Stitching a Global Network Using Maize and Blue Thread
Justin Golden, BBA ’02, explores Asia and discovers the wide-ranging impact of the Michigan Ross network.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Justin Golden, BBA '02, is a partner at Lake Hill Capital, a New York-based investment management firm. In 2010, after launching his career as a derivatives trader in New York and London, he decided to explore entrepreneurship and investment opportunities in Asia.
"I was interested in learning about the shift in wealth and influence from West to East," Golden says. "But it was going to take more than emails and phone calls to be able to experience it — I needed to get on a plane and meet people." So he embarked on an eight-month trek around Asia, connecting with fellow graduates along the way.
Reflecting on the experience and the power of the Michigan alumni network, Golden writes:
Networking is not a course taught in academia. This might not come as a surprise to most. It would be impossible to measure a student's ability to develop and maintain personal connections at the end of one semester. Are professors supposed to monitor Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn connections in order to fit a bell curve on the popularity scale? While students aren’t paying thousands of dollars a year for professors to host icebreakers and tailgate parties, networking is an essential part of career advancement and creating opportunities — something we all expect to gain with our degrees.
I have always believed that one can gain just as much of an edge by knowing people as by having expert technical skills. That being said, I have no expertise in anything related to Asia. And because I have been so focused on working in developed markets during my career, I knew it was going to take some clever networking to set up meetings on the other side of the Pacific. I reached out to a few friends, family, and former colleagues to see if they could assist me in finding a few friendly souls to meet up with once in Asia. I got a couple of responses, but certainly not enough to fill an eight-month journey across eight countries. Then it hit me that I already had a global network of successful, interesting people right under my nose: Michigan alumni.
With the help of the alumni database, I reached out to graduates in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and more. I was amazed that every single person responded. All in all, I connected with about 50 Michigan grads, most of whom were alumni of the business school. They either met me themselves or introduced me to friends who provided mutually beneficial conversation. The experience reinvigorated me, to say the least. It made me realize just how valuable networking is and that the Michigan brand is one of loyalty, consideration, and a ton of entrepreneurial spirit. Whether you are interested in agriculture in India, healthcare in Singapore, or manufacturing in China, U-M grads form a blanket of enterprisers and innovators that wraps the globe.
By meeting U-M alumni, I had the opportunity to get an insider's tour of Bangkok and Phuket, have brunch and tour Mindvalley headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, have dinner with the Singapore alumni club, squat at the apartment of a fellow BBA for a week while in Delhi, and fly via helicopter through the Gobi desert in Mongolia. The list goes on and on, and I am eternally grateful that they all were so welcoming and hospitable. Additionally, I have to give a special thanks to my friend and mentor, Professor Len Middleton, for opening a number of doors for me throughout Asia.
The last leg of my trip was a week examining interesting investment opportunities in Mongolia. Mongolia was definitely not on my itinerary before I left. But I was invited by some new friends who are private equity investors from Singapore. The principal of the firm is a Michigan grad from the 1980s and also a close friend of one of my former professors.
My trip reinforced that there is something special about being a U-M graduate. Our alumni support one another. You can sit across the table from a Michigan alum in any city worldwide and share a memory about Ann Arbor, a football game, a favorite restaurant or bar, or a class or professor that influenced you, and you suddenly will have something in common. Now multiply that by hundreds of thousands of people, and you can see what a powerful network you have.
I'm not sure that any other university has the same kind of breadth of experience or commitment from its alumni base. It is remarkable how many people are connected by one common maize and blue thread.
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