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Making networks work for you

10 June 2016

The article at a glance

Every networking opportunity is a chance to meet someone who could change your life. Three students and alumni tell us how networking …

Every networking opportunity is a chance to meet someone who could change your life. Three students and alumni tell us how networking while on the Cambridge MBA changed it for them.

Making networks work for you

It’s been a long day in the lecture theatre and that assignment is due at the end of the week. There’s that networking event on this evening but you might just give it a miss. The last thing you feel like is an hour of talking to strangers.

But before you get down to some study, consider this: some of the most powerful partnerships on the planet started by chance. The Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, met through a mutual friend; the Clintons, Bill and Hilary, stumbled across each other in the library and Beatles, Lennon and McCartney, first sized each other up at a garden fete. Had just one of these decided they were going to curl up with a good book that day, the world would be a very different place.

Chance encounters can lead to amazing things and every networking opportunity is a chance to meet someone who could change your life. Three former Cambridge MBAs are very glad they didn’t opt for an early night at crucial points in their MBA year.

Hamza Muddassir (MBA 2012) has just helped his employer, online games developer Jagex, secure a deal with a Chinese conglomerate that will give the Cambridge born-and-bred company access to the mouth-wateringly huge Asian games market – no less than half of the international games market.

Unexpectedly, this success has its roots in the determination of a shy telecoms professional from Pakistan who, despite an initial lack of confidence about networking, was determined to make it work for him. Vowing to attend every networking event laid on by Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) during his MBA year, Hamza threw himself in at the deep end:

“I was certainly no natural at going up and talking to people but I made myself do it and the more I did it, the easier it got. It’s not something you have to be born with – it’s a skill you can learn. You don’t have to get something out of every encounter but you always learn something if you are prepared to listen.”

Once he felt comfortable with networking in a crowd, Hamza decided to go for the bespoke approach and asked the School to arrange a meeting with his target employer, Jagex. This led to an internship, which led to a job offer. Hamza was already committed to Amazon in Luxembourg for a year, but following this he returned to Cambridge and has been part of the Jagex team for the past two years working on digital marketing, strategic planning and, of course, that deal.

For someone who had always wanted to work in the games industry, it’s a dream come true:

“If I hadn’t been determined to get the most out of the School’s networking opportunities I don’t think I would be here today. I would advise everyone to make time for it – you will get access to a wide range of organisations from big names to interesting small companies and your future dream job could be with any one of these.”

Make the most of the School but don’t forget to look wider as well – that’s the advice from alum, Matt McLaren (MBA 2014), who is busy developing start-up Entomics with three University of Cambridge colleagues from other departments. The four are determined to tackle the 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted globally every year and are developing a system which transforms it into sustainable sources of fuel by using insects as a conversion catalyst.

The team has attracted funding to build a prototype and is working with Sainsbury’s and other partners to test it. Rummaging through Sainsbury’s waste bins is not an unusual activity nowadays for the former management consultant! It is typical of Matt’s individual approach to challenges – including networking, where his strategy was to engage with everything CJBS had to offer, but also to get under the skin of the University and the wider Cambridge entrepreneurial ecosystem:

“Networking can be as individual as you are. For me, it’s all about cumulative learning and exposing myself to as many minds as possible. I got involved with a lot of different initiatives around the University and my College, attended every event I felt could be helpful and talked to a huge variety of people across Cambridge. This gave me lots of different perspectives, ideas and options.

“A lot of it wasn’t official, organised networking but more like seeking out like-minded people with practical approaches to problems. The entrepreneurial community in and around Cambridge is second-to-none, so make sure you are well plugged in if that’s the route you want to go down, post-MBA.”

For Sean Heisler (MBA 2015), future Business Operations Lead at Node in San Francisco, harnessing his natural curiosity about others has been his route into successful networking:

“I don’t really do formal networking. I like meeting interesting people and listening to them and once you are connected to one they connect you to others and it just keeps going. I used the formal networking events at the School to make connections and then just continued with my own informal approach.’

It was the informal networks at CJBS that Sean exploited most, with crucial introduction from friends and classmates that led to connections which have proved life-changing, such as linking with Cambridge biotech entrepreneur and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the School, Darren Disley:

“A friend at Cambridge Judge, whom I’d met at a networking event, thought I might get along well with Darren and made the connection. I’m happy to say Darren is now one of my mentors.”

And Sean’s advice for successful networking?

“Don’t think about it as networking, because that can lead to artificiality. Collecting business cards is not networking. Take a genuine interest in others – that’s what lets people really connect.”