Dr. Matthew Call joined a growing list of faculty members from Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School who are featured in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the world’s preeminent business publication with a circulation of almost 3 million subscribers. Call authored a column entitled “How Companies Can Turn Former Employees into Faithful Alumni,” which was published Sept. 23, 2022.
The publication of Call’s column in the prestigious industry publication adds to Mays’ already sterling reputation. The school has 11 faculty members who rank in the top 2% of scholars worldwide. Additionally, Mays is among the Top 20 public business schools in the United States
A Network of Connections
Call was recommended to the WSJ by Dr. Anthony Klotz, a former Mays faculty member who contributes similar columns for the publication. After discussing his research with a WSJ editor, Call was invited to author the column on alumni networks.
The development of alumni networks helps companies engage with a mobile workforce that no longer remains with a company for most of their career. Call believes that part of the reason for this mobility may be because employee loyalty has not been reciprocated by companies over the years. “There’s this reshaping of the employer-employee relationship over the past 20-30 years that has led companies to realize that people are not seeing their jobs as a lifelong relationship now,” Call explained. “They’re leaving–and in the past, companies just thought the employees were gone for good.”
Some companies purposefully have a model that doesn’t encourage employee retention and tenure. For example, some firms like Goldman Sachs hire young elite professionals, knowing they will work for the company for a short period of time. “There’s actually research that shows that people are willing to take a pay cut to start at a high-status firm because of what it does for their resume going forward,” Call said. “All of this is wrapped in the idea that once you have this experience, you take that with you.”
However, Call sees companies increasingly trying to capitalize on employee mobility by creating relationships with employees after they leave the firm. “Having goodwill from employees leads to a host of benefits,” he said. “As a company, we can draw upon that identity that you take with you, so you can continue to refer to us, come back and work for us, or be a resource in general.”
Many employees go on to work for the company’s client firms, so maintaining an alumni relationship can be very beneficial. “A lot of these initial companies start to develop these alumni networks to formalize the relationship and to stay in touch with former employees as a competitive advantage,” he said. “When companies have alums working in their client firms, they will get first dibs (on projects) and can (further) develop that relationship.”
Additionally, companies can benefit by staying in touch because some former employees may return in the future. “In many industries, boomerang employees are up to 10-20% of new hires,” Call said.
Alumni networks also can help influence prospective employees through Glassdoor and social media. “If ex-employees are saying it was a great experience, prospective employees are more likely to go to that place,” Call said. “Leaders are seeing that this branding is important, and alumni have a big place in that.”
Challenges of Networks
However, the Mays assistant professor also noted that valid concerns exist related to companies celebrating employees leaving. “There is some hesitation around it because there are these perceived and actual costs associated with high-fiving people on the way out,” he said, pointing out that this approach may set the stage culturally for very higher turnover and the associated costs of finding and onboarding new talent.
Additionally, some employees who leave may be opportunistic and use the company’s alumni network to gain knowledge of best practices without reciprocating in the knowledge sharing. “When they are not a formal employee, you don’t have monitoring systems in place to say, ‘You’re not allowed to act opportunistically,’” Call explained.
Despite these potential downsides, the management professor believes that companies will continue to turn to corporate alumni networks. “I think with the current job market, these alumni networks will be increasingly happening,” he said. “It’s important to help managers understand that these employees still have value as a human and still can add value as alumni, so we need to attenuate managers’ sense of betrayal. It’s about being part of an extended family.”
Growing Mays Network
Similarly, Call’s burgeoning relationship with the WSJ continues to build an important network that supports Mays’ momentum to become the nation’s public preeminent business school. The publication previously tapped Mays’ expertise from Dr. Leonard Barry and Dr. Mike Shaub—and WSJ editors have commissioned Call to write another column about high-performing star employees’ impact on their peers, which is expected to be published in November.
These types of opportunities support Mays’ efforts to become the nation’s preeminent public business school. “It helps by both getting our name in front of larger audiences and by demonstrating the expertise that resides in our faculty,” Mays Interim Dean Ricky Griffin said. “We’re fortunate to have outstanding faculty members like Dr. Call who are doing translational research that provides relevant insights to help business leaders strategically position their companies for success.”