Gone but not forgotten
More firms are seeking to stay in touch with former staff
COMPANIES do not like to be abandoned any more than lovers do.
Workers who quit are sometimes escorted out by security guards, their smartphones confiscated and their e-mail accounts deactivated.
But in the professional services, former employees are increasingly treated as assets, not turncoats.
Borrowing the concept of alumni relations from universities, such firms are trying to stay in touch with departed workers, hoping to turn them into brand ambassadors, recruiters and salespeople.
The notion was pioneered by McKinsey, a management consultant.
Its up-or-out promotion system generates a steady stream of staff leaving on relatively friendly terms, many of whom go to work for potential clients rather than rival consulting firms.
McKinsey has an online database of 27,000 former consultants.
They are given access to a website which posts alluring job vacancies and regular presentations on business trends from the firm's analysts.
McKinsey's closest competitors have embraced this model.
The Boston Consulting Group, for example, refers to its leavers as graduates.
It helps them to find new jobs, and even to negotiate a good contract with their new bosses.
Once they have left, they continue getting free strategic advice from the firm's partners.
In return BCG asks alumni to help it recruit new graduates, and to brief them on the state of the industries they are now working in.
And of course, it hopes they may send a bit of work in its direction.
An obvious risk is that this makes businesses reluctant to hire ex-consultants, fearing that they will be double agents whose loyalty lies with the old firm.
The consulting firms argue that there is little danger of this:
few businesses hire, or buy advice, from just one firm, so it would be hard for one firm's alumni to get away with unjustifiably favouring their old employers.
I wouldn't say I'm blindly loyal, says Jim Whitehurst, a former BCG partner who runs Red Hat, a big software company.
But I do use BCG more than any other firm.
Among the biggest accounting firms, Deloitte helps departing employees update their curricula vitae in the hope this will encourage them to stay in touch and PwC has launched a recruitment campaign for former staff who want to come back and work part-time or do one-off projects.
Linklaters, part of Britain's Magic Circle of prestigious solicitors, maintains relations with ex-staff by giving them a card that provides discounts on, or preferential access to, tickets for cultural events.
Among the banks, Citigroup has held more than 150 alumni gatherings since its programme started in 2011, including golf tournaments and wine tastings. Goldman Sachs has long touted its alumni's public service as a branding tool—its five most recent ex-bosses include two treasury secretaries and a senator.
Such close ties can be a double-edged sword. Goldman's brand as Wall Street's leading financial wizard suffered following the collapse of MF Global, a broker led by Jon Corzine, one of its illustrious ex-bosses;
McKinsey's reputation for integrity was sullied when Rajat Gupta, a former managing director of the firm, was convicted of insider trading.
The main drawback of running an alumni network used to be its cost.
But thanks to online social media, companies now need just one programme manager for roughly every 3,500 ex-employees.
As a result, the trend is continuing to spread. Alumni at Procter & Gamble and Microsoft have set up their own networks, which they administer and fund themselves.
The founder of the Microsoft site, Tony Audino, has started a business, Conenza, that runs other firms' alumni websites.
It is hard to quantify the return that alumni networks earn on their costs, but businesses of all kinds are now being urged to set them up—not least by management consultants.
Paul Meehan, an executive at Bain & Company, says he advises clients that haven't done so that they should regard their former staff as an untapped, hidden asset that isn't fully exploited.
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