How do you build a network? 

Scott College of Business students break out of their comfort zones and build up their LinkedIn connections through organizing the annual Networks Ethics Conference. 

Imagine: You’re 20 years old and tasked with convincing a top executive of a Fortune 500 company to be the keynote at a conference you’re organizing. Oh, and this conference is one attended by business leaders from around the region, so you better not mess it up.

That was Tanner Smith’s assignment as leader of the programming team for the university’s 12th Annual Networks Ethics Conference last spring. He and his team picked the topics and booked nearly a dozen speakers, including a high-profile keynote.

“It was stressful, I’m not gonna lie,” he said. “It was stressful, but at the same time, stress does cause growth.”

Growth as both an individual and of his professional network, that is.

Tanner Smith

“We confirmed the last speaker a few weeks before the conference,” he said. “So it was a lot of contacting people, finding out that email is a really rough way to get in touch with people you don’t know, finding new avenues to get in touch with them, networking and then trying to find topics people wanted to hear about.”

They set out to find common themes within ethics, to speak to the current events, to provide insight into niche areas such as art or journalism — and to avoid fads.

“It was a lot of finding out what people are talking about and then just luck, too,” said Smith, an operations and supply chain management major from Fishers, Ind. “We spent a lot of time pushing the boundaries of what we know to find out issues in other realms. So things like commercial art: I had no clue there were ethical issues in commercial art, but evaluations and buying paintings are really big deals. I would have never known if I hadn’t reached out to fine arts students.”

And they wanted dynamic speakers. Well, as dynamic as they could afford within their budget — each dollar of which had to be fundraised by the accounting and finance team.

In the end, Marc A. Nichols, legal counsel and director of compliance-Americas at Rolls-Royce North America, provided the keynote address, “Ethics in a Post-Truth and Reality TV World.”

The connections Smith developed with Nichols and others at Rolls-Royce landed him a summer internship at the British aviation and power systems manufacturer.

“Our interaction had to be very professional, but you can be professional and be a college student. They are not mutually exclusive,” Smith said. “So even if we are emailing our keynote speaker, a very influential individual at a very large company, I can still have a normal conversation with him. They’re still people. They just happen to have a lot more powerful jobs then we do. They’ve done a little bit more than we have.”

Austin Angel

Austin Angel, leader of the accounting and finance team, kept similar lessons in mind as he and his team “warm called” businesses for sponsorships.

“I was calling companies probably four times a week for two hours each,” said Angel, a financial services and accounting major from Newton, Ill. “I was calling a lot, trying to reach out, and it just wasn’t going very well.”

The 2017 conference debuted a new logo, one more reflective of the university brand. The conference budget, therefore, also included costs for all new signage — in addition to everything else.

“Just ‘no’ after ‘no’ after ‘no’ can get pretty discouraging, pretty frustrating. You know, you start to think, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ and you start to think a lot of negative thoughts like, ‘What if we don’t even have enough money to do this?’”

Discouraged, Angel contacted his Networks Program advisor. “So she told me to just keep trying, basically,” he said. “After you get through a lot of ‘no’s,’ you start to get a lot of ‘yeses,’ so it worked out.”

After the conference, there were — as you might expect — meetings with the student organizers about what went well and what could have been better.

“So being stressed out and figuring all that stuff out along the way and tripping and falling — and sometimes falling on my face, at times — now that it is over, I’m really glad I had the experience,” Smith said.

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