Ole Biz fosters connections: Future businesspeople learn from the best

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, over 100 eager St. Olaf students clad in their best suits, ties, skirts and blazers rode two full buses down to the Minneapolis Club for the third annual Ole Biz networking event.

According to the Piper Center, the “goal of Ole Biz was to expose students to alumni in various business-related fields and facilitate sharing experiences and aspirations between the two.”

Ole Biz is part of the “Ole Suite,” along with Ole Med and Ole Law. Ole Suite, created by Lynn Anderson ’75 and Tom Nelson ’69, aims to connect current students with St. Olaf alumni who are successfully established in careers that students wish to pursue.

Ann Houser ’83 and Kari Bjorhus ’80, both of whom are also parents of St. Olaf alumni, co-hosted the event, guiding the alumni and students from networking sessions to brief “pop-up speakers,” and finally ending the evening in a networking session. Different sections of the room were designated for specific business interests such as retail, technology, finance, health care, manufacturing and nonprofit business.

Six “pop-up speakers” each shared a two-minute summary of their career journeys and the twists that their professional lives have taken. These speakers provided interesting, thought-provoking and surprising takes on vocation and career development from a wide range of perspectives. Many speakers emphasized the incredible St. Olaf community that extends farther beyond the Hill than many students realize. This was a common thread throughout Ole Biz. Chris Winge ’17 said he was surprised to realize that “the network is huge and goes into every aspect of business.”

Bud Grimes ’78, owner of Grimes Marketing Solutions, was among the many alumni attending the event who emphasized the importance of networking.

“I started with 10 business cards, and I still have six of them,” Grimes said. He added that most of his jobs were presented to him through his connections.

Students and alumni were able to connect in a supportive and encouraging environment in which alumni were sincerely interested in connecting with students, and students eagerly listened to the advice and experiences of the alumni.

Even though attendees came from many different backgrounds and stages in the job search, young students with little networking experience, St. Olaf seniors searching for employment and successful business professionals were able to converse in an open, welcoming and unintimidating setting. The common bond of a St. Olaf liberal arts education connected everyone, regardless of major, interests or age.

“I enjoyed being able to candidly talk with alumni in business and receive their advice and wisdom. It was clear to see that the sense of community Oles develop continues after college,” said Evan Lebo ’17, an economics major with an emphasis in finance and concentrations in management studies and statistics.

Many students left the event excitedly sharing stories of the people they had met, advice they had received and lots of positive feedback about the evening. Sydney Grossman ’18 said she was pleasantly surprised at “how open the alumni were,” noting that her favorite part of the evening was hearing the pop-up speakers.

Adam Alexander ’16 said that the best advice he received from an alumnus at Ole Biz was not to take his time at St. Olaf forgranted, because the campus is one at which “you’re surrounded by brilliance.”

The Piper Center prepared students well for the event. Preparation sessions presented by peer coaches talked about attire, appropriate questions, networking techniques, what to expect at Ole Biz and how to properly and professionally follow up via LinkedIn and e-mail. Right before the event, each student was given a nametag and ten business cards to give to alumni with whom they had connected.

Erik van Mechelen ’10, currently a game designer at Edge Gaming, equated a “fork in the road” to a fork in Stav Hall during his pop-up speech. Using an analogy all Oles could relate to, van Mechelen emphasized that a “a fork in the road” might actually be more like a fork in Stav Hall, in which life might present at least four prongs or opportunities for your career instead of just two. Many alumni echoed his advice to look at all of the availible options and career paths.

The evening was filled with the forging of new connections, new skills, excitement for future careers and all of the opportunities that networking can provide. Lebo added that he would recommend this event, even to students not interested in business.

“It’s a great chance to hear the diverse journeys that led alumni to where they are now, and it is also an awesome opportunity to practice networking,” he said.


Photo Courtesy of Katie Lauer