Columbia West Coast Treks: Bigger, Better Than Ever in 20th Year
Going West to Go Green
Class of 2017 student Grant van Wyngaarden, 32, helped plan CBS’s Renewable Energy Trek. Though small—just four students took part—van Wyngaarden said it was the perfect size in his view, allowing for great camaraderie with classmates and important networking with people in the industry.
Eight green energy companies were on the agenda, but van Wyngaarden was most excited for the visit to Geli. “They are a start-up aimed at addressing what I think will become a huge problem,” he said of Geli’s forward-thinking focus on energy storage. But the visit that proved most personally beneficial was to Sunrun, a home solar energy and solar panel company. “Our visit completely exceeded my expectations,” he said. “The importance of corporate culture and having the right people was clearly evident.”
Though he liked the trek’s small size, he suggested that future treks could be made even more valuable through coordination with other schools. “Through a personal contact we organized a social/networking event with the group from USC Marshall, and that was a lot of fun,” he says. “Since we have such a niche focus, it was great to meet other MBA students with similar interests and hear their experience and compare stories of visits with the same or different companies,” he continues. “Considering we are in similar programs and will be entering the same industry, it makes sense for us to connect and build our networks together as early as possible.”
CBS MBA Students Take L.A.
While their fellow West Coast trekkers were up north in Silicon Valley and Seattle, another dozen CBS MBA students set off for Los Angeles to visit an impressive list of media companies, including Paramount, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., CBS, YouTube, NBC Universal and Disney, as well as talent agencies Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and United Talent Agency (UTA). Second-year Jeff Snop, 29, helped organize the trek as VP of the school’s Media Management Association.
Snop, for his part, was particularly excited that talent agencies were on the itinerary. “Although many MBAs interested in media focus on business development or corporate strategy roles, talent agencies provide another fantastic opportunity to leverage the skills we develop in business school as well as further expand our network in the entertainment world,” he points out. In fact, the visits to CAA and UTA revealed that the companies have diversified from being pure talent agencies into other areas. “MBAs now have a number of paths toward establishing a career in an agency besides starting in the mail room—although that’s still a very popular option!” he reports.
The visit to NBC Universal also proved especially beneficial, according to Snop, thanks in part to the presentation format the company chose. Small breakout sessions brought together five or six students at a time to meet with executives from different departments, allowing for more direct questions and more candid answers. “It was also very apparent that the executives we met with were more than happy to stay in touch going forward, as they were in our shoes not too long ago!”
Snop and the other media trek organizers set out to incorporate company visits with as many CBS alumni as possible. “Fortunately, CBS has a strong network in both media and L.A. in general,” he says, which allowed them to line up alumni from YouTube, Google, NBC Universal, Disney and Paramount. His group also organized an L.A. alumni mixer in the area to further develop their West Coast networks. “It was motivating to hear the various career paths CBS alumni have taken in the industry, and we were appreciative of their enthusiasm to help current students as we navigate the job market,” he says.
Platinum Anniversary Draws a Crowd
That the West Coast Treks were celebrating a 20-year run meant that trekkers were in for even more treats than might usually be the case. “We’ve always hosted an alumni event as part of the treks, but it was particularly large this year to mark the 20th anniversary,” Resnick says. Students from all four of the Bay Area treks joined about 100 area alumni for a kickoff event in San Francisco’s Mission district at WeWorks, which counts a CBS alum as one of its top executives.
The evening also featured a remembrance of Bill Campbell, who was head of the board of trustees for Columbia University and chairman of Intuit, as well as board director for Apple. He died last April. “I reached out to him early on to speak to students on the treks,” Resnick remembers. “He was a tremendous support to us in terms of connecting us with people in the Valley—really any number of people—over the years.”
Trekkers also had the opportunity to hear from a well-known CBS faculty member currently on leave at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. Professor Laurie Simon Hodrick served as founding director of CBS’s Program for Financial Studies from 2010 to 2015. Among other things, she is an expert in Dutch auctions such as the one Google used to issue 19.6 million shares as part of its 2004 IPO.
Hodrick briefed the CBS trekkers on some of the nuanced differences between the East and West Coasts. “For example, what is really valued in some industries in New York—such as being more transactionally focused in terms of your skills—doesn’t play as well on the West Coast, where it’s more about longer-term relationships and trust,” recounts Resnick. “She really helped students prepare for how to effectively convey their competencies in advance of their company visits.”
Resnick, too, is celebrating her 20th anniversary at CBS and has been along for every West Coast Trek since they started. This one, though, was extra special. “It has been a really fun week,” she said, still on the road. “I’m really jazzed and excited at how things have gone.”