Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2004Kellogg School of Management
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Leading by doing

Kellogg conferences provide opportunity to test student leadership and marketing

By Nicole L. Joseph

At Kellogg, the classroom is one important context in which students acquire essential management tools.

But a valuable practical complement to classroom learning is the experience gained by planning the annual Kellogg School conferences. Students organize 14 conferences each year, attracting business leaders from around the world to discuss an array of subjects, including finance, technology and social entrepreneurship.

  James Dollive
© Nathan Mandell
James Dollive, executive vice president and CFO of Kraft Foods, addresses an audience during the Oct. 27 Finance Conference, one of more than a dozen annual student-run confereneces at the Kellogg School. This year's event focused on "lessons learned" by the markets in the aftermath of the stock market bubble.

“The skill you learn most [when working on a conference] is time management,” says Michael Aingorn ’04, who co-chaired the speakers committee for the 2004 Private Equity Conference. “Our leadership team met every week for two hours … then also had to meet with our committees.”

This commitment was evident in the conference’s success.

Held in March, the daylong event featured keynote speakers such as Prakash Melwani, senior managing director of The Blackstone Group, and Promod Haque, managing partner of Norwest Venture Partners.

Aingorn says the 2004 conference differed from previous efforts by offering more specificity and practical insights. “The conference was not just a survey of the industry,” he says. “Our speakers explained how to get a job in private equity.”

Chris Murphy ’04, another organizer of the conference, says the event transitioned from general education to a “how to” approach for students interested in private equity careers.

Aingorn and Murphy say that organizing the conference was a terrific way to build leadership and teamwork skills.

“Anytime you can get leadership experience, it’s a good thing,” Murphy says. “I think everyone at Kellogg should seek those opportunities.”

Allison Barmann ’04 agrees that leadership is one of the main skills she took away from organizing the Kellogg School Marketing Conference.

“While you learn leadership in class, it’s hard to practice the skills there,” she says. “Running a conference was a great way to really practice. I learned a lot about keeping people motivated.”

The two-day Marketing Conference, held in January, boasted 600 attendees and a keynote speech by restauranteur Charlie Trotter. Barmann says that organizing the conference helped her bolster the very talents the conference promoted.

“You really improve your marketing skills,” she notes. “You must decide who this conference is for and exactly what you are doing.”

Many conferences follow a set organizational structure. Second-year students generally serve as the co-chairs, while first-year volunteers work alongside them to organize speakers and panelists. This arrangement allows the older students to mentor the new class.

Aingorn says that while the co-chairs might have more experience, the first-years bring much to the table too. Even just beginning a Kellogg career, “you still have a lot of strong business connections,” says Aingorn. “That’s helpful.”

Conference organizers spend time seeking speakers and panelists, as well as corporate sponsors to help make the events possible.

The Asian Business Conference, held in April, had sponsors such as Johnson & Johnson, GE Consumer Finance and Microsoft. Each year, organizers fly in leaders from around the world to discuss issues pertaining to Asian commerce.

Though they challenge themselves by adding a significant time commitment on top of an already-intense academic schedule, conference organizers feel their efforts are well worth it. Aingorn says that one of the greatest aspects of the conference is its team leadership dynamic.

“The conference gives a lot of people the chance to work together and get to know each other,” he says. “It’s a nice bonding experience. We all worked through the challenges and shared the achievement together.”

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University