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Excerpted from
Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent 
Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live
by Daniel H. Pink

Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. 
Reproduced here with permission of the author.

Chapter 7 (con't)

page six of six | previous page

            Alumni Associations

            Free agent Virginia Klamon, whom we met briefly in Chapter 4, talks about Arthur Andersen the way some people describe law school.  Here's what Klamon tells college seniors considering a job at the Big Five consulting firm: Go for a couple or three years, as long as you can take it, and then you’ll be set.  The professional education you'll get there will be superb.  Klamon worked at Andersen after graduating from St. Louis University, and says she learned more from her two and a half years as a systems implementation and development specialist than from her entire undergraduate education.  Most of her fellow free agents share such sentiments.  If I had a dollar for every time an independent worker told me something like, "I learned more from that first job than I did in all my years in school," I could have financed my entire trip through Free Agent Nation.

            Call it the universitification of the corporation.  While companies design “corporate campuses" and establish homegrown education institutions such as Motorola University, Dell University and SunU, individual workers are treating companies like college.  They think of' them as places to gain knowledge, snag a credential, and make connections.  And not surprisingly, this new approach has hatched a new entity: the corporate alumni group.  When Klamon and tier husband (whom she met while both were Andersen employees) relocated to the Pacific Northwest, she landed a job at a Seattle hospital thanks to another ex-Andersen employee who knew about the opening and recommended her for the job.  When Klamon declared free agency after a stint at the hospital, she got some of her first gigs by tapping other former Andersenians.  For her, the only thing more valuable than being an Andersen employee was being an Andersen alum.

            Traditional college alumni groups are remarkable things when you stop and consider them.  Each year, alumni feel such fierce devotion to their alma maters that they donate billions of dollars to them--even though they left these institutions years ago and originally paid to attend.  Corporate alumni networks tap related sentiments.  They exist not because of ex-employees' allegiance to the corporate mother ship, but because of their allegiance to others who did time at the same place.  Once again, horizontal loyalty is the bond.  The connections they forge while working in traditional jobs help free agents find new clients and customers--as well as keep up with industry gossip and information--when they venture on their own.

            Some alumni clusters, like Andersen's, are informal--but others have more formal arrangements.  The Microsoft Alumni Network, for instance, has 2,500 members who pay a $100 annual fee.  "Thanks to the network, teams that worked together at Microsoft have formed virtual teams to work on new projects," Katharine Mieszkowski reported in Fast Company.  Most alumni groups compile directories of former employees, which help those who have become free agents land new projects or locate partners for existing projects.  Some groups publish job listings--an attempt to formalize the networking arrangements that led to Klamon's hospital job.  Many also have e-mail discussion lists and social get-togethers--which have the added benefit of helping free agents overcome isolation.

            McKinsey & Co., another giant consulting company, has an alumni program that it describes as "one of the world's most dynamic professional networks." Its Web site has a separate Alumni Center for the 8,500 people who once clocked in at McKinsey, and the company publishes a regular newsletter of alumni news.  The Web site of Morgan Alumni--the seven-hundred-member association of onetime employees of J.P. Morgan--includes links to alumni's solo enterprises and start-up companies along with recipes for Senegalese soup, Norwegian cake, and other favorites from the company cafeteria.  Another potent cluster of ex-employees is the group 85 Broads, an alumni association of women who once worked for Goldman-Sachs, whose headquarters is located at the New York City address 85 Broad Street.  And, natch, there's an Internet help you find an alumni group or start your own.

            Alumni networks seem most prevalent in the high-tech world, where employee turnover is intense and free agency is the reigning ethic.  I've come across AXLE (the Association of eX-Lotus Employees), ExPaq (former Compaq Computer employees), and networks for Oracle, Prodigy, and Netscape.  Even though the individuals no longer work in nearby cubicles, and often live in far-flung places, they remain united--a high-tech diaspora.

            One free agent who left Symantec, a California computer and Internet security company, to go solo, and who asked that I not use his name, put it best: "The nice part of working at Symantec was that everybody left.  Now we've got this great network of people we know at all these other companies."

The emergence of F.A.N. Clubs, confederations, entreprenetworks, and alumni associations is one of the most important developments underway in America's independent workforce.  These self-fashioned groups call into question the claim that free agency frays social ties or fractures community, and instead suggest that free agency is merely redefining those things--that Tocqueville's "art of association" is no less robust in the twenty-first century than it was in the nineteenth.  Free agents may be bowling alone, but they're not going it alone.  In Chapter 5, we saw that loyalty hasn't disappeared; it has simply changed from vertical to horizontal.  The same is true for community.  In Free Agent Nation, community isn't dead.  It's different.

Page six of six | END

Copyright 2001 by Daniel H. Pink. All rights reserved. Reproduced here
with permission of the author.


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