MIT Sloan alumni network, take stock of tech sector woes

MENLO PARK, Calif., August 10 - An annual gathering of MIT Sloan School of Management alumni might have been the hottest ticket in Silicon Valley last night, as more than 200 Sloan alumni, current students, and members of the incoming class met at the Menlo Park home of Barbara Gee (MBA '86) to network and take stock of the sluggish economy.

“I was supposed to move to Boston this morning, but I changed my flight to 11 p.m. so I could attend,” said Christina Cragholm (MBA '03), who begins classes at Sloan in a few weeks.

The guest list was twice its usual size, with 234 RSVPs and an uncounted number of walk-ins, according to the Sloan Club of Northern California, which coordinates the event each year. Judging by the turnout and the tenor of conversations, alumni came as much for a chance to discuss the sluggish economy as for an opportunity to connect with friends and classmates

Sloan boasts roughly 1,000 alumni in the Bay Area, many of them newer graduates lured here by the dotcom boom. George Tan (MBA '95), president of the club, says calls from alumni seeking employment advice have doubled this year, amid the tech sector's troubles.

Indeed, the job market was the evening's hottest topic. Although many of the attendees were securely employed at companies like Cisco, Oracle, Wells Fargo, and PacRim Venture Partners, everyone had a tale to tell of pay cuts, hiring freezes, layoffs, and a steadily swelling number of anxious networking calls.

Vijay Varma (MBA '95) said he recently attended a business event at which a speaker asked the 200 attendees how many were out of work. More than half those in the room raised their hand. Varma himself recently shut down his own department and moved to another work group at a temporary pay cut.

Among recent graduates and current students, conversations centered on companies still hiring, industries with room for growth, and evaporating job offers.

Anita Pandey (MBA '01) said that although she begins work next week, many of her friends' job offers have been rescinded or their start dates delayed for as much as six months. While some are choosing to stick with those offers, others have re-opened their job searches.

As for current students, they seemed relieved for an opportunity to sit out the worst of the slump.

“I had already planned to pursue my MBA, but when I saw bad news about my employer on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, I saw the writing on the wall and decided now was the time,” Cragholm said.

Jennifer Rigoni (LFM '02), whose degree is being sponsored by her employer, arrived in Silicon Valley for a seven-month internship at the tail end of the boom.

“When I arrived, I was jealous of all the people getting huge hiring bonuses,” she said. “Now they're out of work and out of money, and they're jealous of me because I have a job to go back to when I finish my degree.”

“There's still work out there,” insisted Katie Wojciehowski (MBA '97).

Gokul Rajaram (MBA '01) agreed. He is not only employed, but was hoping to recruit fellow alumni at the event.

Vanishing dot-coms notwithstanding, the overall consensus seemed to be in favor of long-term opportunity in Silicon Valley - that the economy hasn't so much collapsed as returned to normal.

Steve Siegel (MBA '91), whose employer eliminated his work group in June, remains not just hopeful, but bullish. Unlike the dozens of dot-com refugees who vaulted from entry level to management and now have resumes with impressive titles but little heft, he said Sloan graduates have the connections and skills employers still value.

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At MIT Sloan, companies are launched in courtyards and corridors. Research shows that start-ups conceived in a technology environment are the most successful.

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