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HEC Paris Alumni Remain Committed to Giving Back

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Mike Mills, HEC Paris MBA 2016

HEC Paris Graduation Year and Concentration: Class of 2016, Entrepreneurship Specialization
HEC Paris Clubs: I was president of the PE/VC Club.
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Before the MBA, I worked as an M&A lawyer for ING Bank in the Netherlands.
Current Employer & Title: I’m currently General Counsel at HCVC, a Paris-based venture capital fund.

How have you given back to the HEC community since graduation, in particular regarding recruitment and mentoring? What do you think has been your greatest contribution to the HEC school community as an alum?
During my MBA I noticed that the strongest bond is the bond built within cohorts. After the MBA, alumni might lose track of those outside of their own group. In getting to know another alumnus who noticed the same thing, we realized that we had the power to fix it ourselves.

We came up with the idea of making an event on Facebook. Every MBA alum living in Paris would be invited to join us for drinks, and we’d see what happened. Our hope was to get maybe 12 people to show up. More than 60 arrived. The common question among everyone there was when the next event was planned so they could put it in their calendars. For the first time, we saw people from different cohorts mixing. There are two alumni from different cohorts who met each other that night and are now married. I was invited to their engagement party as a thanks for introducing them. In the years since we started, I’ve received feedback that our events have helped people find new jobs, make new friends, and reconnect with long-lost friends, i.e., exactly what an alumni network is supposed to do.

We branded ourselves the MBA Afterworks and started doing this regularly in Paris. After a year, people in other cities asked why they couldn’t have their own. So we helped them make their own. We set up the Global Afterworks, all on the same day in Singapore, Mumbai, Paris, London, and New York. It’s now grown to the point that, just before Covid, we had MBA Afterworks in 50 cities in the same week. We’re now a pillar of the network, with our events reaching >1000 people a year. Last year alongside some of our events, we raised over €80k for scholarships for HEC MBA students.

How did you engage HEC alumni when you were an MBA student or applicant? Do you have any related advice for current MBA students or applicants, e.g. etiquette, what to expect, etc.?
I worry that I don’t have any useful advice that people haven’t heard 100 times already. But here’s what I can add:

When reaching out to alumni, you should put yourself in their head to figure out how best they can help you. Keep in mind that almost everyone leaves the MBA with positive sentiments toward fellow MBAs. We all went through the same experience and had the same troubles in the job search. Anyone you talk to is likely to be sympathetic simply because they were exactly where you were not too long ago. The best thing you can do to make an instant connection with any alumni you talk to is to refresh their memory of the MBA.

But remember that they’re actually less connected than you are. As a student, you will be at your peak in the breadth of your network, as you’re surrounded by a diverse cohort and have immediate access to Career Services and all the connections they have. The further you get from graduation, one’s network deepens but narrows. So the least useful chats I have with students are a request for connections across multiple industries or cities, but the most useful chats I have are for information about my city or my industry. Save the exploration questions for your peers.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to tell a story about how the network paid off for me personally. A few years ago, India went through an abrupt exercise where it demonetized most of the banknotes in the country. This happened while I was on a plane to India for a friend’s wedding. My plan had been to attend the wedding and then spend a couple of weeks traveling around the country as a tourist. At the time, almost anything outside the big cities was cash-only. Due to the demonetization, lines at banks were hours long, and ATMs didn’t work, so it was impossible for me, as a foreigner, to track down cash for my trip. After wasting two days trying and failing, I did what I should have done in the first place, which was to post in one of our alumni groups to ask for advice. Two hours later, another alum walked into the lobby of my hotel with a roll of newly printed banknotes. He asked in return that I buy him a drink and then pay him back when I returned from my trip. I felt like the MBA paid for itself that day. The HEC network is full of stories like this, where alumni will help others out of a crisis simply because they’re in the same MBA family. 

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.