just as much fun telling the stories as I had listening to them.
More importantly, he treated me as a friend rather than as an interviewer or potential intern. And I viewed Glenn more as a trusted mentor than an on-campus recruiter who you have to sell your one-minute pitch to and hope for the best.
Glenn is not an alumnus of USC, but he is still part of the intricate support system that we all cherish, as he occasionally does speaking engagements at the business school on campus and even employs fellow Trojans in his 50 offices across the country.
It’s amazing that such prominent individuals want to take students under their wing, if given the chance to.
It’s amazing where one business card can take you — but only if you put it to use.
Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations and editorial director for the Daily Trojan.