January 03, 2001, 1:24 PM — Whether you're interested in waxing nostalgic about the old days, recruiting employees or networking to advance your career, corporate alumni associations offer a golden opportunity.
As job hopping becomes increasingly commonplace, corporate alumni groups have sprung up to offer former colleagues a way to stay connected. The groups span a range of industries, from high-tech to finance to management consulting. Likewise, alumni organizations are highly diverse in terms of members' professions and skills.
When Carole Gunst left Lotus a few years ago, she missed the social and business network she had at the company. So in 1997, Gunst and two of her friends founded the Association of Ex Lotus Employees (AXLE) and set up an electronic Rolodex on an old PC with a dial-up connection. "We thought it would be useful for us and a lot of other people," she says.
They were right. AXLE is now 1,525 members strong, and the group's Web site offers a member directory, job postings, discussion area, events calendar and an online newsletter. The site has become a sort of job clearinghouse for former Lotus employees.
Like AXLE, many alumni groups were started by former employees, not the parent company. Big Blue Alumni International -- BBAI, for example, was formed in 1993 when 93,000 IBM employees took part in a largely voluntary downsizing.
"It made sense to me that we should stay connected electronically," says Linda Anderson, a BBAI co-founder who manages its Web site through her company, Advanced Web Systems in Fort Worth, Texas.
Yet some companies like to be involved with the alumni groups they spawned, particularly in the service industry.
When someone leaves an accounting or management consulting firm, the employer hopes someday to rehire the worker or that the person will refer business his new firm doesn't handle, says Glenn Kaufman, founder of Boston-based Corporate Alumni, which manages alumni Web sites like AXLE's. Organizing an alumni group and hosting its Web site becomes a handy way for the parent company to keep track of these valuable human resources.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), for example, manages its alumni organization of some 3,000 members and maintains its Web site as part of BCG.com. "Our alumni network is very strong," says Kate Gilliatt, manager of alumni relations at BCG. "Our CEO has a real philosophy that joining BCG is a lifelong bond. Many of our alumni are clients, as well."